Florida public adjusters won a constitutional argument that Florida Statute 626.854(6) wrongly banned all solicitation for 48 hours in violation of the Florida Constitution. The opinion is clear in its finding and conclusion:
We reject the argument of the Department of Financial Services, appellee, accepted by the trial court, that the statute is ambiguous and, as a result, the agency’s interpretation that the statute constitutionally regulates only the time, place, and manner of commercial solicitation should be accepted. We hold that the statute unambiguously bans all solicitation for 48 hours and that this restriction on commercial speech violates Article I, § 4 of the Florida Constitution under the standards of Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission of New York, 447 U.S. 557 (1980).
In sum, we are persuaded that the Department has failed to prove that section 626.854(6) is narrowly tailored to meet the state’s objectives. “While a statute regulating commercial speech need not be the least restrictive means of achieving the state’s asserted goal objective, it must be narrowly tailored to achieve the desired objective.” Cronin, 774 So. 2d at 875. The Department has not demonstrated that prohibiting property owners from receiving any information from public adjusters for a period of 48 hours is justified by the possibility that some public adjuster may unduly pressure traumatized victims or otherwise engage in unethical or unprofessional behavior. Nor has the Department demonstrated that the other provisions of section 626.854 and the Rules of Professional Conduct and Ethics governing the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters governing public adjusters are insufficient to regulate unduly coercive or misleading solicitation by public adjusters.”
The Court, citing case law from the United States Supreme Court, specifically quashed arguments brought by the insurance industry supporting this ban:
We reject the contention of amicus curiae that, even if the statute is construed as a prophylactic ban on all solicitation, it is constitutional under the rational employed in Ohralik v. Ohio State Bar Ass’n, 436 U.S. 447, 449 (1978) (holding that state “may discipline a lawyer for soliciting clients in person, for pecuniary gain, under circumstances likely to pose dangers that the state has a right to prevent.”).
We reject the Board’s argument and hold that, as applied in this context, the solicitation ban cannot be justified as a prophylactic rule. Ohralik does not stand for the proposition that blanket bans on personal solicitation by all types of professionals are constitutional in all circumstances. Because “the distinctions, historical and functional, between professions, may require consideration of quite different factors,” …the constitutionality of a ban on personal solicitation will depend upon the identity of the parties and the precise circumstances of the solicitation. Later cases have made this clear, explaining that Ohralik’s holding was narrow and depended upon certain “unique features of in-person solicitation by lawyers” that were present in the circumstances of that case….
This is a great decision for Free Speech. The Court also noted how important the public adjuster’s role is immediately following a catastrophe:
At trial, Kortum introduced testimony that the first 48 hours after a claim inducing event are critical because an uninformed policyholder can make decisions that would substantially diminish recovery under the insurance policy by failing to preserve evidence, by failing to find damaged property, and by overspending on mitigation or restoration efforts.
A basic problem with the ban was that at the most important time an insured could best use a public adjuster’s service, public adjusters could not solicit for business. Keeping the public adjuster from being engaged at this critical time was the object of this insurance industry sponsored law.
I noted in Public Adjuster Regulatory Appeal to be Argued Today that attorney Wilbur Brewton was retained just before the argument. Congratulations to him. He obviously did a great job to get the decision reversed.