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Unclaimed Property Litigation Update – Spring 2016

Litigation over unclaimed property rules and obligations continues to accelerate. The first quarter of 2016 brought developments in several cases, including a much-watched contest over merchandise credits and a new battle between the states over which state gets the money.

California Merchandise Credits Not Subject to Remittance as Unclaimed Property; Implicit Application of Derivative Rights Doctrine Prevails

On March 4, 2016, a California superior court held in Bed Bath & Beyond, Inc. v John Chiang that unredeemed merchandise return certificates (certificates) issued by Bed Bath & Beyond (BB&B) to tis California customers are exempt “gift certificates” under the California Unclaimed Property Law—and not “intangible personal property” under the California catch-all provision. Like many retail stores, BB&B provides the certificates as credits to customers who return items without a receipt. While the certificates may be redeemed for merchandise at BB&B or one of its affiliates, they cannot be redeemed for cash. BB&B took the position that it mistakenly reported and remitted the unclaimed certificates from 2004 to 2012 and filed a refund claim with the California State Controller’s Office (Controller) in 2013 for the full amount remitted during that time period (amounting to over $1.8 million). The Controller denied the claim, and BB&B proceeded to sue John Chiang, both individually and in his official capacity as former California state controller. The relief sought by BB&B was the full refund request, plus interest. (more…)




Uniform Law Commission Completes First Reading of the Revised Uniform Unclaimed Property Act

On Tuesday, July 14, 2015, at their Annual Meeting the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) completed their first reading of the Revised Uniform Unclaimed Property Act (RUUPA or the Act). While over half of the sections comprising the current draft of the Act were passed over due to strict time constraints imposed by the ULC President Harriet Lansing, the RUUPA Drafting Committee (Committee) did their best to focus the time they did have on sections they felt were most in need of feedback from the ULC Commissioners (Commissioners) as a whole. The Committee even went so far as to invite discussion by allowing American Bar Association (ABA) Advisors and National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) to explain their stances on hot button issues such as the derivative rights doctrine, life insurance provisions and the inclusion of a business-to-business exemption. Despite this attempt, Commissioner feedback was sparse (to non-existent) for a majority of the reading and was often technical in nature when provided. While over 250 of the 400 Commissioners were present at the Annual Meeting, only about half of those present attended the morning session of the RUUPA reading. After a lunch break, the afternoon session of the reading was even more sparsely attended, with less than 100 Commissioners present. While the turnout and participation was not ideal, the Committee provided some guidance to the Commissioners that may be useful to interested parties going forward.

Highlights

  • Committee Co-Chair Rex Blackburn made it clear that they would be considering the application of the derivative right doctrine, which generally stands for the proposition that state unclaimed property administrators cannot receive greater rights than those of the true owner, on a property-type basis (as opposed to a blanket inclusion or exclusion). Aside from the short ABA-NAUPA debate on the issue, there was no substantive discussion of the derivate rights doctrine.
  • A return to the 1981 Act’s 10-year statute of repose was discussed. Commissioner Raymond Pepe noted that the Committee reverted back to this based on the widespread abuse of statistical sampling. Several Commissioners were supportive of this change, and even encouraged the Committee to shorten this period further since the statute does not begin running until after the report was due. Nebraska Commissioner Harvey Perlman suggested that the Committee simply limit the use of abusive statistical sampling instead of establishing a statute of repose. The Committee responded that a bright-line rule is necessary here to provide certainty.
  • The Committee confessed that the current section on the conduct of audits (Section 20) needs to be broken out into four distinct sections in the next draft. A majority of the discussion in this area was on the use of contingent fee contract auditors—which is permitted in the current draft with numerous protections that seek to enhance the transparency of this process. Connecticut Commissioner David Biklen suggested that his state would not be able to audit holders without the use of contract auditors and expressed concern [...]

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