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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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Title: A look at Delaware’s statute recognizing first priority states’ exemptions under S.B. 13, part 2

Posted By Mark Watters, Thursday, June 29, 2017

Part 1 of this article provided an overview of Delaware’s prior application of the priority rules and an in-depth explanation of what constitutes an exemption under §1141(b).

 

How should holders manage these “exemptions” under §1141(b)?

Until holders gain greater clarity through statements of policy, regulations and common law, application to the previous examples will remain a business decision for holders seeking to balance aggressive and conservative practices. Too aggressive, and holders face potential audit exposure; too conservative, and holders may be remitting properties it need not immediately forfeit. 

 

Each holder needs to review its own practices under its unclaimed property policies, determine a logical and supportable position, and memorialize that position for support and reference years into the future. 

 

Delaware may—in the interest of clarity, certainty, better holder compliance and the resulting ease of auditing for holders and state agents—provide answers to these questions; in the previous examples there need not be any lack of clarity, at least in the general application. Such leadership would be welcomed by auditors and holders alike, and would create an open dialogue should disagreements arise. Such policy would allow holders greater ability to manage their risks and create an environment for better compliance.

 

Absent these answers, holders will need to take a common sense approach to these issues as they arise. Holders should have knowledge and understanding of its facts and the “exemption” it contemplates taking, record that for future reference, and review its policies periodically to determine if they are still valid. Failing to do so in the context of unclaimed property compliance compounds the issues and potential exposure or complexity of the holder’s redemption. 

 

Some considerations:

  • Risk/benefit. Holding properties under a dubious or questionable “exemption” or factual basis may not be worth any benefit over that of the risk involved. This risk is not only a financial one, but one which impacts good relations with customers, suppliers, and the public perception and image of the holder.
  • Costs of property maintenance and preservation. Some properties are just not worth the costs of maintenance and preservation. Escheatment provides an answer. By way of example, some states have a business-to-business exemption (b2b) that provides an exemption by deferral, whereby once the relationship between the holder and owner ends, the property must be escheated. Under such circumstances, the holder might do well to try settling the obligation with the owner, but thereafter, forego the deferral exemption and report the property at first opportunity. An “exemption” need not be taken and there are generally no penalties for early reporting of such properties. 
  • Costs of retaining records. Increasingly, states are reviewing records of unreported properties and documentation as to why they were not reported. This has created a greater burden on holders to maintain, preserve and index records for future reference and audit support. For exempt properties, holders have a greater burden to monitor laws to ascertain changes or eliminations of such “exemptions,” which need not be so closely reviewed if such properties are escheated. Many would agree that growing unclaimed property record maintenance has made the task more onerous and the costs of software and means for individual property record retrieval more costly and time-consumptive. Escheatment and passive record retention may be a better business decision than active maintenance of an extensive pool of active property records. 
  • The “sleep at night” test. Related to the risk/benefit analysis, does it make sense to create additional stress by holding properties at risk of audit? Escheating “at risk” properties helps to limit that stress and frees up company resources and personnel for value added pursuits.

Conclusion

The Delaware exemption and its application will be developed as time and opportunities allow. This recognition of other jurisdictions’ exemption is a welcome change to unclaimed property compliance. Let’s hope other states follow Delaware’s example as they review and enact their own updates from the current uniform act. 

 

There remain certain areas that would benefit from clarification and cleanup, some of which are discussed in this article. As compliance practitioners, we must carefully analyze each circumstance and determine whether we should apply the “exemption” to each factual pattern and each jurisdiction’s laws, regulations, and policies as we understand them. 

 

Remember that taking unclaimed property “exemptions” of any nature is not required; they are discretionary. Decisions about such require careful consideration of holder legal responsibility, and business purposes and goals.

 

About the Contributor

Mark Watters is technical director, unclaimed property, for DuCharme, McMillen & Associates Inc.

 

Disclaimer: Neither UPPO nor DMA, or any of their affiliated or related entities, by means of this summary, is rendering business, financial, legal, tax, reporting or compliance or other professional advice or services. This blog post is not a substitute for such professional advice.

Tags:  compliance  Delaware  priority rules  unclaimed property 

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A look at Delaware’s statute recognizing first priority states’ exemptions under S.B. 13, part 1

Posted By Mark Watters, Thursday, June 22, 2017
Updated: Thursday, June 29, 2017

One of the key provisions of Delaware’s S.B. 13, 149th General Assembly (the 2017 revision of its unclaimed property act), is Del. Code Ann., tit. 11, §1141(b), honoring exemptions of all first priority jurisdictions.

