907 F.2d 775 (8th Cir. 1990), 89-1260, First Nat. Bank of Eastern Arkansas v. Taylor

Docket Nº:89-1260.
Citation:907 F.2d 775
Party Name:FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF EASTERN ARKANSAS, A National Banking Association, Appellee, v. Ron TAYLOR, [*] Commissioner of the Insurance Department for the State of Arkansas, Appellant, Arkansas Credit Insurance Association (Intervenor Below), Appellant.
Case Date:June 25, 1990
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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907 F.2d 775 (8th Cir. 1990)


Association, Appellee,


Ron TAYLOR, [*] Commissioner of the Insurance

Department for the State of Arkansas, Appellant,

Arkansas Credit Insurance Association (Intervenor Below), Appellant.

No. 89-1260.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 25, 1990

Submitted Jan. 18, 1990.

Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied July 27, 1990.

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Lee Douglas, Little Rock, Ark., for appellant.

Philip Hicky, II, Forrest City, Ark. and James Gillespie, Jr., amicus curiae, Washington, D.C., for appellee.

Before LAY, Chief Judge, FLOYD R. GIBSON, Senior Circuit Judge, and JOHN R. GIBSON, Circuit Judge.

LAY, Chief Judge.

In July, 1987, First National Bank of Eastern Arkansas B began offering debt cancellation contracts as additional-cost options to customers borrowing $10,000 or less. These contracts obligated FNB to cancel the unpaid loan balance remaining at the borrower's death, regardless of the cause of death. FNB offered the debt cancellation contracts at rates that did not vary with a borrower's age or medical condition. A regulation promulgated by the United States Comptroller of Currency (Comptroller) authorizes national banks to enter into debt cancellation contracts. See 12 C.F.R. Sec. 7.7495 (1990). 1

In September, 1987, the Arkansas Insurance Department notified FNB that debt cancellation contracts were the equivalent of credit life insurance policies, and thus subject to state insurance laws. The Department requested that FNB stop offering the contracts. 2 FNB complied, but then brought a suit in federal district court seeking a declaration that the Department's action was preempted by the National Bank Act, 12 U.S.C. Secs. 21-216d (1988). Jurisdiction was invoked pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Secs. 1331 and 2201. 3 The district

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court 4 held that the National Bank Act protected FNB's power to enter into debt cancellation contracts, and that the contracts did not constitute the "business of insurance" under section 2 of the McCarran-Ferguson Act, 15 U.S.C. Sec. 1012 (1988). The Commissioner of the Arkansas Insurance Department (Commissioner) appeals. 5 We affirm the district court.


Our inquiry in this case is limited to the question whether the Arkansas Insurance Commissioner may prohibit FNB from entering into debt cancellation contracts. 6 The Commissioner initially urges that such a prohibition does not conflict with federal law because the National Bank Act does not grant national banks the power to offer debt cancellation contracts. The Commissioner argues that in authorizing the contracts, the Comptroller has exceeded his authority. We disagree.

In addition to enumerating specific powers, including the lending of money, the National Bank Act grants national banks the power to exercise "all such incidental powers as shall be necessary to carry on the business of banking." 12 U.S.C. Sec. 24 (Seventh). The Comptroller, through 12 C.F.R. Sec. 7.7495, has interpreted "incidental powers" to include the offering of debt cancellation contracts, and the Supreme Court has made clear that the Comptroller's interpretation of the National Bank Act must be given "great weight":

"It is settled that courts should give great weight to any reasonable construction of a regulatory statute adopted by the agency charged with the enforcement of that statute. The Comptroller of the Currency is charged with the enforcement of banking laws to an extent that warrants the invocation of this principle with respect to his deliberative conclusions as to the meaning of these laws. See First National Bank v. Missouri, 263 U.S. 640, 658 [44 S.Ct. 213, 215, 68 L.Ed. 486] [1924]."

Clarke v. Securities Indus. Ass'n, 479 U.S. 388, 403-04, 107 S.Ct. 750, 759-60, 93 L.Ed.2d 757 (1987) (quoting Investment Co. Institute v. Camp, 401 U.S. 617, 626-27, 91 S.Ct. 1091, 1097, 28 L.Ed.2d 367 (1971)). The Comptroller's determination as to what

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activities are authorized under the National Bank Act should be sustained if reasonable. See Clarke, 479 U.S. at 406, 409, 107 S.Ct. at 761, 762.

