As soon as we start to think that Delaware’s unclaimed property practices and administration couldn’t possibly get any more egregious, another lawsuit like JLI Invest S.A. et al. v. Cook et al., Case No. 11274 surfaces. The facts alleged in the complaint highlight the fundamental issue of just how much “protection” state unclaimed property laws provide to owners. In this case, Delaware apparently protected two scientists out of $12,024,148.25. Yay Delaware. The scientists are not happy (we would be crying on the floor with either (a) a vat of Graeter’s ice cream or (b) a barrel of Sancerre) and have sued Delaware for their lost value.
Dr. Gilles Gosselin and Dr. Jean Louis Imbach are the two Belgian scientists who headed the research team responsible for creating a Hepatitis B drug. Idenix Pharmaceuticals, Inc. was established to commercially develop this drug. As the creators of the drug, Dr. Gosselin and Dr. Imbach were given an ownership interest amounting to approximately 10 percent of the Idenix shares. These shares were held by JLI Invest S.A. and LIN Invest S.A. (the plaintiffs), two Belgian companies established for this purpose.
Despite the facts that (a) both Idenix and Computershare (their transfer agent) had record of the mailing address of each plaintiff and no mail was ever returned undeliverable—as required by Delaware law at the time for property to be deemed abandoned— and (b) that scientists both continued to perform professional services for Idenix, Computershare reported the Idenix shares to Delaware in November 2008 and delivered all of the shares to Delaware on January 2, 2009. Three days later, Delaware sold the shares for a total of $1,695,851.75 (approximately $3.03 per share). At the time, Idenix had approximately 50 shareholders, and the market for the shares was illiquid.
After making an inquiry concerning the stock to Computershare three years later in 2012, the plaintiffs learned that their shares had been escheated to Delaware. Upon contacting the Delaware Office of Unclaimed Property to claim their property, the plaintiffs were forced to provide substantial documentation verifying their status as the rightful owner, which they did in October and December 2012. After over a year of “pending” status, the plaintiffs were directed to complete a “Request Form” in May 2013, at which time it was noted that a response could take another 12 weeks.
On June 9, 2014, Merck and Idenix announced that Merck would acquire Idenix via a cash tender offer for $24.50 per share. Because the plaintiffs’ shares had been escheated to (and immediately sold by) Delaware in 2009, they were not able to participate in the tender offer despite their desire to. Had they been able to participate, the plaintiffs would have been entitled to receive a total of $13,720,000 for their shares. Meanwhile, Delaware had still not responded regarding the status of their claim. Notably, it was not until October 2014 (over two years after their initial request) that the Delaware Office of Unclaimed Property confirmed that the plaintiffs Idenix shares were [...]