Federal Appeals Court Holds That California Holocaust Victim Insurance Relief Act of 1999 Does Not Violate Commerce Clause of U.S. Constitution or Federal Government's Foreign Affairs Power. (Recent Court Decisions)

Article excerpt

Gerling Global Reinsurance Corp. of America. v. Low, 240 F3d 739 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit--February 7, 2001)

In the late 1990s, a long-slumbering issue of history and insurance emerged. Facts brought to light tended to confirm long-standing suspicions that European insurers had opportunistically seized upon the ravages of World War II and the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews to avoid paying life insurance benefits to the beneficiaries of Jewish decedents killed during the war years. State insurance commissioners held hearings and often heard poignant stories of families losing the benefit of policies on which years of premiums had been paid.

The insurers had long argued that they could not pay benefits without documentation or other very solid proof of the existence of the claimed policies. Investigation suggested that the insurer archives knew more than the insurers had been telling. Personal testimony by survivors was credited as establishing the likely existence of policies even if the exact terms and limits were not available.

Claimants and insurers were both faced with severe problems of proof and proportionality. Protracted litigation was unlikely to benefit either side. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and various state legislatures enacted NAIC-proposed model legislation designed to require insurers to provide information on policies in effect between 1920 and 1945 as a condition of remaining in good standing to do business in California. Under the statute, if a company fails to comply, the Insurance Commissioner is required to suspend the insurer's certificate of authority.

Three insurers and an industry trade organization challenged the law and sought a preliminary injunction, arguing that the Holocaust Victim Insurance Relief Act of 1999 (HVIRA) violated the Commerce Clause and the foreign affairs power of the U.S. Constitution by interfering too greatly with the interstate flow of goods and the international relations of the federal government.

The trial court granted the preliminary injunction. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (which includes California Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico) left the injunction in place but reversed the trial court's assessment of the Commerce Clause and foreign affairs power issues. …