Saunders v. Farmers Ins. Exchange

Decision Date08 March 2006
Docket NumberNo. 05-2228.,No. 05-2231.,No. 05-2225.,05-2225.,05-2228.,05-2231.
PartiesMarva Jean SAUNDERS, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. FARMERS INSURANCE EXCHANGE, et al., Defendants-Appellees. Marva Jean Saunders, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. American Family Mutual Insurance Company, Defendant-Appellee. Coleman McClain, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Shelter General Insurance Company, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Michael D. Lieder, Latif Doman and Eden B. Gaines, Washington DC., Sylvester James, Jr., Kansas City, MO, for appellants.

R. Lawrence Ward and Mark A. Olthoff, Kansas City, MO., Cynthia T. Andreason Washington DC., for Farmers Insurance Exchange, Fire Insurance Exchange, and Mid-Century Insurance Company.

John L. Oberdorfer, Jamie S. Gardner, and Jeanne Liedtka, Washington DC, David T.M. Powell and Alok Ahuja, Kansas City, MO, for American Family Mutual Insurance Company.

Jack L. Whitacre and Michael C. Leitch, Kansas City, MO, Shelter General Insurance Company and Shelter Mutual Insurance Company.

Before LOKEN, Chief Judge, FAGG and BYE, Circuit Judges.

LOKEN, Chief Judge.

In 1996, numerous plaintiffs sued twenty-five insurers under the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 et seq., and the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1870, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1982, seeking class action relief for defendants' allegedly discriminatory policies that deny homeowners insurance to the residents of minority neighborhoods in Missouri. The district court denied class certification and dismissed the complaint without prejudice, concluding that plaintiffs lack standing to bring claims against defendants against whom they have alleged no direct injury. We affirmed. Canady v. Allstate Ins. Co., 1997 WL 33384270 (W.D.Mo.1997), aff'd, 162 F.3d 1163 (8th Cir.1998) (table) (Canady).

Plaintiffs then filed ten new actions, each asserting the same claims against a single Canady defendant. Warned by the district court that they "cannot establish a `direct injury' without showing a `direct contact' between the plaintiffs and the defendant," plaintiffs filed Revised Second Amended Complaints, each challenging a single defendant's alleged unlawful practices with respect to the marketing and underwriting of homeowners insurance in a single, contiguous black community in Kansas City. In McClain v. American Econ. Ins. Co., 424 F.3d 728 (8th Cir.2005) (McClain), we affirmed the dismissal of the complaints against three insurers for lack of standing. We now consider three separate appeals challenging the dismissal of complaints against three other insurers—Farmers Insurance Exchange (Farmers), American Family Mutual Insurance Company (American Family), and Shelter General Insurance Company (Shelter). These appeals raise an issue not raised in McClain—whether the district court properly applied the filed rate doctrine in dismissing claims that defendants' pricing policies and practices reflect unlawful race discrimination. We reverse the dismissal of the pricing claims and otherwise affirm.

I. The Insurance Coverage Claims.

Like the appellants in McClain, plaintiffs asserted claims alleging that Farmers, American Family, and Shelter use unlawfully discriminatory underwriting criteria that render minority residents in the Community ineligible for homeowners insurance. As in McClain, the district court dismissed these claims for lack of standing under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See generally Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992); Steger v. Franco, Inc., 228 F.3d 889 (8th Cir.2000). The court concluded that no plaintiff has shown a direct contact with a defendant establishing injury "fairly traceable" to the challenged underwriting criteria. The court rejected plaintiffs' alternative theory that they have standing without proof of direct contacts because their knowledge of the defendants' underwriting practices deterred them from making futile applications for insurance.

On appeal, plaintiffs argue that the district court did not give them adequate notice that it would make fact-based rulings under Rule 12(b)(1) and did not allow adequate discovery to develop evidence of direct contacts. We reject this contention for the reasons stated in McClain, 424 F.3d at 732. Plaintiffs further argue that it is sufficient proof of direct contact that a plaintiff applied for homeowners insurance and was rejected, without regard to the reason for the rejection or whether the plaintiff was made aware of that reason. The district court rejected this contention, and we agree. A direct injury must "result[] from the challenged conduct," McClain, 424 F.3d at 731; that is, it must be "fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant." Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560, 112 S.Ct. 2130 (quotation omitted). Therefore, to make a sufficient showing of direct injury, a plaintiff must show that he or she applied for homeowners insurance and was rejected for a reason related to the challenged underwriting criteria. Plaintiffs failed to make that showing. Finally, plaintiffs press on appeal their alternative deterrence theory. We reject this contention for the reasons stated in McClain, 424 F.3d at 733-34.

