SDNY Certifies Interlocutory Appeal In Lender-Placed Insurance Dispute

On April 3, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York certified an interlocutory appeal of an order denying a motion to dismiss filed by a group of insurers facing class allegations of unlawful lender-placed insurance practices. Rothstein v. GMAC Mortgage, LLC, No. 12-3412, 2014 WL 1329132 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 3, 2014). In declining to dismiss the case, the court held, among other things, that the filed rate doctrine did not bar borrowers’ claims because the doctrine applies only where the challenged rate is one imposed directly by an insurer, and does not apply to lender-placed insurance where a third-party—the lender or servicer—acquires the insurance at a filed rate and bills the borrower for the costs. On the insurers’ motion for interlocutory appeal, the court held that the issue of whether the filed rate doctrine applies is a question of law that could be dispositive and for which there is substantial ground for a difference of opinion, and that the potential to avoid protracted litigation warranted certification for appeal. BuckleySandler represents the insurers in this action.

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Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac To Restrict Lender-Placed Insurance Practices

On November 5, the FHFA announced that it had directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to implement new restrictions on lender-placed insurance practices. In March, the FHFA sought comments on certain potential lender-placed insurance restrictions, including new policies to (i) prohibit sellers and servicers from receiving, directly or indirectly, remuneration associated with placing coverage with or maintaining placement with particular insurance providers, and (ii) prohibit sellers and servicers from receiving, directly or indirectly, remuneration associated with an insurance provider ceding premiums to a reinsurer that is owned by, affiliated with or controlled by the sellers or servicer. Following that comment process and related efforts by the FHFA to obtain feedback on these issues, the FHFA now has directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to provide aligned guidance to sellers and servicers to prohibit servicers from being reimbursed for expenses associated with captive reinsurance arrangements. The announcement does not provide any timeline for the new guidance, but states Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will provide implementation schedules with the new rules.

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C.D. Cal. Denies Class Certification In Lender-Placed Insurance Dispute

On November 4, the United States District Court for the Central District of California denied certification of a putative nationwide class that alleges a mortgage servicer and lender-placed insurance (LPI) companies violated California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL), breached mortgage contracts, and unjustly enriched themselves by improperly charging and overcharging borrowers for lender-placed insurance. Gustafson v. BAC Home Loans Servicing LP, No. 11-00915, 2013 WL 5911252 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 4, 2013). The court held that the named borrowers could not assert a UCL claim nationwide because (i) the UCL claims fell within the mortgage contracts’ choice-of-law provisions, (ii) there are material differences among the states’ consumer protection laws, (iii) foreign states have an interest in regulating conduct that was carried out, in part, within their borders, and (iv) the last event necessary to make the insurers and servicer liable occurred where the insurance premiums were charged to borrowers in their home states. The court also held that the borrowers failed to meet the commonality and predominance requirements of Rule 23 for both their breach of contract and unjust enrichment claims, in part because laws regarding breach of contract, affirmative defenses, and unjust enrichment vary from state to state. Further, the court explained that the unjust enrichment claim required individualized fact determinations as to whether (i) borrowers who are charged for LPI may either not pay for it, or not pay the full rate, and (ii) individual class members’ circumstances could preclude or reduce recovery. BuckleySandler represents lender-placed insurers in this and other similar actions.

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Seventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Lender-Placed Insurance Claims

On November 4, the United States Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of allegations that a lender and insurer fraudulently placed insurance on the borrower’s property after the borrower’s homeowner’s policy lapsed. Cohen v. Am. Sec. Ins. Co., No. 11-3422, 2013 WL 5890642 (7th Cir. Nov. 4, 2013). The court held that the borrower’s claim under the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act failed because (i) the loan agreement and the lender’s disclosures, notices, and correspondence conclusively defeat any claim of fraud, false promise, concealment, or misrepresentation, (ii) the borrower did not allege an unfair business practice because “there is nothing oppressive or unscrupulous about giving a counterparty the choice to fulfill his contractual duties or be declared in default for failing to do so,” and (ii) “[the lender] was not subject to divided loyalties; rather, it was subject to an undivided loyalty to itself, and it made this clear from the start.” The court also held that the borrower failed to state a breach of contract claim because nothing in the loan agreement and related documents prohibited the lender and its insurance-agency affiliate from receiving a fee or commission for LPI. To the contrary, the court explained, the loan agreement and related notices and disclosures specifically warned the borrower of this possibility. The court also affirmed the dismissal of the borrower’s fraud, conversion, and unjust enrichment claims for failing to state a claim as a matter of law, but on different grounds than the district court. The district court had ruled in favor of the lender and insurer based on federal preemption and the filed rate doctrine. The Seventh Circuit chose not to address those bases for dismissal in its ruling.

