Maine Federal Judge Strikes Down Law for Violating First Amendment Consumer-
By Ramona du Houx
In a precedent-setting decision with nationwide implications, on January 8, 2019, Judge Lance E. Walker of the United States District Court for the District of Maine ruled that Maine’s 36-hour ban on public adjusters’ solicitation of customers is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.
National Fire Adjustment Company, Inc. (NFA) filed this lawsuit challenging Maine’s longstanding ban as a violation of the First Amendment. NFA has licensed, expert public adjusters who level the playing field for consumers by representing victims of fires and other property losses to ensure they receive fair value from their insurance companies.
Attorney Valerie Z. Wicks and the law firm of Johnson, Webbert & Young, LLP, represent NFA in this lawsuit. JWY has offices in Portland and Augusta, Maine.
For over twenty years, public adjusters in Maine have been required—under threat of financial penalties and loss of their license—to wait 36 hours after a fire or other loss to communicate with potential customers who may want help dealing with their insurance company.
During that government-imposed and one-sided waiting period, important evidence may be destroyed and insureds may settle their claims too quickly for less than full value.
Judge Walker upheld the important consumer-advocate role of public adjusters in ruling that “the ban on all solicitation activity, temporary as it may be, is an excessively paternalistic prior restraint on speech.”
Ronald J. Papa, President of the Plaintiff National Fire Adjustment Company, called the ruling a major victory for consumers: “The first 36 hours after a fire or other loss is the most important time for protecting the rights of the victims. To deprive the insured of appropriate counsel during that critical time-period is anti-consumer, government overreach. We are pleased that our adjusters will now be able to advise clients on equal footing with adjusters who represent insurance companies," said Ronald J. Papa, President of the Plaintiff National Fire Adjustment Company.
NFA has an office in Alfred, Maine and its adjusters perform work throughout Maine and the United States.
“Judge Walker’s First Amendment ruling protects Maine consumers who want and deserve help recovering from an unexpected tragedy like a fire or a wind storm. Judge Walker hit the nail on the head when he ruled that the government should not be standing in the way of the public’s right to the expert services of public adjusters," said NFA’s attorney Valerie Z. Wicks.
Wicks added that this ruling in Maine may lead the way for similar anti-consumer bans in other states to be struck down under the First Amendment.