 

Formerly, Delaware was known to take properties exempted by the first priority jurisdiction based upon its interpretation of the priority rules (discussed below). As a majority of business associations are incorporated or formed in Delaware, this was a significant frustration of purpose for many other jurisdictions’ exemptions and provided a sizable windfall to Delaware. 

 

The new Delaware statute now maintains the exemption of the state of first priority, a reversal of the former Delaware common law practice. All the same, is the new “broad brush” Delaware exemption as it appears, or will it be restricted in practice by the state escheator?

 

Priority Rules and Prior Delaware Application

Under Texas v. New Jersey, 379 U.S. 674 (1965), the U.S. Supreme Court settled competing claims to property, creating a set of priority rules between competing state claims to properties. Under those priorities, the state of the property owner’s last known address has first priority to take the property. The second priority, which applies if the state of first priority takes no claim to the property, fell to the state of the holder’s incorporation (and now, formation for unincorporated business associations). The third priority, which is less well defined and which is rarely applied, is essentially any state with an economic interest, such as the jurisdiction where the original obligation arose. 

 

Under these common law rules, Delaware has historically benefited by taking properties with no known owner and address, foreign properties (that had no “state” of last address) and properties that were not escheatable to the state of first priority for any reason.

 

Del. Code Ann., tit. 11, §1141(b) (S.B. 13, 149th General Assembly)

Under its new statute, it appears that this substantial source of Delaware’s historic unclaimed property has been proactively eliminated; properties, once exempt in the jurisdiction of first domicile but taken by Delaware, may no longer be escheatable in Delaware under Del. Code Ann., tit. 11, §1141(b):

 

(b) Property is not subject to custody of the State Escheator under subsection (a) of this section if the property is specifically exempt from custodial taking under the law of this State or the state of the last-known address of the owner.

 

Under previous application, other states’ exemptions were frustrated by requiring holders incorporated in Delaware to escheat properties under the second priority.

 

This new Delaware statute raises several complex issues of application and definition, which will be resolved over time through regulation, policy, and practical application:

  • What constitutes an “exemption”?
  • How should holders manage these exemptions?

This article seeks to create awareness of these questions for further discussion.

 

What constitutes an “exemption” under §1141(b)?

There is no statutory definition of “exemption” under S.B. 13, so initially state regulation, policy statements, and audit practice will provide parameters. Guidance is promptly needed, since many potential “exemptions” represent substantial and growing amounts on the records of holders and, thus, potential significant exposure.

 

The meaning of “exemption” should apply to any specifically-identified by that term in the law. Beyond the use in statutes and common law of that exact word, there are other statutory constructions that arguably act as exemptions, but are not so named or act as property value reductions only. These terms include:

  • Exceptions. Exceptions differ from exemptions primarily by how they arise. While an exemption recognizes that such properties would generally be escheatable, by affirmative statutory construction an exception is created by carving out that property type from the general statutory base. There are two types: Those created by definition restriction; and those created by statutes of application. The former will be found in statutes of definition, typically in that for “property”; the latter in statutes requiring general escheatment of a property type “except for” certain properties falling under a particular fact pattern or other condition. These differences are not important to our survey; each can be identified by the word “except” and its derivatives in the statutory or common laws proper;
  • Minimal value “exemptions.” Minimal value exemptions restrict the escheatment of properties exceeding a certain minimal value; 
  • Business sector exemptions. A few jurisdictions have exemptions based solely on the holder’s industrial sector, applicable to certain property types;
  • De facto exemption through superseding statutes. Federal and state laws, especially in the consumer protection, banking, insurance and commercial sectors, superseding unclaimed property law;
  • Deferral “exemptions,” where the holder need not report property until there is a clean break in overall relationship with the (typically business) owner; and
  • Reductions and deductions. These are reporting value adjustments recognizing and relieving duties and burdens imposed on holders. Typically, these are cost reimbursements, actual or computed, for the management of properties, particularly for performance of due diligence and preservation of properties and their maintenance on the books and records of the holder. These reductions and deductions may apply to both holders and state property administrators, the latter as compensation for property advertising and preservation. 

These are discussed in the context of Delaware’s statute below. 

 

Exceptions in state codes are clearly purposed to withdraw certain properties from escheatment in their jurisdictions just like exemptions. Unlike exemptions, these generally are not discretionary but mandatory. One would hope by application and intent exemptions and exceptions would receive equal treatment.

