Escheating Scandal:

OK, this Ninth Circuit case is not terribly exciting legally, but it’s practically useful, and it lets me say “escheating scandal.” (No google references for that until now; a poor gag, but mine own.) An excerpt from an earlier, more detailed decision in this litigation:

[The case is filed] by two individuals against the state controller. One, Chris Taylor, a former Intel employee, lives in England and owns 52,224 shares of Intel stock. The other, Nancy Pepple-Gonsalves, a former TWA flight attendant, lives in California, in Riverside County, and owns 7,000 shares of TWA stock. Or at least they did own the stock, before the state took it away.

The state controller took Mr. Taylor’s and Ms. Pepple-Gonsalves’s stock as “unclaimed property.” But these individuals do, in this lawsuit, claim it. The property was treated as unclaimed because for three years these two individuals did not cash dividend checks, respond to proxy notices, or otherwise communicate to the companies in which they owned stock. Intel and TWA provided the State of California with lists of shareholders who were “lost” or “unknown” by these three criteria, as required by law, and issued “duplicate shareholder certificates” to the state. The Controller then sold the stock and deposited the money received in exchange into the state’s general fund.

This case is about escheat. Escheat, at common law in England, formerly terminated a tenancy so that on the death of a tenant without heirs, or as a result of a tenant’s felony that worked a corruption of the blood, the land escheated to the lord of the fee. Title by escheat “was one of the fruits of and consequences of feudal tenure.” “But, as the feudal tenures do not exist in this country, there are no private persons who succeed to the inheritance by escheat; and the state steps in the place of the feudal lord, by virtue of its sovereignty, as the original and ultimate proprietor of all the lands within its jurisdiction.” Escheat of tangible or intangible personal property arises from the same conceptual scheme….

The escheat problem, in this case, arises from a new approach used by some state governments, greatly shortening the time before which untouched property is treated as though it had been abandoned, greatly reducing or eliminating notice to the true owner, and ignoring the true owner’s pleas. For example, California is taking the flight attendant’s stock in her airline on the basis, basically, that she cannot be found, even while she is standing in court shouting, “Here I am! Here I am! Give me my money!” And the State of California turns a deaf ear, pretending it cannot hear her.

The latest decision reverses the district court’s denial of an injunction, and suggests, “because the Supreme Court spoke so clearly in Jones v. Flowers, and because we spoke on the precise issues in this case twice — first in Taylor I and again in Suever v. Connell — without California taking any action to remedy the constitutional problem with its escheat statute, the district court may wish to consider whether some sort of supervision, such as requirement of court approval of new regulations, is necessary.”