On December 4, 2017, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued its much-anticipated precedential opinion in Marathon Petroleum Corp. et al., v. Secretary of Finance et al., No. 16-4011. The opinion affirms the Third Circuit’s existing view (described in its 2012 New Jersey Retailers Association decision) that US Supreme Court precedent permits a private cause of action to enforce the federal priority rules, overruling the federal district court’s conclusion (in this case and Temple-Inland) that the priority rules only apply to disputes between states. Continue Reading Litigation Alert | Third Circuit Reaffirms Scope of Federal Priority Rules

On October 1, 2017, the Delaware Department of Finance published final regulations in the Register of Regulations repealing its former unclaimed property regulations and promulgating a new reporting and examination manual.  See 21 DE Reg 336 (Oct. 1, 2017).  The final reporting and examination regulation contains no substantive changes from the revised version that was re-proposed on August 1, 2017.  As published, the regulations are set to be adopted and take effect on October 11, 2017. Continue Reading Get Ready for the Countdown: Final Delaware Unclaimed Property Regulations Published

In two weeks, the Delaware Secretary of State (SOS) will begin mailing notices to holders who have been identified as likely being out of compliance with Delaware unclaimed property law. Holders that do not enroll in the SOS Voluntary Disclosure Agreement Program (VDA Program) within 60 days of the mailing of this notice will be referred to the State Escheator for examination. Once an audit notice is issued, the SOS will have no legal ability to accept a holder into its VDA Program.

The VDA Program was put in place to respond to concerns about Delaware’s audit program and allow holders to come into compliance through a “self-audit” that is administered by the holder, as opposed to the State Escheator. The audit is overseen by a third-party provider that must approve the steps taken by the holder, but allows more flexibility in terms of the details and deadlines than a traditional audit. Delaware law requires that every company be provided with an opportunity to voluntarily comply prior to being issued an audit notice. For holders that receive a notice from the SOS in a little over two weeks, this letter will be their one opportunity to voluntarily come forward and enroll in the VDA Program and requires prompt decision making and evaluation, given the 60 days deadline and potentially significant implications.

It is still expected that the final Department of Finance (DOF) regulation required by SB 13 will be included in the October 1, 2017 Register of Regulations. If this holds true, companies currently under a Delaware audit authorized by the State Escheator on or before July 22, 2015, will have 60 days from October 1 (i.e., until November 30, 2017) to convert to the SOS VDA Program. Again, the same analysis and implications are at stake.

Practice Note

There is a lot for holders to consider in a very short period of time. Holders should be aware that there are may be more than the single, historic third-party provider in charge of administering the SOS VDA Program. Adding new providers creates uncertainty in the process and it is not clear how holders will be assigned to each provider.

Holders in need of advice on whether to enroll in the SOS VDA Program should reach out to the authors to discuss their options. Stay tuned for our analysis of the final DOF regulation, which will be posted shortly after publication.

On August 1, the Delaware Department of Finance (DOF) published a revised version of its proposed reporting and examination manual regulation addressing audit procedures and method of estimation.  See 21 DE Reg 123 (Aug. 1, 2017). The revised proposed regulation is substantially similar to the first draft proposed earlier this year, but contains a dozen or so notable differences (described in more detail below). Because the former draft of the regulation was never finalized, the 60-day time period for eligible holders to convert to the Voluntary Disclosure Agreement (VDA) Program (administered by the Secretary of State) or an expedited audit has not started to run, and will not commence until the final DOF regulation is published in the monthly Register of Regulations. Based on the fact that the DOF is accepted comments through August 31, 2017 (and likely needs at least a month to take them into consideration), the final regulation is not expected to be published before October 1, 2017, giving eligible holders at least three more months before the looming conversion deadline.

Our summary of the initial regulations proposed by the DOF and Secretary of State (SOS) on April 1, 2017 is available here. The final SOS VDA estimation regulation was published on July 1, 2017, without substantive amendments. See 21 DE Reg 50 (July 1, 2017). Below is a brief summary of the key differences between the old and new proposed DOF reporting and examination manual that holder’s should be aware of.

Continue Reading Delaware (Re)Proposes Unclaimed Property Reporting and Examination Manual Regulation

On August 9, 2017, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Third Circuit), overruling the US District Court for the District of Delaware (District Court), allowed a claim by a holder seeking to prevent an unclaimed property audit by Delaware on due process grounds to proceed. See Plains All American Pipeline L.P. v. Cook et al., No. 16-3631 (3d Cir. Aug. 9, 2017).  The procedural due process claim challenges Delaware’s use of auditors that have a stake in the assessment. Consistent with the District Court decision, the Third Circuit held that challenges to Delaware’s estimation methodology were ruled not ripe. The case has been remanded to the District Court for further proceedings.

Continue Reading Resistance is not Always Futile: New Decision in Ongoing Delaware Unclaimed Property Audit Litigation

Last Friday, the Delaware Senate released a substituted version of the bill (Senate Bill 79) introduced last month as a technical corrections bill to Senate Bill 13—the unclaimed property rewrite legislation enacted earlier this year.

