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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: 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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Litigation update: Plains All American appeal keeps estimation case alive

Posted By Administration, Thursday, January 12, 2017

One of the more interesting recent unclaimed property cases in recent years is Plains All American Pipeline L.P. v. Thomas Cook et al. In August 2016, the case was dismissed, but Plains has appealed the decision, sending the case to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

 

Background

A limited partnership incorporated in Delaware, Plains All American Pipeline, received notification in 2014 that Kelmar would be conducting an audit of the company on behalf of Delaware. Plains objected to the initial information request, claiming, in part, that the company was being audited not because of any suspicion of wrongdoing, but rather because of its profitability. When Delaware dismissed the company’s objections, Plains filed suit.

 

Among the complaint’s allegations, Plains argues that Kelmar’s request for information about subsidiaries organized outside of Delaware constitutes illegal search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The company argued that the state and its agent have no right to that information and, if they did, they would need to have reasonable grounds to search for it. The complaint also directly challenged Delaware’s right to use estimation.

 

Decision

On Aug. 16, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss. In part, the court said the plaintiffs brought their suit based on potential threats and not actual threats. For example, Plains challenged the state’s right to use estimation before it had done so, as the lawsuit was brought immediately following Kelmar’s initial information request. Regarding the Fourth Amendment claim, the court said the state’s decision to examine businesses based on their profitability was legitimate, as those companies are logically more likely than others to hold large amounts of unclaimed property.

 

Plains was worried about going through this long audit and then getting an estimated liability,” says Diane Green-Kelly, partner with Reed Smith LLP. “They didn’t think estimation was appropriate. The way the court read the complaint was that Plains was unhappy about how the audit might unfold and what the assessment might be. The court said you can’t complain about something that might happen. You have to wait until you’ve suffered an injury. The court didn’t consider the case ‘ripe.’”

 

Status

As with any case a court dismisses with prejudice, parties involved in the case may appeal the decision. Plains All American did just that on Sept. 16, 2016, sending the case to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

 

Outlook

The appealed Plains case is developing at a time when Delaware’s unclaimed property practices face several significant challenges. These challenges may affect how the appeals court views the case.

 

“It’s hard to know what the Third Circuit will do, especially in light of other things,” Green-Kelly says. “You can’t look at the Plains case in a vacuum. The court will see that 21 states are suing Delaware for overreaching its unclaimed property authority. Temple-Inland won because of overreaching and ignoring federal law. Marathon and Office Depot sued Delaware. Everyone is suing Delaware. The Third Circuit will see this case in the context of a lot of things happening out there challenging Delaware’s conduct. So, the court could decide this case actually was ripe in light of the context in which it was filed.”

 

Another case, Delaware Department of Finance v. Blackhawk Engagement Solutions, could also influence the outcome of Plains. In 2015, Delaware’s escheator issued a subpoena to Blackhawk requesting documents related to an audit that had been in progress for several years. Blackhawk refused. Delaware filed an action in court to enforce the subpoena, and Blackhawk resisted, claiming the escheator was not authorized to take these actions, among other things. The state filed a motion for judgment on the pleading, at which point Plains All American and Marathon filed a joint amicus brief.

 

The brief cites several areas of the Delaware Code where state agencies are authorized to conduct examinations to determine with a set of laws and expressly authorized to issue a summons for testimony and a subpoena for documents. The unclaimed property statute authorizes the escheator to issue a summons for testimony, but not a subpoena for documents. The amicus brief points out that the code actually included such authorization until it was repealed and revised in 1990.

 

“If the Blackhawk court says the escheator has the authority to issue a subpoena and enforce it, Plains sort of goes away,” says Green-Kelly. “If the escheator actually has subpoena power and can enforce it in court, the resisting company can claim it doesn’t have authority to so and let the court decide. It happens during the audit, so the court can stop it while it’s happening. Because the statute lacks the authority to issue a subpoena, right now there’s no way to stop it other than to file the type of lawsuit Plains filed.”

 

Impact on Holders

In light of the important issues at play in Plains and other current cases, Green-Kelly offers some advice for holders undergoing an audit or considering entering into a voluntary disclosure agreement (VDA).

 

“If you’re a company already under audit and close to the end, you shouldn’t just accept a result that is not supported by documents or anything that is close to an estimate like Temple-Inland,” she says. “If you’re not under audit and are thinking about a VDA, don’t do anything. See what happens with these cases. Under the new audit program, it might be better to be audited than to go through a VDA. Wait and see what the audit program is going to be. I can’t imagine telling any company to go into the VDA program right now unless they get the letter and have to make a decision.”

 

 

Tags:  Blackhawk  Delaware  estimation  litigation  Plains All American  unclaimed property 

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