On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County.
Before Judges Dreier, Keefe and P.g. Levy.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dreier, P.j.a.d.
Submitted: December 9, 1997
Defendant, Amex Assurance Company, plaintiff's automobile insurer, appeals by leave granted from a non-final summary judgment declaring that the New Jersey "deemer" statute, N.J.S.A. 17:28-1.4, imposes Personal Injury Protection liability limits up to $250,000. Amex is an Illinois corporation with its principal offices located in Wisconsin. Plaintiff is a New York resident who was injured when he was involved in a New Jersey accident *fn1 while driving his New York registered vehicle which was insured by Amex under a policy written in New York. Plaintiff sought PIP coverage from defendant in excess of the $50,000 Amex policy limit, but Amex denied coverage over $50,000.
The New Jersey "deemer" statute reads:
"Any insurer authorized to transact or transacting automobile or motor vehicle insurance business in this State, or controlling or controlled by, or under common control by, or with, an insurer authorized to transact or transacting insurance business in this State, which sells a policy providing automobile or motor vehicle liability insurance coverage, or any similar coverage, in any other state or in any province of Canada, shall include in each policy coverage to satisfy ... personal injury protection benefits coverage pursuant to section 4 of P.L. 1972, c. 70 (C. 39:6A-4) *fn2 ..., whenever the automobile or motor vehicle insured under the policy is used or operated in this State." [N.J.S.A. 17:28-1.4].
There are two issues in this case. The first is whether Amex's status justifies our application of the "deemer" statute. The second issue is whether the law applicable to the interpretation of the Amex policy, here construed to be New York law, separately adopts the New Jersey PIP liability limit.
Amex holds a Certificate of Authority issued pursuant to N.J.S.A. 17:17-10 to transact business in New Jersey. The Certificate issued April 2, 1993, provides:
"This is to certify that the Amex Assurance Company of Chicago, Illinois, having complied with the laws of the State of New Jersey, and any supplements or amendments thereto with respect to the transaction of the business of insurance, is authorized to transact in this State until the first day of May, 1994, [inter alia, personal, commercial and physical automobile] lines of insurance." [Emphasis added].
Defendant renewed the Certificate for the following year. *fn3 Although the Certificate of Authority had been issued by the State, defendant had not filed for approval of a rating system, as required by N.J.S.A. 17:29A-6. Amex contends that since it did not seek such approval, it is not authorized to transact insurance business in New Jersey.
We note that the "deemer" statute imposes liability on an insurer "authorized to transact" business in New Jersey, and also upon an insurer "transacting automobile or motor vehicle insurance business in this State." Plaintiff and Amex have argued extensively as to whether the word "or" in the phrase "authorized to transact or transacting automobile or motor vehicle insurance business in this State" should be read respectively in the conjunctive or disjunctive. As the Supreme Court noted in Howard v. Harwood's Restaurant Co., 25 N.J. 72, 88 (1957), "[t]he words `or' and `and' are ofttimes used interchangeably, and the determination of whether the word `and' as used in a statute should be read in the conjunctive or disjunctive depends primarily upon the legislative intent." Furthermore, "[t]he word `or' while normally used to indicate disjunctive clauses, has often been interpreted to mean the conjunctive if this is more consistent with legislative intent." Wildwood Storage Center, Inc. v. Mayor & Council of Wildwood, 260 N.J. Super. 464, 471 (App. Div. 1992); see also Red Bank Regional Educ. Assoc. v. Red Bank Regional High Sch. Bd. of Educ., 151 N.J. Super. 435, 438 (App. Div. 1977), aff'd, 78 N.J. 122 (1978); Murphy v. Zink, 136 N.J.L. 235, 238 (Sup. Ct. 1947).
We can see no reason why the Legislature would require both the authorization to transact business and the actual transaction of business before the "deemer" statute would be applied. We therefore read the word "or" in the disjunctive, permitting liability to be imposed either if an insurer is authorized to transact insurance business, or, whether authorized or not, if the insurer actually transacts automobile or motor vehicle insurance business in New Jersey. It appears obvious to us that the Legislature would not absolve from responsibility an insurer who without receiving authorization from the State actually writes automobile insurance in New Jersey. Such an insurance company which disregards our State law certainly would not be placed in a better position than an insurer who had obtained the requisite authority.
The real issue in this case is not whether the word "or" should be understood in the conjunctive or disjunctive, but rather is whether Amex was actually "authorized to transact ... automobile or motor vehicle insurance business in this State." Plaintiff contends that the Certificate of Authority constitutes such authorization; Amex asserts that it is not authorized to transact business until it has applied for, and obtained, approval of its rates. It appears clear to us that Amex is correct in this issue. N.J.S.A. 17:29A-6 requires the rating system to be filed, and N.J.S.A. 17:29A-7 provides for the approval of the rating system by the Commissioner. An insurer may not charge premiums except in accordance with the approved rating ...