In Villanueva v. Fidelity National Title Co., the Supreme Court today exposes title insurance companies to liability for charging unauthorized rates.

The court’s unanimous opinion by Justice Leondra Kruger holds that homeowner plaintiffs — and the class they represent — could sue a title company under the state’s unfair competition law for certain fees charged in conjunction with a mortgage refinance because the fees had not been filed with the Insurance Commissioner.  A statute bars title insurers from “us[ing] any rate” before the rate is filed and publicly displayed.

The court rejects two arguments that the title company was protected from consumer lawsuits.

It finds a statutory immunity inapplicable because the provision’s text and history, as well as the Insurance Commissioner’s views, don’t support the title company’s “expansive view of its immunity from suit.”  The court includes an extended historical discussion of state and federal regulation of the insurance industry.

The opinion also concludes that the Insurance Commissioner didn’t have exclusive jurisdiction over complaints about the charging of unfiled rates.  “[T]he Legislature knows how to prescribe exclusivity when it so intends,” the court says, and there’s no relevant legislative prescription for this case.

The court reverses the Sixth District Court of Appeal.