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TRAVELERS HEALTH ASSOCIATION ET AL. v. VIRGINIA EX REL. STATE CORPORATION COMMISSION

decided: June 5, 1950.

TRAVELERS HEALTH ASSOCIATION ET AL
v.
VIRGINIA EX REL. STATE CORPORATION COMMISSION



APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA.

Vinson, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Jackson, Burton, Clark, Minton

Author: Black

[ 339 U.S. Page 644]

 MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

In an effort to protect its citizens from "unfairness, imposition or fraud" in sales of certificates of insurance and other forms of securities, the Virginia "Blue Sky Law" requires those selling or offering such securities to obtain a permit from the State Corporation Commission.*fn1 Applicants for permits must meet comprehensive conditions: they must, for example, provide detailed information

[ 339 U.S. Page 645]

     concerning their solvency, and must agree that suits can be filed against them in Virginia by service of process on the Secretary of the Commonwealth.*fn2

While violation of the Act is a misdemeanor punishable by criminal sanctions, § 6 provides another method for enforcement. After notice and a hearing "on the merits," the State Corporation Commission is authorized to issue a cease and desist order restraining violations of the Act. The section also provides for service by registered mail where other types of service are unavailable "because the offering is by advertisement and/or solicitation through periodicals, mail, telephone, telegraph, radio, or other means of communication from beyond the limits of the State . . . ." The highest court of Virginia rejected contentions that this section violates constitutional requirements of due process, and the case is properly here on appeal under 28 U. S. C. § 1257 (2).

In this case cease and desist proceedings under § 6 were instituted by the State Corporation Commission against Travelers Health Association and against R. E. Pratt, as treasurer of the Association and in his personal capacity. Having received notice by registered mail only, they appeared "specially" for "the sole purpose of objecting to the alleged jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Virginia and of its State Corporation Commission, and of moving to set aside and quash service of summons . . . ." The agreed stipulation of facts and certain exhibits offered by the state can be summarized as follows:

The appellant Travelers Health Association was incorporated in Nebraska as a nonprofit membership association in 1904. Since that time its only office has been located in Omaha, from which it has conducted a mail-order health insurance business. New members pay an initiation fee and obligate themselves to pay periodic

[ 339 U.S. Page 646]

     assessments at the Omaha office. The funds so collected are used for operating expenses and sick benefits to members. The Association has no paid agents; its new members are usually obtained through the unpaid activities of those already members, who are encouraged to recommend the Association to friends and submit their names to the home office. The appellant Pratt in Omaha mails solicitations to these prospects. He encloses blank applications which, if signed and returned to the home office with the required fee, usually result in election of applicants as members. Certificates are then mailed, subject to return within 10 days "if not satisfactory." Travelers has solicited Virginia members in this manner since 1904, and has caused many sick benefit claims to be investigated. When these proceedings were instituted, it had approximately 800 Virginia members.

The Commission, holding that the foregoing facts supported the state's power to act in § 6 proceedings, overruled appellants' objection to jurisdiction and their motion to quash service. The Association and its treasurer were ordered to cease and desist from further solicitations or sales of certificates to Virginia residents "through medium of any advertisement from within or from without the State, and/or through the mails or otherwise, by intra- or inter-state communication, . . . unless and until" it obtained authority in accordance with the "Blue Sky Law." This order was affirmed by the Virginia Court of Appeals. 188 Va. 877, 882, 51 S. E. 2d 263, 271.

Appellants do not question the validity of the Virginia law "to the extent that it provides that individual and corporate residents of other states shall not come into the State for the purpose of doing business there without first submitting to the regulatory authority of the State." As to such state power see, e. g., Hall v. Geiger-Jones Co., 242 U.S. 539. Their basic contention is that all their activities take place in Nebraska, and that consequently

[ 339 U.S. Page 647]

     Virginia has no power to reach them in cease and desist proceedings to enforce any part of its regulatory law. We cannot agree with this general due process objection, for we think the state has power to issue a "cease and desist order" enforcing at least that regulatory provision requiring the Association to accept service of process by Virginia claimants on the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

Appellants' chief reliance for the due process contention is on Minnesota Assn. v. Benn, 261 U.S. 140. There a Minnesota association obtained members in Montana by the same mail solicitation process used by Travelers to get Virginia members. The certificates issued to Montana members also reserved the right to investigate claims, although the Court pointed out that Benn's claim had not been investigated. This Court held that since the contracts were "executed and to be performed" in Minnesota, the Association was not "doing business" in Montana and therefore could not be sued in Montana courts unless "consent" to Montana suits could be implied. The Court found the circumstances under which the insurance transactions took place insufficient to support such an implication.

But where business activities reach out beyond one state and create continuing relationships and obligations with citizens of another state, courts need not resort to a fictional "consent" in order to sustain the jurisdiction of regulatory agencies in the latter state. And in considering what constitutes "doing business" sufficiently to justify regulation in the state where the effects of the "business" are felt, the narrow grounds relied on by the Court in the Benn case cannot be deemed controlling.

[ 339 U.S. Page 648]

     In Osborn v. Ozlin, 310 U.S. 53, 62, we recognized that a state has a legitimate interest in all insurance policies protecting its residents against risks, an interest which the state can protect even though the "state action may have repercussions beyond state lines . . . ." And in Hoopeston Page 648} Canning Co. v. Cullen, 318 U.S. 313, 316, we rejected the contention, based on the Benn case among others, that a state's power to regulate must be determined by a "conceptualistic discussion of theories of the place of contracting or of performance." Instead we accorded "great weight" to the "consequences" of the contractual obligations in the state where the insured resided and the "degree of interest" that state had in seeing that those obligations were faithfully carried out. And in International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, this Court, after reviewing past cases, concluded: "due process requires only that in order to subject a defendant to a judgment in personam, if he be not present within the territory of the forum, he have certain minimum contacts with it such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'"

Measured by the principles of the Osborn, Hoopeston and International Shoe cases, the contacts and ties of appellants with Virginia residents, together with that state's interest in faithful observance of the certificate obligations, justify subjecting appellants to cease and desist proceedings under § 6. The Association did not engage in mere isolated or short-lived transactions. Its insurance certificates, systematically and widely delivered in Virginia following solicitation based on recommendations of Virginians, create continuing obligations between the Association and each of the many certificate holders in the state. Appellants have caused claims for losses to be investigated and the Virginia courts were available to them in seeking to enforce obligations created by the group of certificates. See International Shoe Co. v. Washington, supra, at 320.

Moreover, if Virginia is without power to require this Association to accept service of process on the Secretary of the Commonwealth, the only forum for injured ...


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