Civil action. On submission of certain legal issues for determination.
In pursuance of the terms of a legislative enactment entitled "An Act providing for the escheat of certain unclaimed personal property" and its amendments (R.S. 2:53-15 to 2:53-32, N.J.S.A.), a petition was filed in the Court of Chancery, in the name of the State of New Jersey, charging that the defendant has custody or possession of certain personal property which, by reason of the occurrence of one or more of the contingencies mentioned in the statute, has escheated to the State. A judgment is sought in this court declaring that the personal property so possessed and retained by the defendant has escheated to the State and directing its delivery to the State Treasurer.
The defendant in a schedule attached to its answer to the petition has revealed its possession of certain property comprehended by the statutory designation of escheatable personal property, such as unclaimed dividends, debenture interest coupons, Liberty Loan bond subscriptions, etc., which have for more than 14 successive years prior to the filing of the present petition remained unclaimed and unpaid because the beneficial owner or person entitled thereto and his address have been unknown.
The defendant denies, however, that such property is now subject to escheat by the State and the averments of the answer introduce for decision, inter alia , certain issues of law which have been summarized in the plaintiff's brief in the following fashion:
"1. That if the escheat statute is construed so as to provide for the escheat to the State of the property here involved, it
violates both the New Jersey Constitution and the Constitution of the United States, in that it violates the right of the defendant to acquire, possess and protect property, in that it takes the property for the public use of the State of New Jersey without compensation and in that it deprives the defendant of its property without due process of law.
"2. That with respect to the shares of stock listed in Schedule A, the last known domiciles of the record owners of the said shares were outside New Jersey, and to escheat the said shares of stock would deprive the owners thereof of their property without due process of law, in violation of the New Jersey Constitution and the Constitution of the United States.
"That many of the persons listed in Schedule A as the former owners, or former beneficial owners, or persons entitled, were never citizens nor residents of the State of New Jersey and that the claims of such persons never had a situs in New Jersey; that if such claims were subject to escheat in any jurisdiction, they would be subject to escheat in the State of the last known domicile of such persons.
"1. That this court is without jurisdiction to escheat such property to the State of New Jersey, and a decree of escheat of this court would not protect the defendant from the claims of such other States in which the former owners or former beneficial owners might have been domiciled.
"2. That this court is without jurisdiction to escheat the shares of stock of the record owners thereof, since the last known domicile of such persons was outside New Jersey, and to escheat such property would mean that the record owners or other persons who may now own the same, would be deprived of their property without due process of law; that this would expose this defendant to liability to the true owners of the said shares of stock, which liability might be asserted against the defendant in other states where the defendant is suable, the defendant being suable in a number of other states, or would
expose the defendant to escheat proceedings in the states of the last known domiciles of the owners of the said shares of stock.
"D. Statute of Limitations:
"That all causes of action with relation to the said dividends, etc., accrued and arose against the defendant more than six years prior to the passage of the escheat act, as well as more than six years prior to the institution of these proceedings, and that any right of action has been barred by the New Jersey Statute of Limitations; that therefore all claims thereon have been legally extinguished and have become wholly unenforceable against the defendant.
"The defendant asserts that it has a vested right in the defense of the Statute of Limitations as to all such claims, and that the legislature had no power to divest the defendant of such vested right."
At a pre-trial conference it was proposed that it would be advantageous to debate at a preliminary hearing the controversial points essentially of a legal character in their abstract form. Counsel retained in three other similar cases, to wit, State v. United Fruit Company, docket No. 169/54, State v. United States Pipe & Foundry Company, docket No. 169/53, and State v. United States Tobacco Company, docket No. 169/15, have participated. The expectation that numerous additional ...