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UNCLAIMED PROPERTY FOCUS is a blog written by and for UPPO members, featuring diverse perspectives and insights from unclaimed property practitioners across the U.S. and Canada. We welcome your submissions to Unclaimed Property Focus. Please contact Tim Dressen via tim@uppo.org with any questions about submitting a blog post for consideration and refer to our editorial guidelines when writing your blog post. Disclaimer: Information and/or comments to this blog is not intended as a substitute for legal advice on compliance or reporting requirements.

 

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Litigation Update: Judge Puts Univar Case on Hold

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, October 2, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Univar Inc. v. Geisenberger, et al.

 

In the ongoing dispute between Univar Inc. and the state of Delaware, U.S. District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika ruled on Sept. 17, 2019, that many of the plaintiff’s claims lack “ripeness.” As such, she dismissed the majority of claims, keeping just two alive, pending a decision from the Chancery Court whether to enforce a Delaware subpoena.  

 

Although the plaintiff in Univar argued that, because Delaware subpoenaed Univar to provide records, the complaint’s claims were ripe. The subpoena and formal enforcement action filing set the case apart from the similar Plains All American case, which was brought before the state had formally taken steps to request records or force Plains to comply with an audit.  

 

The judge, however, disagreed. “While the state has subpoenaed documents from Plaintiff under the 2017 amendment to the UPL and has filed suit in state court to compel compliance, Univar cannot meet the adversity prong of the ripeness test until it is actually compelled to participate in the audit,” she wrote in her ruling. 

 

The court declined to dismiss two of Univar’s claims. The complaint argues that the state’s contingent fee arrangement with its third-party auditor violates Univar’s right to due process. It also asserts that audit subjects are selected based on their likelihood to produce large amounts of money for the state, constituting an equal protection violation. 

 

While the court agreed that two of the claims are ripe for consideration, it put the case on hold, pending a Chancery Court decision whether to enforce the state’s subpoena. 

 

“If the Chancery Court does not enforce the Subpoena, this action may no longer be necessary,” the judge wrote. “On the other hand, if the Subpoena is enforced, certain issues may become ripe and an amended complaint may be appropriate.” 

 

UPPO will continue to monitor and report on the progress of the Univar case as noteworthy developments occur.  

 

 

 

Tags:  audits  Delaware  estimation  litigation  Plains All American  Univar 

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Litigation Update: Delaware Supreme Court Rejects State’s Appeal

Posted By Administration, Thursday, June 20, 2019

On June 18, 2019, the state of Delaware took another hit in its battle with Univar. The latest rejection came from the Delaware Supreme Court, which denied acceptance of the state’s appeal of a May 2019 denial for interlocutory review by the state’s Chancery Court. 

 

In short, Delaware has been seeking enforcement of a subpoena for records requested by its unclaimed property auditor, Kelmar. The courts have consistently denied Delaware’s request, pending the outcome of litigation brought by Univar challenging the constitutionality of Delaware’s unclaimed property enforcement practices. 

 

“We agree that interlocutory review is not warranted in this case. The Court of Chancery exercised its discretion to stay litigation seeking enforcement of a subpoena issued under a statute that is the subject of federal constitutional challenges in federal court, and to avoid the potential for conflicting rulings and inefficiency,” the Delaware Supreme Court wrote in its decision to refuse Delaware’s appeal.

 

UPPO will continue to monitor and report on the Univar case as noteworthy developments occur.

Tags:  audits  Delaware  estimation  litigation  Univar 

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Litigation Update: Chancery Court Sides with Univar, Takes Issue with Delaware

Posted By Administration, Thursday, May 16, 2019

State of Delaware, Dept. of Finance v. Univar, Inc., C.A.

On Dec. 3, 2018, Univar Inc. filed a lawsuit against Delaware Department of Finance officials in a Delaware District Court, alleging that several aspects of an unclaimed property audit initiated by third-party auditor Kelmar in 2015 on Delaware’s behalf are unconstitutional.

