Farmers Ins. Exchange v. Superior Court, No. S016912

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtLUCAS; MOSK
Citation826 P.2d 730,6 Cal.Rptr.2d 487,2 Cal.4th 377
Parties, 826 P.2d 730 FARMERS INSURANCE EXCHANGE et al., Petitioners, v. The SUPERIOR COURT of Los Angeles County, Respondent. The PEOPLE, Real Party in Interest.
Docket NumberNo. S016912
Decision Date06 April 1992

Page 487

6 Cal.Rptr.2d 487
2 Cal.4th 377, 826 P.2d 730
FARMERS INSURANCE EXCHANGE et al., Petitioners,
v.
The SUPERIOR COURT of Los Angeles County, Respondent.
The PEOPLE, Real Party in Interest.
No. S016912.
Supreme Court of California,
In Bank.
April 6, 1992.

Page 489

[2 Cal.4th 381] [826 P.2d 732] Barger & Wolen, Royal F. Oakes, Larry M. Golub, Linda C. Johnson and Richards D. Barger, Los Angeles, for petitioners.

No appearance for respondent.

John K. Van de Kamp and Daniel E. Lungren, Attys. Gen., Andrea Sheridan Ordin, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Michael J. Strumwasser, Fredric D. Woocher and Herschel T. Elkins, Asst. Attys. Gen., Albert Norman Sheldon, Ronald A. Reiter and M. Howard Wayne, Deputy Attys. Gen., for real party in interest.

Gary T. Yancey, Dist. Atty., Contra Costa, Gary E. Koeppel, Deputy Dist. Atty., Martinez, Gail K. Hillebrand, Nettie Y. Hoge, San Francisco, Paul E. Lee, Los Angeles, and Robert Fellmeth, San Diego, as amici curiae on behalf of real party in interest.

LUCAS, Chief Justice.

The People, through the Attorney General (real party in interest), filed suit against various insurers (petitioners) under the Unfair Practices Act (Bus. & Prof.Code, § 17000 et seq.). We granted review to decide whether this judicial action should be stayed under the doctrine of "primary jurisdiction" pending administrative action by the Commissioner of the Department of Insurance (hereafter sometimes the Commissioner). (See Ins.Code, § 1858 et seq.; all further statutory references are to this code unless otherwise indicated.)

We conclude that in the absence of legislation clearly addressing whether a court may exercise discretion under the primary jurisdiction doctrine, a court may exercise such discretion and may decline to hear a suit until the administrative process has been invoked and completed. We hold that prior resort to the administrative process is required in the circumstances of this case and that the trial court abused its discretion in concluding otherwise.

I. Facts and Procedure

The People filed a two-count complaint alleging petitioners violated sections 1861.02 and 1861.05, enacted by the voters in November 1988 as part of Proposition 103, by refusing to offer a "Good Driver Discount policy" to all eligible applicants.

In their first cause of action, the People claim that since November 1989, petitioners

Page 490

[826 P.2d 733] have violated the above provisions by: (i) refusing to offer and [2 Cal.4th 382] sell a Good Driver Discount policy to any person who meets the standards of section 1861.025 (see § 1861.02, subd. (b)(1); (ii) refusing to charge persons who qualify for the Good Driver Discount policy a rate "at least 20% below the rate the insured would otherwise have been charged for the same coverage" (see § 1861.02, subd. (b)(2)); (iii) unlawfully using the absence of insurance as a criterion for determining eligibility for a Good Driver Discount policy, and generally, for the setting of automobile insurance rates and premiums (see § 1861.02, subd. (c)); and (iv) "unfairly discriminating in eligibility and rates for insurance for persons who qualify under the statutory criteria for a Good Driver Discount policy" (see § 1861.05, subd. (a)).

Under the first cause of action the People seek an order pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 526, enjoining petitioners from violating section 1861.02, subdivisions (b)(1), (b)(2), and (c), and section 1861.05, subdivision (a).

The second cause of action--which is the subject of this proceeding--incorporates the allegations of the first count, and asserts: "The violations of sections 1861.02 and 1861.05 as set forth above constitute unlawful and unfair business practices, in violation of Business and Professions Code section 17200."

