Washington Law Review

Comment

A New Generation of Class Action Cy Pres Remedies: Lessons from Washington State

June 30, 2015 | 90 Wash. L. Rev. 943

Abstract: The use of cy pres as a mechanism to distribute residual funds in class actions has become increasingly common and the subject of much controversy. In the class action context, cy pres is an equitable remedy used by courts to appropriate class action settlement funds remaining after all identified class parties have been compensated to the funds’ “next best use,” usually to a charity. The controversy has stemmed primarily from a lack of clear judicially enforced standards on how and when to use cy pres. In light of recent controversy, both the Federal Rules Committee, and potentially the Supreme Court, are now considering stepping-in to consider changes to the doctrine. While most of the debate has focused on the federal courts, some states have been codifying their own approaches to provide structure and guidance to courts in the use of cy pres. In 2006, Washington State passed a groundbreaking amendment to Civil Rule 23, requiring that at least twenty-five percent of residual class action funds go the Legal Foundation of Washington, a charity providing legal aid services to indigent persons in the State of Washington. This rule is representative of a larger state trend towards adopting statutory approaches to cy pres that promote legal aid charities as appropriate cy pres recipients. Focusing primarily but not exclusively on Washington, this Comment argues that states have been effective “laboratories of innovation” in reaching workable solutions to the residual funds dilemma in consumer class actions. These codified state approaches to cy pres have shown to be effective methods for selecting and approving cy pres awards that provide for appropriate relief while curbing improper incentives and bias in the cy pres selection process.

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