Archive for January 19th, 2011

The filed rate doctrine is an important concept that comes into play in many consumer class actions, including those against public utilities, telecommunications providers, and insurers, that challenge the amounts charged by a regulated provider for its services.  In its broadest sense, the doctrine holds that a regulated entity cannot be sued for charging allegedly excessive rates if those rates were filed with a federal or state regulator.

Last fall, in MacKay v. Superior Court, 188 Cal. App. 4th 1427 (2010), a panel of the the California Court of Appeal expressly applied the filed rate doctrine to bar a consumer protection claim based on an insurance companies act of charging allegedly excessive insurance premiums.  This past week, on January 12, 2011, the California Supreme Court denied a motion to depublish the decision, confirming its status as citable authority. 

Here is a key excerpt from the original decision, entered on October 6, 2010:

The filed rate doctrine provides that rates duly adopted by a regulatory agency are not subject to collateral attack in court. Numerous state courts have applied the filed rate doctrine to approved insurance rates. (E.g., Anzinger v. Illinois State Medical Inter-Ins. Exchange (1986) 144 Ill.App.3d 719, 721, 723 [98 Ill.Dec. 533, 494 N.E.2d 655]; Commonwealth v. Anthem Ins. Companies, Inc. (Ky.Ct.App. 1999) 8 S.W.3d 48, 51-52; City of New York v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. (N.Y.App.Div. 1999) 264 A.D.2d 304 [693 N.Y.S.2d 139, 140].) Indeed, one such case noted that while the filed rate doctrine originated in federal courts, “it `has been held to apply equally to rates filed with state agencies by every court to have considered the question.'” (Commonwealth v. Anthem Ins. Companies, Inc., supra, 8 S.W.3d at p. 52.) We thus must disagree with Fogel v. Farmers Group, Inc. (2008) 160 Cal.App.4th 1403, 1418 [74 Cal.Rptr.3d 61], to the extent that it rejected the application of the filed rate doctrine to California insurance rates. The Fogel court noted that the parties before it had identified no cases in which the filed rate doctrine had been applied in the context of a rate approved by a state regulatory agency.  Thus, the filed rate doctrine supports our conclusion that there is no tort liability for charging a rate that has been approved by the commissioner.
We note, however, the limited nature of our holding. Insurance Code section 1860.1 protects from prosecution under laws outside the Insurance Code only “act[s] done, action[s] taken [and] agreement[s] made pursuant to the authority conferred by” the ratemaking chapter. It does not extend to insurer conduct not taken pursuant to that authority. 
Id. at 1448-49 (internal footnotes omitted).

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