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Treasury Fines Foreign Investment Firm Over Iran Sanctions Violations

On October 21, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed a $1.5 million civil penalty in an enforcement action against a UAE-based investment and advising company for violating the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations. OFAC determined that the firm recklessly or willfully concealed or omitted information pertaining to $103,283 in funds transfers processed through U.S.-based financial institutions for the benefit of persons in Iran. OFAC determined that the firm’s actions were egregious because (i) it did not voluntarily self-disclose the violations to OFAC, has no OFAC compliance program, and did not cooperate in the investigation, (ii) the firm’s management had actual knowledge or reason to know of the conduct, and (iii) the conduct resulted in potentially significant harm to the U.S. sanctions program against Iran.

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FDIC Cautions Financial Institutions About D&O Insurance Coverage

On October 10, the FDIC released Financial Institution Letter FIL-47-2013 to caution financial institutions about an increase in exclusionary terms or provisions in director and officer (D&O) liability insurance policies purchased by financial institutions. The FDIC reports that insurers are increasingly adding exclusionary language to D&O policies that has the potential to limit coverage and leave officers and directors personally responsible for claims not covered by those policies. Such exclusions may adversely affect financial institutions’ ability to recruit and retain qualified directors and officers. The FDIC advises institutions to thoroughly review the risks associated with coverage exclusions contained in D&O policies. The letter also reminds institutions that FDIC regulations prohibit an insured depository institution or depository institution holding company from purchasing insurance that would be used to pay or reimburse an institution-affiliated party for the cost of any civil money penalties assessed in an administrative proceeding or civil action commenced by any federal banking agency.

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Florida Insurance Regulator Requires Lender-Placed Insurer to Alter Practices, Decrease Rates

On October 8, Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation announced that it disapproved a lender-placed insurer’s 2013 rate filing and ordered the insurer to decrease its rate by 10%. The regulator also required the insurer to enter a consent order pursuant to which the insurer agreed to submit annual rate filings until further notice and to not engage in certain delineated business practices, including, for example, (i) paying commissions to a mortgage servicer on policies obtained by that servicer, (ii) paying contingent commissions based on underwriting profitability or loss ratios, (iii) issuing policies on mortgaged property serviced by an affiliate, and (iv) issuing reinsurance on policies with a captive insurer of any mortgage servicer.

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House Passes Insurance Licensing Bill

On September 10, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation, H.R. 1155, which would amend the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act to allow for multistate licensing of insurance producers through the establishment of the National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers (NARAB). The bill would authorize NARAB to: (i) establish membership criteria, (ii) deny membership to a state-licensed insurance producer on the basis of the criminal history information obtained, or where the producer has been subject to certain disciplinary action, (iii) receive and investigate consumer complaints and refer any such complaint to the state insurance regulator, and (iv) coordinate with state insurance regulators to establish a central clearinghouse and a national database for the collection of regulatory information concerning the activities of insurance producers. The bill would retain states’ regulatory authority over: (i) licensing, continuing education, and other qualification requirements of non-NARAB producers, (ii) resident or nonresident producer appointment requirements, (iii) supervision and disciplining of such producers, and (iv) setting of licensing fees for insurance producers. States also would remain responsible for consumer protection and market conduct. The bill passed the House last Congress, but never advanced in the Senate.  Earlier this year, the Senate Banking Committee reported a corresponding bill, which is awaiting consideration by the full Senate.

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Illinois Enacts Auto Ancillary Products Bill

On August 9, Illinois enacted HB 1460, which expands the definition of “service contract” in the state’s Insurance Code to include ancillary auto service contracts – e.g. contracts related to the repair or replacement of tires, repair of certain damage to motor vehicles, or that provide for protective systems applied to a vehicle. By expanding the definition, the new law requires any provider of such ancillary products operating in Illinois to register with the Illinois Department of Insurance, pay an annual registration fee, and to designate an individual for service of process. Ancillary auto product providers also will be subject to, among other things, financial requirements, disclosure rules, and record keeping requirements, and will be subject to examination and enforcement by the Illinois Department of Insurance. The changes take effect on January 1, 2014.

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Fair Housing Group Accuses Insurance Company of Redlining

On December 21, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) announced that it filed with HUD a housing discrimination complaint against a major insurance company regarding the offering of hazard insurance in a certain geographic area. According to the statement filed in support of its complaint, NFHA alleges that the company refuses to underwrite homeowners’ insurance policies for homes that have flat roofs in the Wilmington, Delaware area, a policy that NFHA charges has a racially disparate impact on African-American and minority communities. Although insurance and insurers are not explicitly covered in the Fair Housing Act, NFHA argues that federal courts have given deference to HUD’s interpretation of the statute, holding that the Fair Housing Act applies to all types of discriminatory insurance practices. NFHA’s complaint is based on its own testing of independent insurance agencies and a single university study of the relationship between roof type and race in the Wilmington area. NFHA claims that its testing of six insurance agencies shows that independent insurance agents were willing to underwrite policies on homes with flat roofs, while agents affiliated only with the insurance company targeted by NFHA cited a company policy that disallowed underwriting policies on such homes. Further, NFHA claims that the university study found a statistically significant relationship between minority populations and homes that have flat roofs, and therefore the “no flat roof policy” disproportionately impacts African-American and minority communities. Moreover, NFHA claims that there is no business justification for such a policy and that the insurance company does not apply the same policy in other cities. Under its fair housing complaint procedures HUD will now conduct its own investigation and determine whether further administrative action is required.