 

Partial exemptions. Several states provide a partial exemption, typically exempting minimal values of specific properties; higher property values are fully subject to escheatment. This issue is very hard to predict, as minimal values under the reporting threshold but having a single owner could be consolidated by Delaware to pass the threshold of such minimal values, and even if analyzed alone, might not rise to the level of “exemptions” under Delaware’s statute. 

 

Business sector exemptions. A few states create special exemptions for cooperatives, certain preferred business sectors, and similar holder groups. These exemptions are usually also limited to certain property types. By practical application these should be recognized as exemptions

 

De facto exemption through superseding statutes. There are many areas where federal and state laws supersede those for unclaimed property; many state laws are universal. These include life insurance, gift cards and certificates, commercial paper, and many others. Such statutory preemption should expect to be recognized. Common law (through litigation) recognizes other circumstances of preemption, such as U.S. savings bonds, although the case law may not be recognized until litigated in courts of local jurisdiction. 

 

Deferral “exemptions.” These are not true exemptions, but rather stay or delay escheatment until certain conditions are met, typically when the holder breaks connection with the owner. While these may be titled or described as “exemptions”, these are rightly deferrals, where the state of first priority delays (“defers”) reporting until after a break between the holder and owner. These properties may be subject to Delaware escheatment, especially considering the 10-year statute of limitations (Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, §1156(b)), and the closing door of opportunity; likewise, Delaware could honor the deferral and allow the jurisdiction of first priority to take when it is appropriate to do so.

 

Reductions and deductions. These are generally modest amounts to recompense the holder for costs associated with property management and reporting compliance. One might expect Delaware to honor such allowances of its sister states. However, there is no clear statutory requirement that it do so except through the statutory authority cited in this paper. This author is unaware of any instance where Delaware has historically pursued such allowances under the old law. 

 

Holders should be careful to recognize that any applied “exemption” does not extinguish its obligations to the property’s owner; rather, exemptions only relieve the holder from reporting and remitting the property to the appropriate jurisdiction. Obligations to the property’s owner are never relieved. 

 

The ultimate duty of all holders is to return property held to its rightful owner or report and remit it to the state. In addition, rolling such properties back into P&L may violate accounting standards that are beyond unclaimed property laws. Thus, other than the important consideration as to who should have the right to hold and have use of the property until redemption, there is no permanent value to its possession. 

 

Part 2

Part 2 of this article examines how holders should manage these exemptions.

 

About the Contributor

Mark Watters is technical director, unclaimed property, for DuCharme, McMillen & Associates Inc.

 

Disclaimer: Neither UPPO nor DMA, or any of their affiliated or related entities, by means of this summary, is rendering business, financial, legal, tax, reporting or compliance or other professional advice or services. This blog post is not a substitute for such professional advice.

Tags:  Compliance  Delaware  priority rules  unclaimed property 

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Office Depot case takes on federal priority rules

Posted By Administration, Thursday, June 1, 2017

On May 4, 2017, UPPO filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in the case of Office Depot v. Cook. The amicus brief supports the arguments of the plaintiffs, retailer Office Depot and its gift card management company, North American Card and Coupon Services (NACCS). 

 

Like many retailers, Office Depot established and uses a special purpose entity for oversight and management of its gift cards and gift certificates. The gift card management company, NACCS, was incorporated in 2002 in Virginia, which exempts gift cards from unclaimed property reporting. NACCS does not collect names and addresses of gift card or certificate purchasers. 

 

As part of an audit that began in 2013, Delaware’s third-party auditor, Kelmar, requested information from Office Depot that included detailed records regarding NACCS transactions. Office Depot declined to provide this information, arguing that NACCS transactions fall outside of Delaware’s jurisdiction under the priority rules established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Texas v. New Jersey

 

As a result of Office Depot’s refusal to turn over requested NACCS documentation, Kelmar subsequently referred the issue to Delaware’s attorney general for “enforcement action.” 

 

On July 18, 2016, Office Depot and NACCS filed suit  against Delaware unclaimed property officials, seeking a declaratory judgment that the state’s unclaimed property practices violate the Fourth Amendment and federal common law. The plaintiffs argue that:

  • The defendants’ information request amounts to unreasonable search and seizure.
  • Delaware’s unclaimed property laws violate the federal priority rules established in Texas v. New Jersey.

