517 U.S. 25 (1996), 94-1837, Barnett Bank of Marion Cty, N. A. v. Nelson

Docket Nº:Case No. 94-1837
Citation:517 U.S. 25, 116 S.Ct. 1103, 134 L.Ed.2d 237, 64 U.S.L.W. 4161
Party Name:BARNETT BANK OF MARION COUNTY, N. A. v. NELSON, FLORIDA INSURANCE COMMISSIONER, et al.
Case Date:March 26, 1996
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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517 U.S. 25 (1996)

116 S.Ct. 1103, 134 L.Ed.2d 237, 64 U.S.L.W. 4161

BARNETT BANK OF MARION COUNTY, N. A.

v.

NELSON, FLORIDA INSURANCE COMMISSIONER, et al.

Case No. 94-1837

United States Supreme Court

March 26, 1996

Argued January 16, 1996

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

A 1916 federal law (Federal Statute) permits national banks to sell insurance in small towns, but a Florida law (State Statute) prohibits such banks from selling most types of insurance. When petitioner Barnett Bank, a national bank doing business in a small Florida town, bought a state licensed insurance agency, respondent State Insurance Commissioner ordered the agency to stop selling the prohibited forms of insurance. In this action for declaratory and injunctive relief, the District Court held that the State Statute was not pre-empted, but only because of the McCarran-Ferguson Act's special insurance-related anti-preemption rule. That rule provides that a federal law will not pre-empt a state law enacted "for the purpose of regulating the business of insurance"— unless the federal statute " specifically relates to the business of insurance. " 15 U.S.C. § 1012(b) (emphasis added). The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held:

The Federal Statute pre-empts the State Statute. Pp. 30-43.

(a) Under ordinary pre-emption principles, the State Statute would be pre-empted, for it is clear that Congress, in enacting the Federal Statute, intended to exercise its constitutionally delegated authority to override contrary state law. The Federal and State Statutes are in "irreconcilable conflict," Rice v. Norman Williams Co., 458 U.S. 654, 659, since the Federal Statute authorizes national banks to engage in activities that the State Statute expressly forbids. Thus, the State's prohibition would seem to "stan[d] as an obstacle to the accomplishment" of one of the Federal Statute's purposes, Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52, 67, unless, as the State contends, Congress intended to limit federal permission to sell insurance to those circumstances permitted by state law. However, by providing, without relevant qualification, that national banks "may . . . act as the agent" for insurance sales, 12 U.S.C. § 92, the Federal Statute's language suggests a broad, not a limited, permission. That this authority is granted in "addition to the powers now vested . . . in national [banks]," ibid. (emphasis added), is also significant. Legislative grants of both enumerated and incidental "powers" to national banks historically have been interpreted as grants of

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authority not normally limited by, but rather ordinarily pre-empting, contrary state law. See, e.g., First Nat. Bank of San Jose v. California, 262 U.S. 366, 368-369. Where, as here, Congress has not expressly conditioned the grant of power upon a grant of state permission, this Court has ordinarily found that no such condition applies. See Franklin Nat. Bank of Franklin Square v. New York, 347 U.S. 373. The State's argument that special circumstances surrounding the Federal Statute's enactment demonstrate Congress' intent to grant only a limited permission is unpersuasive. Pp. 30-37.

(b) The McCarran-Ferguson Act's anti-pre-emption rule does not govern this case, because the Federal Statute "specifically relates to the business of insurance." This conclusion rests upon the Act's language and purposes, taken together. The word "relates" is highly general; and in ordinary English, the Federal Statute—which focuses directly upon industry-specific selling practices and affects the relation of insured to insurer and the spreading of risk—"specifically" relates to the insurance business. The Act's mutually reinforcing purposes—that state regulation and taxation of the insurance business are in the public interest, and that Congress' " silence . . . shall not be construed to impose any barrier to [such] regulation or taxation," 15 U.S.C. § 1011 (emphasis added)—also support this view. This phrase, especially the word "silence," indicates that the Act seeks to protect state regulation primarily against inadvertent federal intrusion, not to insulate state insurance regulation from the reach of all federal law. The circumstances surrounding the Act's enactment also suggest that the Act was passed to ensure that generally phrased congressional statutes, which do not mention insurance, are not applied to the issuance of insurance policies, thereby interfering with state regulation in unanticipated ways. The parties' remaining arguments to the contrary are unconvincing. Pp. 37-43.

