On March 25, 2013, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory Alarcon issued a decision which found the California Department of Insurance’s regulation on estimating replacement costs for homeowners insurance to be invalid. The decision is Association of California Insurance Companies and Personal Insurance Federation of California v. Jones.

California Code of Regulation section 2695.183 was adopted by the insurance commissioner in 2010; the regulation went into effect on June 27, 2011. Section 2695.183 requires insurers to use a detailed method for estimating replacement costs for homeowners insurance. The regulation specifies that an insurer that communicates an estimate which does not comport with the regulation’s method makes a misleading statement in violation of Insurance Code section 790.03.

Two insurer trade associations, the Association of California Insurance Companies and Personal Insurance Federation of California, challenged the validity of section 2695.183. The associations petitioned the Los Angeles Superior Court for a judgment declaring section 2695.183 to be invalid because its adoption is beyond the insurance commissioner’s authority. Judge Alarcon granted the associations’ petition.

Insurance Code section 790.03 defines unfair and deceptive acts or practices in the business of insurance. Subdivision (b) of section 790.03 states that the definition of unfair or deceptive acts includes making a statement “which is known, or which by the exercise of reasonable care should be known, to be untrue, deceptive, or misleading.” The insurance commissioner relied on section 790.03(b) as authority to adopt section 2695.183, contending that the regulation simply interpreted section 790.03 by identifying one type of misleading statement.

Judge Alarcon rejected the commissioner’s reliance on section 790.03(b). The judge’s decision explains,

By characterizing all estimates of replacement costs as misleading (save the one provided by 10 CCR § 2695.183), Defendant, in exercising its authority under § 790.10, expands the meaning of something ‘known’ or which ‘should be known’ to be misleading beyond the parameters of § 790.03(b).”

Judge Alarcon’s decision notes that “[t]he limits of the authority granted by § 790.03 are underscored by Cal Ins Code § 790.06 which provides a special process which the commissioner can determine how acts not listed in § 790.03 can be defined as unfair or deceptive.”

The need to interpret the authority granted to the insurance commissioner by Insurance Code section 790.03 in light of Insurance Code section 790.06 was also central to the recent decision of California Administrative Law Judge Stephen J. Smith, who found that the Fair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations may not be used by the insurance commissioner to constitute unfair claims acts under section 790.03, which was discussed in this blog post.