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Puerto Rico Federal District Court Denies Motions to Dismiss FDIC Suit Against Former Bank Officers and Directors

On October 23, the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico denied motions to dismiss gross negligence claims against former directors and officers brought by the FDIC as receiver for a failed bank. The court further held that the FDIC as receiver is not precluded from recovering under the directors and officers’ insurance policies. W Holding Co. v. Chartis Ins. Co.-Puerto Rico, No. 11-2271, slip op. (D. Puerto Rico Oct. 23, 2012). The FDIC sued former officers and directors of the bank, alleging that they were grossly negligent in approving and administering commercial real estate, construction, and asset-based loans and transactions and seeking over $176 million in damages. The court concluded that the FDIC could not maintain claims for ordinary negligence against the former officers and directors because of the business judgment rule, but that the FDIC had stated sufficient facts to allege a plausible claim for gross negligence. The court held that (i) the FDIC’s complaint adequately specified which alleged misconduct was attributable to each director or officer, (ii) the claims should not be dismissed on statute of limitations grounds, and (iii) separate claims against certain former officers and directors concerning fraudulent conveyances should not be dismissed. In addition, the court denied the insurers’ motions to dismiss the FDIC’s claims for coverage under the directors and officers’ liability policies. The court held that the policies’ “insured versus insured” exclusion did not apply to an action by the FDIC as receiver because the FDIC was suing on behalf of depositors, account holders, and a depleted insurance fund.

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Sixth Circuit Holds Computer Hacking Losses Covered by Insurance

Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a district court holding that the computer fraud rider to a retailer’s Crime Policy covered losses resulting from the theft of customers’ financial information by computer hackers. Retail Ventures, Inc. v. Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa., No 10-4576/4608, 2012 WL 3608432 (6th Cir. Aug. 23, 2012). The retailer incurred millions of dollars in expenses and attorney fees related to a data breach in which computer hackers stole customers’ credit card and bank account information. The retailer submitted a claim for the losses under the computer fraud rider to its Blanket Crime Policy, which the insurer denied because the policy excluded third-party theft of “proprietary” or “confidential information.” The retailer filed suit and prevailed on summary judgment. On appeal, the court upheld the district court’s application of a proximate cause standard to determine that the losses were covered as losses sustained as a direct result of the theft. The court also rejected the insurer’s argument that the losses were excluded as losses of “proprietary or confidential information” because the retailer did not “own or hold single or sole right” to the stolen information and the information did not relate to the manner in which the business operated.

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Seventh Circuit Compels Coverage Under D&O Policy Despite “Insured vs. Insured” Exclusion

On June 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit directed a D&O insurance provider to cover certain claims against defendants insured under the same policy as some plaintiffs despite an “insured vs. insured” exclusion from coverage under the insurance arrangement. Miller v. St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co., No. 10-3839 (7th Cir. June 29, 2012). The dispute began when five plaintiffs sued Strategic Capital Bancorp, Inc. (“SCBI”) for fraud and other state law claims flowing from SCBI’s alleged material misstatements relating to the company’s financial condition. Three of the plaintiffs were directors or officers covered under SCBI’s policy; the other two plaintiffs were not insureds under the policy. When SCBI notified its insurance carrier and requested indemnity and defense coverage under the insurance agreement, the carrier refused, citing the policy’s “insured vs. insured” provision. All parties to that initial lawsuit then filed a new action against the carrier in an effort to force it to provide coverage. The Seventh Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of those claims brought by the two non-insured plaintiffs. In a lawsuit involving both insured and non-insured plaintiffs, the court ruled, the insurance carrier must “provide indemnity for losses on claims by non-insured plaintiffs but not for losses on claims by insured plaintiffs.” The court reasoned that such a holding conforms to the parties’ expectations, minimizes the risk of arbitrary results, and discourages efforts to manipulate the result through strategic party joinder or case consolidation.

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Fannie Mae Postpones Effective Date for Servicer Insurance Requirements

On May 23, Fannie Mae announced the postponement of its June 1, 2012 effective date for lender-placed property insurance requirements applicable to servicers (Fannie Mae’s initial announcement was reported in InfoBytes, Mar. 16, 2012). The May 23 announcement does not provide a new effective date. Until Fannie Mae announces a new effective date, it is encouraging servicers to implement the requirements “as practically feasible.”

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POSTED IN: Federal Issues, Insurance, Mortgages