On March 3, 2017, the U.S. District Court of Delaware dismissed the case, saying that the priority rule cases cited by Office Depot apply only to interstate disputes, but not disputes between private entities and states. Office Depot appealed the ruling to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

 

“Delaware is arguing that holders can’t rely on the federal common law rules and that the state has the right to essentially demand any and every bit of documentation or information concerning how a retailer set up its gift card structure,” says Ethan Millar, partner with Alston & Bird. “If Office Depot prevails in this case, then Delaware will be significantly limited in its ability to challenge these structures.”

The priority rules permeate many aspects of unclaimed property compliance—beyond just the retail industry. On a larger scale, the Office Depot case takes aim at any holder’s ability to rely on the federal priority rules to determine the states to which they should escheat unclaimed property.

 

“If the court determines the federal common law rules do not apply to disputes between a holder and a single state, that will invite chaos as a matter of compliance because holders will have to try to anticipate claims by states that wouldn’t normally have a claim under those rules,” Millar says.

 

In addition, invalidating the priority rules in disputes between single holders and states could affect states’ use of estimation. Losing the weight of the priority rules would make it much more difficult for holders to argue that estimation is impermissible because the state is trying to escheat something other than the actual debt that’s owed. Also, because the priority rules are the foundation for the argument against having to escheat foreign-owned property to a state, this case’s decision could affect how holders deal with such property.

 

UPPO’s amicus brief raises several arguments in support of Office Depot and points to a previous Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision as one of the reasons Office Depot should prevail. The 2012 case of N.J. Retail Merchants v. Ass’n v. Sidamon-Eristoff case similarly involved a state’s attempts to escheat gift cards by taking a position different from what the federal common law rules required.

 

The Third Circuit held that the federal common law rules were intended to be rules of general application. Even though they were created under the U.S. Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to resolve disputes between states, that doesn’t mean they’re limited to interstate disputes.

 

The N.J. Retail Merchants case is not an outlier. The Tenth Circuit reached a similar conclusion in the 1986 American Petrofina Co. of Texas v. Nance case, and several lower federal court and state supreme court decisions concur.

 

UPPO will continue to monitor and report on this case as developments occur. UPPO’s amicus brief was written and submitted on behalf by Ethan Millar and John L. Coalson Jr. from Alston & Bird; James G. Ryan and Jameel S. Turner from Bailey Cavalieri; and Michael Rato from McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter.

 

 

Tags:  compliance  Delaware  Office Depot  priority rules  unclaimed property 

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UPPO seeks clarification about Arkansas advisory on abandoned mineral proceeds

Posted By Administration, Thursday, August 11, 2016

In a May 16, 2016, letter to holders of abandoned mineral proceeds, the Arkansas auditor’s office provided information about recent changes to the state’s unclaimed property laws for mineral proceeds. The notice included this advisory:

 

“If a mineral interest was derived from a well physically located in Arkansas (as evidenced by the legal description of the well) and the owners last known mailing address is UNKNOWN, the abandoned mineral interest should be reported to the Arkansas Auditor of State Unclaimed Property Division.”

 

UPPO recently responded to the Arkansas auditor’s office, raising concerns about the state’s guidance and seeking clarification. The association’s letter notes that the state’s position on property with an unknown address conflicts with federal law. Specifically, Arkansas’s guidance runs contrary to the unclaimed property priority rules established more than 50 years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court in Texas v. New Jersey:

 

        First Priority Rule: Abandoned property must be escheated to the state of the owner’s last known address, as determined by the holder’s books and records.

        Second Priority Rule: The property is paid to the state of corporate domicile if the owner’s address is incomplete or unknown, or if the owner’s last known address is in a state that does not provide for escheat of the property owed.

 

Coincidentally, Texas v. New Jersey was a case related to mineral proceeds. The state of Texas argued that at least the intangible obligations (royalties, rents and mineral proceeds) derived from land located in Texas should be escheatable only by that state. In the footnotes to its opinion, however, the Supreme Court said, “We do not believe that the fact that an intangible is income from real property with a fixed situs is significant enough to justify treating it as an exception to a general rule concerning escheat of intangibles.”

 

“It puts the holder in difficult position to have a state claim this property, knowing it’s owed to the company’s state of incorporation,” says William King, senior manager, state and local tax, unclaimed property for KPMG LLP.