The Senate substitute differs from the introduced version of Senate Bill 79 as follows:

  1. It does not strike § 1147(a)—the provision that limits the ability of a holder to assign or otherwise transfer its obligation to pay or deliver property or to comply with the unclaimed property law to others (aside from a parent, subsidiary or affiliate of the holder).
  2. It would delay the timeline that Delaware must promulgate regulations to December 1, 2017.
  3. It would make changes to the State Escheator’s authority to grant waivers of interest and penalties under § 1185 as follows:
    1. Removes the language in the introduced bill that made the discretionary waiver of penalties only applicable to late filed property remitted while under examination.
    2. Gives State Escheator the following waiver authority for property remitted before January 1, 2019:
      1. Waive, in whole or in part, the calculable interest under § 1183 of this title for unclaimed property remitted to the State with a required report under § 1142 (the general holder report section) or § 1170 (the compliance review section) of this title.
      2. Waive, in whole or in part, the calculable interest under § 1183 of this title for unclaimed property remitted to the State as a result of securities examinations in which estimation is not required under §§ 1171 and 1172 of this title.
      3. Waive up to 50 percent of the calculable interest under § 1183 of this title for all unclaimed property remitted to the State and not provided for in paragraphs (b)(1) or (b)(2) of this section.
    3. Gives State Escheator the following waiver authority for property remitted on or after January 1, 2019:
      1. Waive, in whole or in part, the calculable interest under § 1183 of this title for unclaimed property remitted to the State with a required report under § 1142 (the general holder report section) or § 1170 (the compliance review section) of this title.
      2. Except for examinations expedited under § 1172(c) of this title, waive up to 50 percent of the calculable interest under § 1183 of this title for all unclaimed property remitted to the State and not provided for in paragraph (c)(1) of this section.

Continue Reading Substitute Alert ‒ Delaware Technical Corrections Bill

On Saturday, April 1, 2017, the Delaware Department of Finance (DOF) promulgated two regulations that would repeal all existing unclaimed property regulations and replace them with a single DOF regulation containing a revised Reporting and Examination Manual. The Secretary of State (SOS) also promulgated a regulation that outlines the method of estimation to be used for participants in the Voluntary Disclosure Agreement (VDA) Program. These promulgations are in accordance with the General Assembly’s instructions to do so in Senate Bill 13, which was passed in January and enacted by Governor John Carney on February 2, 2017. Any written submission in response to these regulations must be sent to the respective agency by Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at 4:30PM EST. Continue Reading Delaware Proposes Unclaimed Property Regulations – No April Fools

On January 26, 2017, the Delaware House approved comprehensive unclaimed property rewrite legislation (SB 13) that was passed by the Senate (with committee amendments) last week.  Our summary of many of the key provisions of the bill (as introduced) is available here.  Because the amended version of SB 13 has now passed both chambers of the General Assembly, it will be sent to Governor John C. Carney Jr. for signature, and will become effective immediately upon his approval.  Rumors are circling that follow-up legislation is likely, and may be considered this session. Senate Amendment The Senate Amendment adopted by both chambers made relatively minor changes to the introduced legislation. First, it struck all references to and the definition of “net card value” that was used to determine the amount presumed abandoned in the stored-value and gift card context.  As passed today, “the amount unclaimed is amount representing the maximum cost to the issuer of the merchandise, goods, or services represented by the card.”  The 5 year dormancy period tied to “the later of the date of purchase, the addition of funds to the stored-value card or gift card, a verification of the balance by the owner, or the last indication of interest in the property” was not changed. Second, the amendment struck all references to and the definition of “virtual currency.”  This is significant because the introduced version of the legislation expressly included an expansive definition of virtual currency in the definition of “property” subject to escheat.  While the inclusion of virtual currency in the definition of “property” is consistent with the approach taken in the Revised Uniform Unclaimed Property Act (RUUPA) adopted by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) last year, the introduced Delaware legislation definition of “virtual currency” omitted two exclusions (the software or protocols governing the transfer of the digital representation of value and game-related digital content) contained in the RUUPA definition that were included after careful consideration to limit the potentially vast scope.  By removing virtual currency entirely from the Delaware legislation, it will not be presumed to be property subject to escheat. Third, the Senate Amendment changes the timeframe that holders currently under audit have to submit a written application to participate in the Secretary of State VDA program or expedited audit process.  As introduced, the Delaware legislation would have required these decisions to be made by July 1, 2017.  As amended (and passed), this period would be extended to within 60 days from the date of the adoption of regulations pertaining to the methods of estimation used. Practice Note With the passage of this legislation, there is a lot for holders to consider.  In particular, holders with an on-going audit will need to make the decision whether to: (1) make an election to join the Secretary of State VDA program; (2) expedite the audit; or (3) continue as-is.  With new penalties and mandatory interest enacted as part of the legislation, securing waiver of penalties and interest should be a top priority and could result in significant savings.  This must be balanced with the holder’s ability to timely comply with document request (required by expedited audit) and desire to appeal the final determination (prohibited for VDA program participants).  Holders under audit should begin these important discussions now, as Delaware is expected to act quickly in preparing the estimation regulations that are tied to the holders decision deadline.

The Delaware General Assembly has introduced legislation that would significantly rewrite the Delaware unclaimed property statute by repealing the three current subchapters and replacing them with a single unclaimed property subchapter. This article highlights key proposed changes in the bill.

Read the full article.

Another federal judge slams Delaware’s unclaimed property audit methodology but rejects the holder’s reliance on the priority rules as a defense to the audit demands. See Marathon Petroleum Corp. et al. v. Cook et al., No. 1:16-cv-00080-LPS (D. Del., Sept. 23, 2016)The court recognized the unjustness of Delaware’s audit approach, but followed a previous case finding the priority rules can only be raised by states with competing claims. Continue Reading New Delaware Unclaimed Property Decision Further Complicates Landscape