Under the second cause of action the complaint seeks the injunctive relief described above pursuant to Business and Professions Code section 17204, a $2,500 civil penalty against each petitioner for each violation of law pursuant to Business and Professions Code section 17206, and "such other relief as this Court deems just and proper."

Petitioners demurred to both causes of action on the ground, inter alia, that the People's suit was precluded by their failure to pursue and exhaust administrative remedies. The trial court sustained the demurrer as to the first cause of action (the Insurance Code claim), concluding that under County of Los Angeles v. Farmers Ins. Exchange (1982) 132 Cal.App.3d 77, 85-87, 182 Cal.Rptr. 879, the People were barred from proceeding because they failed to exhaust administrative remedies available under the Insurance Code. The People do not contest this ruling. 1

As to the second cause of action (the Business and Professions Code claim), however, the court overruled the demurrer, concluding that under [2 Cal.4th 383] People v. McKale (1979) 25 Cal.3d 626, 159 Cal.Rptr. 811, 602 P.2d 731, the People may proceed under the Business and Professions Code "even though there is a separate statutory scheme for enforcement of [Insurance Code] section 1861.02."

Petitioners sought a writ of mandate in the Court of Appeal challenging the propriety of this latter ruling. In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court. It reasoned that "exhaustion of administrative remedies" is not required before an action under section 17200 of the Business and Professions Code may be prosecuted because (i) the People's second cause of action seeks a remedy that is "merely cumulative" to administrative remedies sought in the first count, and (ii) the courts can more promptly resolve the issues in this case than can the Insurance Commissioner.

As noted, we conclude prior resort to the administrative process is appropriate in these circumstances, and we therefore reverse the decision of the Court of Appeal.

II. The Statutory Schemes

A. The Unfair Practices Act

The Unfair Practices Act is found in Business and Professions Code, section

Page 491

[826 P.2d 734] 17000 et seq. Section 17200 of the Business and Professions Code broadly defines "unfair competition" as, inter alia, any "unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business practice...." "Unlawful business activity" proscribed under section 17200 includes " 'anything that can properly be called a business practice and that at the same time is forbidden by law.' " (Barquis v. Merchants Collection Assn. (1972) 7 Cal.3d 94, 113, 101 Cal.Rptr. 745, 496 P.2d 817 [hereafter Barquis ].) As the People observe in their brief on the merits, "[i]n essence, an action based on Business and Professions Code section 17200 to redress an unlawful business practice 'borrows' violations of other laws and treats these violations, when committed pursuant to business activity, as unlawful practices independently actionable under section 17200 et seq. and subject to the distinct remedies provided thereunder."

Section 17205 of the Business and Professions Code states: "Unless otherwise expressly provided, the remedies or penalties provided by this chapter are cumulative to each other and to the remedies or penalties available under all other laws of this state." (Italics added.) Section 17204 of the Business and Professions Code authorizes the Attorney General to prosecute an action to enjoin violations of section 17200 of the Business and Professions Code. Finally, Business and Professions Code section 17206 provides for a $2,500 civil penalty for each violation of section 17200.

[2 Cal.4th 384] The People's complaint under section 17200 of the Business and Professions Code is grounded on asserted violations of four provisions of the McBride-Grunsky Insurance Regulatory Act of 1947 (McBride Act) (Stats.1947, ch. 805, §§ 1-7, pp. 1896-1908), which is set out in the Insurance Code, division 1, part 2, chapter 9. We will briefly outline the relevant provisions of the McBride Act before analyzing the People's action under the Business and Professions Code.

B. The McBride Act

As modified by the voters through the initiative process, and by the Legislature through various amendments, the McBride Act presently is found in sections 1851 through 1861.16 of the Insurance Code.

1. Provisions for Administrative Hearings and Judicial Review

Section 1858 establishes an administrative scheme under which "[a]ny person aggrieved by any rate charged, rating plan, rating system, or underwriting rule ... may" file a complaint with the Insurance Commissioner. (Id., subd. (a).) 2 If, after considering the insurer's response, the commissioner finds the complaint states "probable cause" of a violation of the McBride Act, the commissioner "shall proceed as provided in Section 1858.1." (§ 1858, subd. (c).)