The "incidental powers" of national banks are not limited to activities that are deemed essential to the exercise of express powers. Rather, courts have analyzed the issue by asking whether the activity is closely related to an express power and is useful in carrying out the business of banking. For example, the Supreme Court, in Colorado Nat'l Bank v. Bedford, 310 U.S. 41, 60 S.Ct. 800, 84 L.Ed. 1067 (1939), held that a national bank was authorized to operate a safe-deposit business, reasoning that this activity was incidental to the bank's express power to accept special deposits. Id. at 49-50, 60 S.Ct. at 803-804. See also Securities Indus. Ass'n v. Clarke, 885 F.2d 1034, 1049 (2d Cir.1989) (sale of mortgage "pass-through" certificates authorized by National Bank Act because "convenient and useful" in connection with bank's sale of mortgage loans), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 110 S.Ct. 1113, 107 L.Ed.2d 1021 (1990); American Ins. Ass'n v. Clarke, 865 F.2d 278, 281-82 (D.C.Cir.1988) (sale of municipal bond insurance by national bank subsidiary falls within incidental powers because it is essentially a credit product); M & M Leasing v. Seattle First Nat'l Bank, 563 F.2d 1377, 1382 (9th Cir.1977) (National Bank Act authorizes personal property leasing that is incidental to national bank's express power to "loan money on personal property"), cert. denied, 436 U.S. 956, 98 S.Ct. 3069, 57 L.Ed.2d 1121 (1978); cf. Arnold Tours, Inc. v. Camp, 472 F.2d 427, 433-34 (1st Cir.1972) (operation of full-scale travel agency not within incidental powers because not convenient or useful in connection with any express power).

As the district court found, the debt cancellation contracts at issue in this case are directly related to FNB's expressly-authorized lending power. The contracts are sold only in connection with loans made by FNB, and involve only FNB and its borrowing customers. The contracts provide borrowers with a convenient method of extinguishing debt in case of death, and enable FNB to avoid the time, expense, and risk associated with attempting to collect the balance of the loan from a borrower's estate. Because we agree with the district court that the debt cancellation contracts are directly connected to FNB's lending activities, we deem the Comptroller's authorization of this activity as reasonable and within the incidental powers granted by the National Bank Act.


Having found that the National Bank Act authorizes national banks to offer debt cancellation contracts as "incidental" to the business of banking, we find in favor of FNB under the principle of federal preemption. Because national banks are considered federal instrumentalities, e.g., Franklin Nat'l Bank v. New York, 347 U.S. 373, 375, 74 S.Ct. 550, 552, 98 L.Ed. 767 (1954), states may neither prohibit nor unduly restrict their activities. See id. at 378-79, 74 S.Ct. at 553-54; Anderson Nat'l Bank v. Luckett, 321 U.S. 233, 248, 64 S.Ct. 599, 607, 88 L.Ed. 692 (1944). Thus, the National Bank Act preempts the Commissioner's authority to prohibit FNB from offering debt cancellation contracts.

The Commissioner argues, however, that section 2 of the McCarran-Ferguson Act limits the preemptive power of the National Bank Act in this case because it forbids courts to construe the National Bank Act in a manner that impairs a state's authority to regulate the "business of insurance." 15 U.S.C. Sec. 1012(b). 7 The Commissioner urges that because debt cancellation

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contracts have the same effect as credit life insurance contracts, they are subject to the exclusive regulatory authority of the state under the McCarran-Ferguson Act. We reject this argument. We hold that because the debt cancellation contracts offered by FNB fall within the incidental powers granted by the National Bank Act, they do not constitute the "business of insurance" under the McCarran-Ferguson Act.

We reach this holding for two reasons. The primary reason is that the McCarran-Ferguson Act was not directed at the activities of national banks. The McCarran-Ferguson Act was passed by Congress in response to the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. South-Eastern Underwriters Ass'n, 322 U.S. 533, 64 S.Ct. 1162, 88 L.Ed. 1440 (1944), which held that the insurance industry was subject to regulation by Congress under the Commerce Clause, and that insurance company activities were subject to federal antitrust laws. Id. at 553, 64 S.Ct. at 1174. The McCarran-Ferguson Act was designed to preserve traditional state regulation and taxation of insurance companies,...

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