Respondents Low Desert Empire Pizza, Inc., Hi Desert Empire Pizza, Inc., Ten Cap, Inc., and Capten, Inc. sued several related insurance entities – Applied Underwriters, Inc. (Applied), Applied Underwriters Captive Risk Assurance Company, Inc. (AUCRA, and together with Applied, appellants) and California Insurance Company (CIC) (together with appellants, defendants).
Desert Pizza challenged the legality of defendants’ EquityComp workers’ compensation insurance program, which consists of an insurance policy and two related side agreements.
Applied and AUCRA moved to compel arbitration based on arbitration provisions in the side agreements, and Desert Pizza countered that the provisions were unenforceable because defendants failed to file them with California’s Insurance Commissioner for approval, as required in Insurance Code section 11658 (Section 11658).
The trial court agreed and denied the motions to compel arbitration. The Court of Appeal affirmed the denial in the unpublished case of Low Desert Empire Pizza, Inc. v. Applied Underwriters, Inc.
This case involves the intersection of California’s workers’ compensation insurance laws and the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA).
This is one of several actions in this state and across the country challenging the legality of defendants’ EquityComp program based on their failure to seek and obtain regulatory approval of side agreements to the insurance policy. (E.g., Citizens of Humanity, LLC v. Applied Underwriters, Inc. (2017) 17 Cal.App.5th 806 (Citizens of Humanity); Minnieland Private Day Sch., Inc. v. Applied Underwriters Captive Risk Assur. Co. (4th Cir. 2017) 867 F.3d 449; Citizens of Humanity, LLC v. Applied Underwriters Captive Risk Assur. Co. (2018) 299 Neb. 545.)
California’s Insurance Commissioner recently issued an administrative decision concluding appellants’ failure to file a virtually identical EquityComp side agreement under Section 11658 rendered the arbitration provisions in that agreement void and unenforceable. (Matter of Shasta Linen Supply, Inc., Decision & Order, dated June 20, 2016, file No. AHB-WCA-14-31, at p. 43 (Shasta Linen).)
Even more recently, the Fourth Appellate District, Division One, reached the same conclusion. (Nielsen Contracting, Inc. v. Applied Underwriters, Inc. (2018) 22 Cal.App.5th 1096, 1118 (Nielsen), review den. Aug. 15, 2018.)
Thus, in this case, the Court of Appeal concluded that defendants’ violation of Section 11658 renders their arbitration provisions unenforceable, and affirmed the order denying the motions to compel arbitration.