 

The communication from Arkansas is certainly not the first time a state has issued guidance conflicting with federal law or even this specific issue. The 1988 case of American Petrofina v. Nance addressed an Oklahoma law requiring that proceeds held for owners with unknown addresses and generated from mineral interests in Oklahoma should be escheated to the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

 

The U.S. District Court ruled, and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, that the Oklahoma law violated the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause and that the federal common law established in Texas v. New Jersey preempted the Oklahoma law.

 

In its letter to the Arkansas auditor’s office, UPPO expressed concern regarding the apparent conflict between the state’s guidance and the federal priority rules. The association hopes to gain prompt clarification for its members.

Tags:  Arkansas  compliance  mineral proceeds  priority rules  unclaimed property 

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Understanding the priority rules

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 7, 2016

When property is abandoned, the law requires the holder to transfer it to the state, which then acts as its custodian. While this fundamental concept of unclaimed property is relatively easy to understand, the reality of which jurisdiction is the rightful custodian of the property is much more complicated. Is it the state where the transaction took place, the state where the owner is believed to be located, the state where the holder is incorporated, or the state where the holder’s primary business location resides?

 

During the Understanding the Priority Rules session at UPPO’s Annual Conference in March, presenters Kevin Spiegel, senior manager from Crowe Horwath LLP, and David Finkelson, partner with McGuireWoods LLP, discussed the priority rules that specify how to determine the appropriate state to receive unclaimed property.

 

The Rules

The U.S. Supreme Court established two unclaimed property priority rules with its Texas v. New Jersey decision in 1965:

  • First Priority Rule: Abandoned property must be escheated to the state of the owner’s last known address, as determined by the holder’s books and records.
  • Second Priority Rule: The property is paid to the state of corporate domicile if the owner’s address is incomplete or unknown, or if the owner’s last known address is in a state that does not provide for escheat of the property owed.

 

“The court reasoned that this approach is very straightforward, is easy to resolve, and leaves no legal issues to be decided,” Spiegel says.

 

Specific Property Types

Two additional Supreme Court cases further clarified the rules for money orders and similar payment instruments, and for securities. Following a 1972 decision in Pennsylvania v. New York, a case dealing with money orders, Congress established an exception to the priority rules for money orders, traveler’s checks and similar written payment instruments other than third-party bank checks. In these cases, the value of the property escheats to the state where the money order or traveler’s check was purchased. If that information is not available, it escheats to the state where the holder’s primary place of business is located.

 

In the 1993 case of Delaware v. New York, the Supreme Court considered which state receives unclaimed securities distributions held by intermediary banks, brokers and depositories for owners who cannot be identified or located. It ruled that the intermediary—not the issuer—is considered the holder because it is legally obligated to deliver securities to the owner. Thus, under the second priority rule, the intermediary’s state of corporate domicile receives the unclaimed property.

 

Corporate Domicile

Because application of the second priority rule is dependent on the holder’s “corporate domicile,” knowing what that term means is essential. As with so many aspects of unclaimed property law, it depends. Many states’ unclaimed property statutes rely on the definition of “domicile” from the 1981 or 1995 Uniform Unclaimed Property Act. For a corporation, “domicile” is the state of incorporation. For unincorporated holders, it is the principal place of business. Other states, however, define “domicile” for unincorporated business associations as the state of organization or formation, rather than the principal place of business. And some states fail to define “domicile” entirely. Resolving those conflicting definitions presents a quandary for holders.

 

Delaware, where many companies were legally formed, takes the position that its unclaimed property statutes cover Delaware-formed unincorporated entities. Some holders, however, have argued against Delaware that the state of their primary location—rather than Delaware, where they were established—is entitled to receive funds under the second priority rule.

 

The judge in a recent Delaware Chancery Court case agreed, ruling that Delaware has jurisdiction and its escheat laws apply to Delaware-formed LLCs even though their principal locations are elsewhere.

 

“This is by no means the last word on the issue,” Finkelson says. “Ultimately, it will likely take a case where the state of principal location is at the table, advocating for its position as opposed to just the holder doing so.”

 

Although the domicile issue presents some room for conflict, the priority rules have provided a largely reliable method for holders to determine the proper states for escheating unclaimed property. As such, understanding and applying the rules correctly is essential. 

 

“Whether it’s in our daily reporting, in an audit setting or in a mergers and acquisitions setting, application of the priority rules is one of those issues that’s always looming in all aspects of what we do,” says Finkelson.

 

Tags:  compliance  priority rules  unclaimed property 

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