Breaking News: New Jersey Legislature Passes Gift Card Bill, Legislation Headed to Governor (Updated)

by admin

We continue the seemingly never ending saga of New Jersey’s 2010 gift card legislation.  A brief recap:  In July, 2010 New Jersey passed Assembly Bill 3002, which, among other things, applied the state’s Unclaimed Property Act to gift cards (using a 2 year dormancy period), reduced the dormancy period for travelers’ checks from 15 years to 3 years, and reduced the dormancy period for money orders from 7 years to 3 years.  In addition, the legislation provided that all gift cards, even those for the purchase of merchandise only, would escheat to the state at full face value (the “Face Value Requirement”), required all gift card issuers to collect at least zip code information from the gift card purchasers (the “Zip Code Requirement”), and provided that in the absence of such zip code information, it would be presumed that all gift cards sold in New Jersey were sold to New Jersey residents (the “Location Presumption”).  Got all that?  Good.  Sadly, were not even close to being done with the summary.

Unhappy with several parts of the legislation, gift card issuers, money order transmitters, and travelers’ check sellers sued the state to challenge the new law.  Specifically, opponents of the legislation challenged New Jersey’s authority to shorten money order and travelers’ check dormancy periods, to apply the Unclaimed Property Act to gift cards, and to enforce the Face Value Requirement, the Zip Code Requirement, and the Location Presumption (more details here).  Initially, a federal court in New Jersey entered an injunction temporarily prohibiting the state from retroactively enforcing the Face Value Requirement or the Location Presumption.  The court declined, however, to prevent application of the 2 year dormancy period for gift cards or the shortened dormancy periods for money orders and travelers’ checks.  Still there?  Great.  Still not done.

Ultimately, the lower court’s decision was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia.  That court ultimately upheld most of the lower court’s decision.  Specifically the Court of Appeals held that, as a preliminary matter, the gift card issuers challenging the law had shown that they are likely to succeed on their claim that the retroactive Face Value Requirement unconstitutionally interfered with the sellers’ contract rights and reasonable expectation of making a profit (because generally retailers do not sell $50 worth of merchandise for $50; there is usually a profit margin). The Court also ruled that the Location Presumption was invalid (and thus could not be enforced) because of the Supreme Court’s decision in Texas v. New Jersey.  Thus, cards sold in New Jersey without name and address (more on that later) are still escheatable to the holder’s state of incorporation.  At the same time, the Court ruled in favor of New Jersey on two fronts.  First, the Court ruled that the 2 year dormancy period itself was permissible.  Moreover, the Court held that the law’s requirement that sellers collect name and address information (or at least zip code info) from the purchaser is constitutional.  Hello?  Still getting the story up to speed.  We’re almost at the new stuff.  Really.

While all this legal wrangling was going on, the legislature was also at work trying to improve, amend (or completely undo) the previous legislation.  Industry also got into the act.  In particular, several gift card issuers pulled their products from the shelves in New Jersey, citing an inability or unwillingness to comply with the challenged legislation (including particularly the requirement to collect zip code information for every transaction).

This, in turn, also fomented a public relations battle between the gift card industry and the state.  Basically, the state argued that the gift card retailers were greedy corporate oligarchs bent on stealing innocent citizens’ funds with gift cards designed to suddenly dematerialze without warning.  For their part, the gift card retailers essentially argued that New Jersey wanted to outlaw gift cards entirely, through stiff criminal penalties, up to life imprisonment, for persons caught using, possessing, or even thinking about gift cards.  (Editor’s note:  This is, perhaps, not a completely accurate recitation of each sides’ respective position, though that seemed to be the gist of it).

ANYWAY:  Earlier this year, the New Jersey Assembly passed a bill that would effectively undo the 2010 legislation, by removing stored value cards from the scope of the New Jersey Unclaimed Property Act, and (re)extending the dormancy periods for money orders and travelers’ checks back to 7 and 15 years, respectively.  That bill then went to the State Senate for consideration.  Earlier today, the State Senate took action with respect to the 2010 gift card legislation.  Given the twists and turns thus far, what do you think that the State Senate did?

A.  Passed the Assembly Legislation As Is
B.  Passed the Assembly Legislation With Some Minor Changes
C.  Voted Down the Assembly Legislation; Gift Card Laws to Remain As Is
D.  None of the above

Congratulate yourself if you chose “D.”  According to the Newark Star-Ledger, the State Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 1928.  This bill extends the dormancy period for stored value cards to 5 years (up from the current 2) and provides that retail gift cards are escheatable at 60% of the face value (thereby giving retailers the benefit of some profit margin).  The bill also requires issuers to redeem cards in cash if there is a balance of less than $5.  This bill will now (presumably) be considered by the State Assembly.

UPDATED 6/26/2012:  The Assembly passed the same bill later on the evening of June 25.  The bill now goes to the Governor for signature.