Judge rejects missing money suit

Last modified: 10/30/2010 12:00:00 AM
A case challenging how the state attempts to return unclaimed money to citizens was dismissed by the Merrimack County Superior Court last week.

A judge found that the state's method for trying to notify people who are owed money - from insurance payments, stock dividends, utility deposits and other income - is not violating the constitutional rights of New Hampshire residents, as the plaintiffs had claimed.

'We expected that it would be dismissed,' said Assistant Attorney General Danielle Pacik, who represented the state and State Treasurer Catherine Provencher, who is also named in the lawsuit.

'The unclaimed property act is purely custodial,' Pacik said. 'An owner always has the opportunity to get his or her property back.'

The plaintiffs may not like the way the state goes about trying to give back unclaimed property, but that doesn't mean the method is unconstitutional, she added.

The plaintiffs - Kimberly Blain and Joe King's Shoe Shop - don't like the way the state tries to give money back, and they intend to file for reconsideration, said Charles Douglas, the Concord attorney who represented Blain and King.

When the state owes someone money, the Treasury Department sends notices to his or her last known address, notifying the resident that they have unclaimed property. Twice a year, the department also pays to run a list of names of those owed money by the state in the New Hampshire Union Leader.

People can also search the 'Missing Money' search engine on the Treasury Department's website.

Douglas, however, alleges that the state isn't trying very hard to find people. One reason for that, he said, is that unclaimed money goes into the state's general fund. An average of $4.4 million each year gets dumped into that fund, according to the Treasury Department's 2009 report.

'We think that they're not doing all they can and should to put this property back with its owners,' Douglas said.

'Registered mail is not sufficient if it's returned undelivered,' said Douglas. 'A reasonable alternative must be used. The state knows the Social Security numbers and they know the names,' and could easily find more current addresses by using companies that specialize in finding people, said Douglas.

Douglas said he plans to file for a reconsideration this month that will point to past cases where registered mail that has been returned was found to be an insufficient means of notification. If the case is dismissed again, he will appeal, said Douglas.

(Tara Ballenger can be reached at 369-3306 or tballenger@cmonitor.com.)

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