A federal district judge on Thursday handed Bank of Boston Corp. a major victory in its legal battle to sell insurance in Massachusetts.

U.S. District Judge Patti B. Saris ruled that federal law preempts a Massachusetts statute that bars all banks there from selling insurance.

"This is good news," said Richard Whiting, general counsel at the Bankers Roundtable. "The judge has seen through to the real intent of the law, which is to hamper competition."

Bank of Boston sued Massachusetts Insurance Commissioner Linda L. Ruthardt to overturn the restrictive state law and allow its affiliate, BancBoston Insurance Agency, to sell the product.

Citing the Supreme Court decision in the so-called Barnett Banks case, Judge Saris ruled that the Massachusetts law "significantly interfered" with Bank of Boston's ability to sell insurance in the Bay State.

In the two-page decision, Judge Saris required Bank of Boston to apply for a Massachusetts insurance license.

In the Barnett decision, the justices affirmed the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's authority to allow national banks to sell insurance from small towns.

The justices ruled that the OCC could override state laws that significantly interfere with this authority.

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