As in McClain, the district court applied the correct legal standard, carefully reviewed the lengthy discovery record, and resolved fact disputes relating to these jurisdictional issues, as Rule 12(b)(1) permits. Plaintiffs fail to demonstrate that the court's findings regarding the absence of direct injury were clearly erroneous.

II. The Price Discrimination Claims.

Plaintiffs further allege that each defendant violated the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Acts by "charg[ing] higher premium rates for the same type of homeowner's coverage to homeowners in the Community . . . than it has charged homeowners in white communities." The district court dismissed these price discrimination claims. Applying what has come to be known as the filed rate doctrine, the court held that, because homeowners insurers doing business in Missouri may only charge premium rates filed with the Missouri Department of Insurance, a rate-payer suffers no injury from being charged the filed rate. Therefore, the court reasoned, plaintiffs lack standing to claim that a different rate should have been charged. See Keogh v. Chicago & N.W. Ry., 260 U.S. 156, 161-65, 43 S.Ct. 47, 67 L.Ed. 183 (1922). On appeal, plaintiffs concede that Missouri law requires insurers to charge their filed rates. But plaintiffs argue that the filed rate doctrine may not be applied to bar damage claims under federal civil rights statutes based upon the State's economic regulation of insurance rates. On this record, we agree with plaintiffs.

At its core, the filed rate doctrine has two components. It prohibits a regulated entity from discriminating between customers by charging a rate for its services other than the rate filed with the regulatory agency, and it preserves the authority and expertise of the rate-regulating agency by barring a court from enforcing the statute in a way that substitutes the court's judgment as to the reasonableness of a regulated rate. See AT & T v. Central Office Tel., Inc., 524 U.S. 214, 221-23, 118 S.Ct. 1956, 141 L.Ed.2d 222 (1998); Arkansas La. Gas Co. v. Hall, 453 U.S. 571, 577-78, 101 S.Ct. 2925, 69 L.Ed.2d 856 (1981); Montana-Dakota Util. Co. v. Northwestern Pub. Serv. Co., 341 U.S. 246, 250-52, 71 S.Ct. 692, 95 L.Ed. 912 (1951).

In Keogh, the Supreme Court faced a somewhat different question, namely, whether a regulated entity's customers may recover treble damages under the federal antitrust laws because the rates, though approved by a federal rate-regulating agency, were the product of an illegal price fixing conspiracy. The Court noted that the regulatory agency's approval established the lawfulness of the filed rates. Therefore, the Court concluded, the antitrust plaintiff could not recover damages because it had not been injured in its business or property within the meaning of the Sherman Act. 260 U.S. at 162-63, 43 S.Ct. 47. This is not an antitrust immunity, the Court later explained:

The alleged collective activities of the defendants . . . were subject to scrutiny under the antitrust laws by the Government and to possible criminal sanctions or equitable relief. Keogh simply held that an award of treble damages is not an available remedy for a private shipper claiming that the rate submitted to, and approved by, the ICC was the product of an antitrust violation.

Square D Co. v. Niagara Frontier Tariff Bureau, Inc., 476 U.S. 409, 422, 106 S.Ct. 1922, 90 L.Ed.2d 413 (1986). Having narrowly defined the scope of Keogh in this fashion, the Court in Square D declined to overrule this long-standing precedent.1

In these cases, the district court applied the no-injury principle of Keogh to dismiss federal race discrimination claims because those claims challenge insurance premiums rates filed with a state regulatory agency. This ruling goes beyond the core of the filed rate doctrine, which simply allocates between a regulatory agency and the courts the authority to approve and enforce rates filed with the agency. Here, as in Keogh and Square D, the question is whether the agency's rate-regulating authority trumps the court's authority to enforce a different statute. Plaintiffs correctly argue that the Supreme Court in Keogh and Square D harmonized two federal statutes with competing purposes, the Sherman Act and the Interstate Commerce Act, whereas here the Supremacy Clause tips any legislative competition in favor of the federal anti-discrimination statutes. Cf. City of Kirkwood v. Union Elec. Co., 671 F.2d 1173, 1178-79 n. 14 (8th Cir.1982). Therefore, a decision that these federal claims are barred by the State's regulation of the defendants must be grounded in the language, remedies, and...

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