TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The state’s Chief Financial Officer is being sued by a Florida woman accusing the state of violating the Fifth Amendment and owing residents interest payments on unclaimed funds. Plaintiff Alieda Maron, of St. Petersburg, filed the lawsuit as a class action and asked for a jury trial.
In Maron’s complaint, filed in federal court in Tallahassee, the nature of the complaint is the state’s unclaimed property funds and how they’re allegedly used while awaiting recovery by residents.
According to Maron’s court filing, state law requires that the state take unclaimed property “for public use, without payment of just compensation to its owners, private property that the state classifies as ‘presumed unclaimed’ pursuant to other provisions” of Florida’s Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act.
As a result, Maron is asking for declaratory relief, and other further necessary relief, including an injunction to allow Florida residents of unclaimed property to get their property back, and reclaim “in the form of money” their property in the future.
The lawsuit says the property is “presumed unclaimed” if the owner has not been contacted in writing about “the property or has not otherwise given an indication of interest in the property within certain time limits” which are defined in the relevant statute. The “presumed unclaimed” property is supposed to be put in State custody.
The suit continues, saying that Florida, upon taking non-cash property, “must promptly sell it to turn it into cash.” Then, the owner of the “dividend-bearing securities is entitled to recover any dividends that accrue” before the state sells it. Maron’s court filing says this is supposed to be prevented by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, specifically the Takings Clause, which “prohibits the government from using private property for public purposes without compensation to the property owner.”
Florida’s state constitution includes a provision with a “similar proscription,” which requires full compensation be paid to property owners when private property is taken to use for a public purpose.
However, Maron’s lawsuit alleges that the Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act instead uses the proceeds of selling the unclaimed property to pay for state programs and operations. When an owner of property then files a “valid claim” to retake ownership of their property, current statutes say the “owner may recover only the cash turned over to the State by the holder” or the cash produced from the sale.
Maron is suing to also get Florida residents additional funds from the sales, to include interest accrued that reflects “the time value or other value of an owner’s property.”
As Florida CFO, Maron named Jimmy Patronis as the defendant in the suit. Since taking office, Patronis has issued multiple releases to media and residents about how $1.7 billion has been reclaimed by residents since 2017. The most recent release, published July 5, said $20 million was returned in June alone, and that in fiscal year ending June 30, returned funds had totaled more than $388 million.
Patronis’ release on the unclaimed funds said the total for the previous fiscal year was a state record.
“I’m proud to announce that my Unclaimed Property Division has returned more than $20 million to the pockets of Floridians in June. This Fiscal Year, we’ve broken our annual record by returning more than $388 million in Unclaimed Property,” Patronis said in a statement. “With an average claim amount of roughly $785, that is real money going back into the pockets of Florida families and businesses. There is still more than $2 billion just waiting to be claimed and it only takes a few minutes to search with absolutely no cost to you.”
Residents are able to check if they have unclaimed property or funds at a state-operated website.
Through her lawsuit, Maron is seeking to get additional compensation from the state of Florida for the reported $3.5 billion held in unclaimed property, $85 million of which is alleged by Maron to be deposited in the State’s School Fund every year.
State law, according to Maron’s lawsuit, requires “interest, dividends, accruals, and other investment returns” be in effect for the “sole benefit of the State’s School Fund.” However, state law does not make the state compensate property owners “for lost interest, dividends, or other earnings or accruals on the property after deposit with the State.”
Maron’s court filings say she currently has $26.24 of unclaimed property in state custody, and that Florida’s government has used it for public purposes including “investing the property and earning interest, and otherwise using it to fund the State’s operations and programs, thereby relieving the State from borrowing funds at market rates to satisfy its obligations.”
In the suit, the state is accused by Maron of not paying her just compensation for using her property while it was in state custody. By not providing said compensation, Maron says she is being deprived of her Constitutional rights, as are any other residents seeking the return of their unclaimed property.
For that reason, Maron has filed her complaint as a federal class action lawsuit, and seeks a jury trial to decide the outcome. The suit was filed on July 15.