Foundation to benefit from $500,000 cy pres award

John Yanchunis

John Yanchunis of Morgan & Morgan was recognized in 2010 with The Florida Bar Foundation President’s Award for Excellence for his work directing cy pres awards to the Foundation. Under the cy pres doctrine, the courts can approve a charitable donation out of unclaimed class action funds, or a direct grant in lieu of damages to an organization that could vindicate class member rights in the future. Cy pres awards prevent a windfall to the defendant while serving to deter future violations.

An Orlando-based U.S. District Judge presiding in the Middle District of Florida has approved a $10 million funded settlement in a case involving late-fee charges by Bank of America. As part of that settlement, the court directed a $500,000 cy pres award to The Florida Bar Foundation.

Tampa attorney John A. Yanchunis of Morgan & Morgan Complex Litigation Group represented the class action plaintiffs and asked the court to direct the cy pres award to the Foundation. Yanchunis said the award reflects the Foundation’s service and commitment.

“The Florida Bar Foundation serves individuals who need legal assistance but do not have the ability to pay for it,” Yanchunis said. “Moreover, the claims at the center of the case were consumer claims. The type of injury suffered by members of our class would probably be individuals without the ability to pursue litigation because of the expense of the litigation. The Florida Bar Foundation was a perfect recipient for the award.”

The term cy pres comes from the French, “cy près comme possible,” meaning “as near as possible.” The doctrine often is applied in class action cases where full restitution to all injured parties is impossible or infeasible, such as when the amount of damage per person is insignificant even though the aggregate damages are large. It also can be employed in probate matters when gifts fail, or in the area of charitable trusts.

Under cy pres, the courts can approve a charitable donation out of unclaimed class action funds or a direct grant in lieu of damages to an organization that could vindicate class member rights in the future. Cy pres awards prevent a windfall for the defendant while serving to deter future violations.

To support the request for the cy pres award, Foundation CEO Bruce Blackwell provided the court an affidavit outlining the Foundation’s mission and service to Florida’s low-income residents.

In 2008, Yanchunis had secured a $295,000 cy pres award for the Foundation stemming from another class action case. The Foundation presented Yanchunis the 2010 President’s Award for Excellence for his work in directing cy pres awards to the Foundation and encouraging other attorneys to do the same.

“John Yanchunis has been a stalwart supporter of the Foundation’s mission of access to justice for all for decades, and this latest award through his efforts will be very helpful in another year where Foundation revenue is depressed because of bank interest rates,” Blackwell said. “Cy pres awards are an effective way to ensure justice from class action recoveries. We hope more lawyers and members of the judiciary will utilize this mechanism to assure genuine justice results from these settlements.”

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