According to Univar’s complaint, for more than two years Delaware rejected or ignored objections it had made to document requests from Kelmar. In December 2018, Delaware issued a subpoena for the records Kelmar had previously requested. Univar filed suit, raising constitutional issues regarding:

  • Delaware’s retroactive application of amendments to the Delaware Abandoned and Unclaimed Property Law.
  • The state’s estimation methodology.
  • The state’s use of a third-party auditor that simultaneously represents other states in a multi-state audit.
  • The state’s contingent-fee arrangement with its third-party auditor.
On Dec. 7, 2018, Delaware responded to Univar’s lawsuit by filing its own lawsuit in Delaware Chancery Court, seeking to force Univar to comply with its subpoena. Univar filed a motion asking the court to put Delaware’s lawsuit on hold until the constitutional issues at play in its original lawsuit were resolved.

Following a hearing on April 8, 2019, the Chancery Court judge granted Univar’s request. Delaware responded by requesting an interlocutory appeal – an accelerated appeal of the ruling, which can be granted in extraordinary circumstances. On May 6, 2019, Vice Chancellor Joseph R. Slights III denied the request and took exception with Delaware’s actions.

“The State continues to press its strategy of having two courts litigate the same constitutional challenges to the same Delaware statutes at the same time. The inefficiencies of this approach are apparently lost on the State. They are not lost on the Court,” Slights wrote in his decision.

UPPO will continue to monitor and report on the Univar case as noteworthy developments occur.

Tags:  audits  Delaware  estimation  litigation  Univar 

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Litigation Update: Univar Takes on Delaware

Posted By Administration, Thursday, January 24, 2019

Univar Inc. v. Geisenberger, et al.

 

On Dec. 3, 2018, Univar Inc. filed a lawsuit against Delaware Department of Finance officials, alleging that several aspects of an unclaimed property audit initiated by third-party auditor Kelmar in 2015 on Delaware’s behalf are unconstitutional. Among the issues at play in the Univar case are:

  • Delaware’s retroactive application of amendments to the Delaware Abandoned and Unclaimed Property Law (DUPL), amended on Feb. 2, 2017. 
  • The state’s estimation methodology.
  • The state’s use of a third-party auditor that simultaneously represents other states in a multi-state audit.
  • The state’s contingent-fee arrangement with its third-party auditor.

 

On Dec. 11, 2015, Delaware notified Univar it would be subject to an unclaimed property examination, conducted by Kelmar. Upon receiving document requests from Kelmar, Univar objected, citing confidentiality concerns, Kelmar’s self-interest, the estimation process and other aspects of the audit. According to Univar’s complaint, Delaware rejected or ignored the objections and continued to do so for more than two years. On Oct. 30, 2018, the state issued a subpoena for the records Kelmar had previously requested. 

 

The Univar case includes several issues that have been part of other recent cases, including Temple-Inland v. CookPlains All American v. Cook and Marathon Petroleum v. Cook. However, unlike those lawsuits, the Univarcase was filed after the February 2017 DUPL amendments and, thus, questions the state’s ability to retroactively apply those amendments to audits that were initiated earlier.  

 

“The subpoena power that Delaware is relying on to force production of records from Univar was not effective until February 2017,” said Jameel Turner, one of the attorneys with Bailey Cavalieri who is representing Univar in this case. “The February 2017 amendments also created a 10-year record retention requirement for unclaimed property records. Prior to that time there was no record retention requirement. Delaware is using estimation for holders that did not comply with a record retention requirement that did not exist until February of 2017. So, they are using estimation when holders do not have records for periods when the law did not require records to be kept. It simply does not make sense.”

 

Univar also picks up the challenge to Delaware’s estimation methodology where Temple-Inland left off. The Temple-Inland court ruled that the state’s estimation methodology was unconstitutional. Univar argues that Delaware merely added a 10-year look-back period but otherwise continues to rely on estimation practices already declared invalid.

 

Delaware and Kelmar also allegedly responded to Temple-Inland by rescinding its requests to holders for prior unclaimed property filings for all states because the court took issue with the practice. However, after the case was settled, these requests were reinstated and the state incorporated the right to request such prior filings into the 2017 DUPL amendments. 

 

“Delaware and Kelmar use prior unclaimed property filings for states not participating in the audit to increase the potential liability due and payable to Delaware,” Turner said. “Univar is asking a judge to confirm that the way they are using those prior filings is unconstitutional and that prior filings in nonparticipating states are not relevant to whether a holder has liability due and payable to any participating state.”

 

One of the issues in the Univar case that was also a factor in other recent litigation is the concept of ripeness. The Plains All American case also questioned Delaware’s use of estimation. The court said Plains may have valid complaints, but because the state had not yet formally taken steps to request records or force Plains to comply with the audit, the case was not yet ripe. 

