February 15th, 2006
The law firm of Shepherd, Finkelman, Miller & Shah, LLC, actively supports a range of community and charitable activities. Over the past two years, the Firm has helped facilitate millions of dollars worth of charitable cy pres fund donations. Cy pres (pronounced "sigh pray") is a Latin term that means "as near as possible." In the class action context, it is a legal concept for dealing with situations where, because money or goods cannot be returned to their owner or beneficiary, there must be a distribution of unclaimed funds. While the courts usually decide where cy pres funds should be allocated, that decision is often based largely on recommendations by the parties involved in the lawsuit, made through motions to the court. The Firm is proud to be a part of a number of distributions to charitable endeavors. For example, the Firm served as lead counsel in a Florida state court lawsuit against a vitamin maker alleging that one of the company's products, directed at eliminating cellulite, was ineffective. After three years of litigation, the parties reached a settlement valued at $12 million dollars, with no admission of wrongdoing by the defendant. A significant portion of the settlement funds were distributed to consumers who had purchased the product. Over $3 million dollars of the settlement was left unclaimed and, under the terms of the settlement, these funds were earmarked for distribution to charitable causes. Since the majority of class members were women between the ages of 18-54, the parties agreed that any unclaimed funds should be directed to the same population. The parties endeavored to identify and contact possible recipients, and provided information from a number of potential recipients of the distributions to the presiding courts.
After approval of the recipients by the courts, checks were issued to 29 charities, including The United Way, The Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, National Osteoporosis Foundation, Consumers for Affordable Health Care Foundation, The Center for Research on Reproduction and Health at the University of Pennsylvania, to name a few. One recipient, the Northern Navajo Medical Center, received a distribution from the unclaimed settlement funds to purchase a mammography machine. According to an employee, the gift will enable low income women in this remote New Mexican community to receive this critical screening test, without having to travel five or six hours.
A number of other recipients sent letters to the Firm concerning the funds they received as a result of the Rexall settlement:
"Wow! What a tremendous gift! We feel so very fortunate to be recipients of the fruits of your good work. Thank you so much for thinking of us. We commit to putting these resources to good work protecting women=s health. . . . With gratitude and best regards"
Women's Voices For the Earth, Montana
"Funding for health justice work is not always easy to come by, and the need is particularly great right now as serious efforts are underway to dismantle Medicaid B the principal safety net program for women, children, the disabled and the low-income elderly in the United States."
Community Catalyst, Boston, MA
"These grants will make a big difference in our abilities to reach individual women and policy makers with great information. Your support comes at an especially good time, as we are doing a lot of work on menopause right now."
National Women's Health Network, Washington, D.C.
"This grant will enable our organization to build upon much needed outreach and public education efforts regarding ovarian cancer to minority and under served populations."
Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, Washington, D.C.
"Thank you and all the attorneys involved and the Courts for your generous award to the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, Inc. Rest assured that the funds will be used to provide consumer education and representation to disadvantaged women of Palm Beach County."
Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, Inc., Florida
Class actions can be a mechanism to give back to the community and to other victims of wrongdoing, and the lawyers at Shepherd, Finkelman, Miller & Shah, LLC are proud to play a role in directing funds to such worthwhile causes.