43 F.3d 631, reversed.

Nathan Lewin argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Scott L. Nelson, James R. Heavner, Jr., and Richard E. Swartley.

Richard P. Bress argued the cause for the United States et al. as amici curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Days, Assistant Attorney General Hunger, Deputy Solicitor General Bender, Edward C. DuMont, Anthony J. Steinmeyer, Jacob M. Lewis, Julie L.

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Williams, L. Robert Griffin, Ernest C. Barrett III, and Joan M. Bernott.

Daniel Y. Sumner argued the cause and filed a brief for respondents Bill Nelson et al. With him on the brief were David J. Busch, Dennis Silverman, and Karen Asher-Cohen. Ann M. Kappler argued the cause and filed a brief for respondents Florida Association of Life Underwriters et al. With her on the brief were Scott A. Sinder, Sam Hirsch, Bruce J. Ennis, Jr., Paul M. Smith, and Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. [*]

Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question in this case is whether a federal statute that permits national banks to sell insurance in small towns preempts a state statute that forbids them to do so. To answer this question, we must consider both ordinary pre-emption principles, and also a special federal anti-pre-emption rule, which provides that a federal statute will not pre-empt a

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state statute enacted "for the purpose of regulating the business of insurance"— unless the federal statute " specifically relates to the business of insurance. " McCarran-Ferguson Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1012(b) (emphasis added). We decide that the McCarran-Ferguson Act's special anti-pre-emption rule does not govern this case, because the federal statute in question "specifically relates to the business of insurance." We conclude that, under ordinary pre-emption principles, the federal statute pre-empts the state statute, thereby prohibiting application of the state statute to prevent a national bank from selling insurance in a small town.

I

In 1916 Congress enacted a federal statute that says that certain national banks "may" sell insurance in small towns. It provides in relevant part:

"In addition to the powers now vested by law in national [banks] organized under the laws of the United States any such [bank] located and doing business in any place [with a population] . . . [of not more than] five thousand . . . may, under such rules and regulations as may be prescribed by the Comptroller of the Currency, act as the agent for any fire, life, or other insurance company authorized by the authorities of the State . . . to do business [there], . . . by soliciting and selling insurance . . . Provided, however, That no such bank shall . . . guarantee the payment of any premium . . . And provided further, That the bank shall not guarantee the truth of any statement made by an assured [when applying] . . . for insurance." Act of Sept. 7, 1916 (Federal Statute), 39 Stat. 753, as amended, 12 U.S.C. § 92 (emphases changed).

In 1974 Florida enacted a statute that prohibits certain banks from selling most kinds of insurance. It says:

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"No [Florida licensed] insurance agent . . . who is associated with, . . . owned or controlled by . . . a financial institution shall engage in insurance agency activities . . . ." Fla. Stat. § 626.988(2) (Supp. 1996)(State Statute).

The term "financial institution" includes

"any bank . . . [except for a] bank which is not a subsidiary or affiliate of a bank holding company and is located in a city having a population of less than 5,000 . . . ." § 626.988(1)(a).

Thus, the State Statute says, in essence, that banks cannot sell insurance in Florida—except that an unaffiliated small town bank (i. e., a bank that is not affiliated with a bank holding company) may sell insurance in a small town. Ibid.

In October 1993 petitioner Barnett Bank, an "affiliate[d]" national bank which does business through a branch in a small Florida town, bought a Florida licensed insurance agency. The Florida State Insurance Commissioner, pointing to the State Statute (and noting that the unaffiliated small town bank exception did not apply), ordered Barnett's insurance agency to stop selling the prohibited forms of insurance. Barnett, claiming that the Federal Statute pre-empted the State Statute, then filed this action for declaratory and injunctive relief in federal court.

The District Court held that the Federal Statute did not pre-empt the State Statute, but only because of the special insurance-related federal anti-pre-emption rule. The McCarran-Ferguson Act, which creates that rule, says:

"No act of Congress shall be construed to invalidate, impair, or supersede any law enacted by any State for the purpose of regulating the business of insurance...

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