 

“One of the reasons the Plains All American case was dismissed was because Delaware had not made a formal demand for compliance with the audit request,” Turner said. “Univar has been served with a subpoena, so Delaware has taken steps to formally compel Univar to provide records. That’s a significant factor that distinguishes Univar’s situation from that of Plains All American.”

 

Ultimately, a decision in the Univar case may provide clarity for unclaimed property holders regarding the state’s audit and estimation practices. 

 

UPPO will continue to monitor and report on the progress of the Univarcase as noteworthy developments occur.  

Tags:  audits  Delaware  estimation  litigation  Plains All American  Temple Inland  Univar 

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Jury Rules Against Overstock in Qui Tam Lawsuit

Posted By Administration, Thursday, October 25, 2018

On Sept. 20, 2018, a Delaware Superior Court jury ruled in The State of Delaware ex. rel. William Sean French v. Overstock.com Inc. that Overstock.com violated the state’s False Claims and Reporting Act by failing to escheat unredeemed gift card balances as unclaimed property. 

 

At issue in the lawsuit was Overstock’s relationship with Card Compliant LLC (previously CardFact), a third-party Ohio-based company used to issue gift cards and assume certain gift card responsibilities. The case came about when a former Card Compliant employee filed a qui tam(whistleblower) lawsuit, alleging fraud against the government. Dozens of other defendants were dismissed from the lawsuit or settled, leaving Overstock as the only defendant.  

 

Among the various allegations, the plaintiffs claim that some defendants didn’t account for the transfer of liability in the manner its contracts specified. According to the state, the liability wasn’t truly transferred and, thus, defendants had the obligation to remit unclaimed property to Delaware but didn’t do so.

 

“It’s unusual in this line of business to have a jury verdict,” said Diann Smith, counsel with McDermott Will & Emery LLP. “Usually we get an opinion from the judge that will provide the facts and explain how the law applies to those facts, but that’s not the case with a jury verdict. We don’t really know why they came to this conclusion, leaving some mystery about what it means for other holders.”

 

Although the decision against Overstock has no precedential value, it certainly could have a ripple effect, encouraging Delaware to pursue similar actions against other retailers who use the giftco structure to shift unclaimed property liability. 

 

“Given this verdict, one would expect that Delaware will continue to take the position that the CardFact structure, as least in its current form, doesn’t work,” said Ethan Millar, partner with Alston & Bird LLP. “Although jury verdicts have no precedential value, it is also possible Delaware may use the verdict as an excuse to become more aggressive about challenging other types of gift card structures.”

 

This decision should encourage other companies with third-party giftco arrangements to review their practices to ensure the structures have substance and avoid the issues alleged by the whistleblower and Delaware. 

 

“Holders should consider carefully not just what was at issue in this case but also how it was brought – as a qui tam action, “Smith said. “They should think about what their compliance positions are and whether they are at risk for this type of action. The Delaware decision could raise the profile for people who are inclined to bring this type of action, and you want to avoid being a target.” 

 

Because whistleblowers receive a portion of the settlement/recovery for actions they bring, the incentive to report a former employer, for example, is high. A lawsuit that results in a multi-million dollar decision or settlement can provide a life-changing windfall for the whistleblower. 

 

One complaint that Delaware had in this case was that companies didn’t reach out to the state to ask whether the structure was valid. That raises the question whether companies with ambiguous issues related to their escheat practices, such as giftcos, should consult with the states. 

 

“In the Overstock case, Delaware argued that Overstock should have asked the state for guidance regarding the structure.  Technically, of course, there is no requirement to do so,” Millar said. “Consulting with counsel should be sufficient. Nonetheless, it would be helpful to understand what Delaware believes is necessary for a gift card structure to be effective. Accordingly, there could be something to gain from dialogue with the states on this and other issues.”

 

Even if the state’s response doesn’t affirm a specific practice, documenting the interaction and demonstrating that the state’s response wasn’t backed by a compelling argument or specific reasoning could prove useful if a dispute arises later. 

 

If Overstock appeals or if this decision leads to further action by Delaware, UPPO will continue to monitor and report on any noteworthy developments.  

Tags:  card compliant  Delaware  litigation  overstock  qui tam  unclaimed property 

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