Section 1858.1 sets out procedures for the commissioner's investigation and resolution of the complaint. If the commissioner determines there is "good cause" to believe an insurer's rating scheme fails to comply with the requirements of the chapter, he or she "shall give notice in writing to that insurer, ... stating therein in what manner and to what extent that noncompliance is alleged to exist and specifying therein a reasonable time ... in which that noncompliance may be corrected, and specifying therein the amount of any penalty that may be due...." (Id., 1st par.) The section also sets out procedures to be followed by an insurer to contest the allegation of noncompliance, or, inter alia, to enter into a consent order. (Id., 2d par.)

Page 492

[826 P.2d 735] Section 1858.2 sets out procedures for public hearings on disputed issues and requires the commissioner to issue a decision within 60 days after [2 Cal.4th 385] submission following a hearing. Sections 1858.3 through 1858.5 concern powers granted the commissioner, monitoring of complaints, and suspension of an insurer's license for noncompliance with the commissioner's orders. Sections 1858.07 and 1859.1 set out monetary penalties for an insurer's failure to comply with statutory...

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452 practice notes
  • Individual v. Bank N.A., No. CIV-F-09-0916 AWI DLB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • June 1, 2010
    ...actionable under section 17200 et seq. and subject to the distinct remedies provided thereunder.” Farmers Ins. Exch. v. Superior Court, 2 Cal.4th 377, 383, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 487, 826 P.2d 730 (Cal.1992). Failure to state a claim for the underlying law would negate this theory of UCL violation. ......
  • COACHELLA VALLEY MOSQUITO CONTROL v. PERB, No. S122060.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • June 9, 2005
    ...should decline to intervene in an administrative dispute unless absolutely necessary)." (Farmers Ins. Exchange v. Superior Court (1992) 2 Cal.4th 377, 391, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 487, 826 P.2d 730; accord, Jonathan Neil & Assoc., Inc. v. Jones, supra, 33 Cal.4th at p. 932, 16 Cal. Rptr.3d 849, 94 P.......
  • State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Superior Court, No. B096075
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 23, 1996
    ...is regulated by the Insurance Commissioner; under the primary jurisdiction doctrine (see Farmers Ins. Exchange v. Superior Court (1992) 2 Cal.4th 377, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 487, 826 P.2d 730), the entire action should be stayed until the Commissioner has investigated and acted upon plaintiffs' comp......
  • Robles v. Agreserves, Inc., CASE NO. 1:14-CV-540 AWI JLT
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • January 27, 2016
    ...practices independently actionable ... and subject to the distinct remedies provided thereunder.” Farmers Ins. Exch. v. Superior Court , 2 Cal.4th 377, 383, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 487, 826 P.2d 730 (1992).Here, the Complaint shows that this cause of action is based on Agreserves failing to provide R......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
455 cases
  • Individual v. Bank N.A., No. CIV-F-09-0916 AWI DLB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • June 1, 2010
    ...actionable under section 17200 et seq. and subject to the distinct remedies provided thereunder.” Farmers Ins. Exch. v. Superior Court, 2 Cal.4th 377, 383, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 487, 826 P.2d 730 (Cal.1992). Failure to state a claim for the underlying law would negate this theory of UCL violation. ......
  • COACHELLA VALLEY MOSQUITO CONTROL v. PERB, No. S122060.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • June 9, 2005
    ...should decline to intervene in an administrative dispute unless absolutely necessary)." (Farmers Ins. Exchange v. Superior Court (1992) 2 Cal.4th 377, 391, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 487, 826 P.2d 730; accord, Jonathan Neil & Assoc., Inc. v. Jones, supra, 33 Cal.4th at p. 932, 16 Cal. Rptr.3d 849, 94 P.......
  • State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Superior Court, No. B096075
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 23, 1996
    ...is regulated by the Insurance Commissioner; under the primary jurisdiction doctrine (see Farmers Ins. Exchange v. Superior Court (1992) 2 Cal.4th 377, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 487, 826 P.2d 730), the entire action should be stayed until the Commissioner has investigated and acted upon plaintiffs' comp......
  • Robles v. Agreserves, Inc., CASE NO. 1:14-CV-540 AWI JLT
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • January 27, 2016
    ...practices independently actionable ... and subject to the distinct remedies provided thereunder.” Farmers Ins. Exch. v. Superior Court , 2 Cal.4th 377, 383, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 487, 826 P.2d 730 (1992).Here, the Complaint shows that this cause of action is based on Agreserves failing to provide R......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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