As readers of this blog may recall, the Middle District of North Carolina recently denied Dish Network’s request for reversion of $11 million in unclaimed funds from the jury-awarded damages in a TCPA class action trial. See Krakauer v. Dish Network, LLC, No. 14-0333 (M.D.N.C. Oct. 27, 2020). Noting that the TCPA is a deterrence statute, the District Court held that allowing unclaimed funds to revert to the defendant would undermine the function of the damage award, and it determined that such funds should either escheat to the government or be donated to an appropriate charity whose work is related to the objectives of the TCPA. But the District Court did not decide the ultimate recipient of the unclaimed funds, appointing a special master to identify and evaluate potential cy pres recipients and make recommendations to the court.
Now, in a roughly one-page order, the Fourth Circuit denied Dish Network’s appeal of the District Court’s final disbursement order. See Krakauer v. Dish Network, LLC, No. 20-1077, No. 20-1198 (4th Cir. Dec. 1, 2020). Notwithstanding that the District Court had denied in no uncertain terms Dish’s motion that the unclaimed funds revert to Dish, the appellate court determined that the appeal was not yet ripe, given that the issue of where the funds will go has not yet been decided by the District Court and therefore “Dish’s interest in the ongoing claims administration process is contingent upon the issue—not yet resolved in the district court—of whether any unclaimed class funds revert to Dish.” Id. It concluded that if the District Court resolved not to allow such a reversion, “then the errors that Dish assigns to the claims administration process will not have caused any injury to Dish.” Id. Thus, on both standing and ripeness grounds, the Fourth Circuit denied the appeal.
The $11 million question—who will ultimately receive the unclaimed funds—still remains to be seen. We will continue to monitor this case as it develops.