On July 5, the Supreme Court of the State of New York ordered the annulment of Insurance Regulation 208, which was promulgated by the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) in October 2017. The decision results from an Article 78 petition by several title insurance companies challenging the state regulation, which prohibits title insurance entities from providing benefits such as meals, tickets to events, gifts, cash, access to parties, trips and other incentives to referral sources. The regulation clarifies that certain “reasonable and customary” advertising and marketing expenses are permitted under New York’s insurance law, provided they are “without regard to insured status or conditioned directly or indirectly on the referral of title business.” The title insurance companies argue that Regulation 208’s restrictions are inconsistent with New York’s insurance law because the law only prohibits “quid pro quo inducements given in exchange for title insurance business” and the law permits marketing and entertainment payments so long as they are not being exchanged for “a specific identified piece of business.”
The court agreed and found that the insurance law—which prohibits a “commission,” “rebate,” “fee,” or “other consideration or valuable thing”—could not be construed to include marketing and entertainment expenses because “it is common sense that marketing is an inducement for business” and it would be “an absurd proposition” that the New York Legislature intended to prohibit companies from marketing themselves. Additionally, construing the insurance law to include marketing and entertainment expenses as prohibited expenditures but also including a provision which delineates certain types of marketing and entertainment expenses as permissible is “irreconcilable and irrational.” The court ultimately concluded that Regulation 208 must fail because it contravenes the will of the Legislature under the insurance law.
In response to the decision, NYDFS Superintendent, Maria T. Vullo, issued a statement that the state intends to appeal as they “remain certain of [their] legal opinion and are confident [they] will prevail on appeal.” On July 6, NYDFS filed a notice of appeal with the court.