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Do ALJs trump agencies? - Wooley v. State Farm Fire and Cas. Ins. Co., 893 So.2d 746 (La. 2005)

This is a fight between the state insurance commissioner (agency) and State Farm Insurance (company) over whether a State Farm insurance policy meets the standards required by state regulations. The agency says the policy is improper under LA law. The policy was reviewed by an administrative law judge in the LA Department of Administrative Law (DAL), who ruled that the policy was valid and ordered the agency to approve it. According to the DAL and the company's reading of the legislation establishing the DAL, the DAL could bind the agency. In addition, the DAL law prohibited the agency from appealing an adverse ruling by the DAL, but allowed a regulated party such as the company to appeal an adverse ruling.

What is the impact on regulation of allowing the DAL to bind the agency without appeal by the agency, but with appeal by the regulated party if it loses?

The agency said that an ALJ ruling is only a recommendation and refused to approve the policy. The agency's brought a legal action attacking the attempt by the ALJ to dictate agency policy. The claims are paragraph 25.

Agency points of appeal - Paragraph 25 - review these in detail because they form the core of the opinion.

Paragraphs 26 - 47 outline the district court's ruling in favor of the agency. These are reviewed in the majority opinion and we will not go through them separately.

What is the history of the office of insurance commissioner?

How was the office finally created?

What are the constitutional duties of the office?

Where do the duties come from?

Is this unusual?

The powers of the commissioner were debated at the 1973 constitutional convention - why did they finally resist changing the original allocation of powers?

Prior to the creation of DAL, who employed ALJs, and what were the provisions for their authority?

Key - What are the provisions of Act 739 which established DAL and how did these change the role of ALJs?

The court said that " issue to be determined, revolves around whether the Act calls for the exercise of judicial power by the executive branch."

Does the court find a bright line defining the separation of powers in LA?

How does this mirror the debates in the United States Supreme Court over the delegation doctrine for agencies?

What are the specific powers of the ALJ?

Look hard at Paragraph 90 - how are agencies a governmental hybrid?

What is a quasi-judicial function?

Does the court tell us how to tell it form a judicial decision?

What were some of the factors used by the district judge in this case to find that ALJs were judges?

Are these legally significant?

Politically significant?

What is the key factor that the court sees that distinguishes the power of an ALJ from that of an LA Article V judge?

What does this mean in practice terms?

What does this mean for the company that wants the agency to accept the ALJ's ruling on its insurance policy?

What administrative agency was the court reviewing in Moore v. Roemer?

What did the hold about the administrative decisions by that agency?

What would have been necessary to cure the court's decision?

How is American Waste different from Moore?

What did the statute do in American Waste?

Why was this OK?

How was the American Waste finding applied to the instant case?

How did the court dispose of the lower court's finding that the ALJs violated the constitutional mandate for an elected judiciary?

What type of officer was at issue Bordelon?

How did the court say this was like our case?

The district court found that the DAL shifted power from the agency to the DAL in violation of the constitution.

What powers does the constitution give the agency?

How does that resolve this claim?

How does R.S. 49:992(B)(2) fundamentally change the relationship between the agency and the ALJ? (This is unique to LA.)

Given the constitutional powers of the agency, is this an unconstitutional change?

What if this provision were applied to the governor's office?

Does the commissioner of insurance have a constitutional right of access to the courts?

Why?

How could this be changed?

How does Pritchard clarify the right of an agency to appeal a decision?

Why is this irrelevant in all other states?

Does the court say this is a smart thing to do?

What alternative judicial avenue is hinted at by the court?

What is the res judicata statute?

Why did the company file a action under this?

What are they worried about the insurance commissioner doing?

What is the prerequisite for this act?

Is that present in this case?

Why isn't the application of this law to worker's comp hearings good precedent?

Why can't State Farm base their claim on the appeals court ruling?

What was remanded to the appeals court?

Where does this leave State Farm?

What does an ALJ's decision really do?

 

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