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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:In 1991, the Texas legislature created the Texas Automobile Theft Prevention Authority to help combat auto theft. Under legislation backed by the authority, a one dollar-per-vehicle fee was imposed on insurers. By 28 Tex. Admin. Code 5.205(a), insurers are allowed to recoup this fee from policyholders. The rule mandates that insurers must include a printed notice on policies that the fee is charged “in addition to the premium due.” Betty Griesing brought a class action suit against her insurer, Liberty Mutual, alleging that Liberty improperly charged the ATPA fee in addition to her auto insurance rate. The trial court granted Griesing’s motion for summary judgment, declaring that Liberty may not lawfully impose the ATPA fee outside of the rates filed and established by the insurance companies under Insurance Code Art. 5.101, and that Rule 5.205 is void to the extent that it could be read to permit the collection of the fee outside the approved rate. The trial court also found Liberty breached its contract with Griesing and others. HOLDING:Affirmed. Liberty first argues that the district court erred because the ATPA fee is a tax, and the insurance code expressly authorizes it in Art. 21.35B to collect taxes separate from the regulated rate. The court finds that art. 5.101 of the code specifically sets the benchmark rate that standard insurers can charge, as established by the insurance commissioner. Several factors go into setting the rate, and public hearings are required. Though the benchmark allows flexibility � from 30 percent below the rate, to 30 percent above the rate � any variation must be filed with the insurer. Filed rates within the range are presumed to be valid, but, the commissioner may find that the filing does not meet other requirements. There is a balance to be considered between unreasonably high profits and danger of insolvency, with the goal being stability in the insurance industry. The code says in Art. 21.35B that car insurers cannot collect any payment connected to an insurance policy except premiums, taxes, finance charges, policy fees, agent fees, service fees, inspection fees or membership dues in a sponsoring organization. The court rejects Liberty’s argument that the “premiums” of Art. 21.35B are the same things as “rates” in Art. 5.101. Instead, the court holds that the rate is “the charge” for a line of insurance, whereas a premium is simply a component charge of the rate. The court concludes that Art. 21.35B does not create a set of charges immune from the commissioner’s rate-setting procedures. Rather, it limits the commissioner’s broad discretion to include factors enumerated in Art. 21.35B. “We hold that the rate approved by the commissioner of insurance under article 5.101 of the insurance code is the only amount that an automobile insurer may lawfully charge a policyholder. In a regulated insurance industry, consumers may expect that their total charge has been approved by the commissioner. Article 21.35B of the insurance code, in permitting insurers to collect several types of”payment’ from a policyholder, limits the discretion of the commissioner in considering factors when setting or approving rates. Thus, the Automobile Theft Prevention Authority fee, regardless of its status as a tax or another type of charge, must be included in the article 5.101 rate if it is to be charged to a policyholder. As a result, Liberty Mutual must include the ATPA fee in its article 5.101 rate in order to charge it to policyholders.” Turning next to the validity of Rule 5.205, the court says that to the extent that the rule allows insurers to recoup the ATPA fee within the regulated rate, and mandates only that insurers include a written notice to consumers if they do so, the rule is valid. OPINION:Law, C.J.; Law, C.J., Patterson and Puryear, JJ.

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