What is a Cy Pres award?

Cy pres is short for “cy près comme possible” – French for “as near as possible.”  The concept started in the area of wills as a way to dispose of extra assets in a way consistent with the deceased person’s wishes.  State and federal courts now use this same concept for distributing money left over in class action cases.  

Where does the money for the cy pres award come from?

When a defendant loses a class action lawsuit, it often has to pay money damages to the members of the class. Sometimes a class is so large or people are so difficult to find that giving each person a check for the harm they suffered is especially burdensome.  Instead of letting the defendant who was found to do something unlawful keep the money, the money is used to help the class members.  In those cases the attorneys and judges will look to the “next best distribution” option for the money.  They can designate in a settlement agreement or a court order that money left over will go to an organization that serves the interests of the class.  

How does an attorney or judge know what organization is best suited to receive cy pres funds?

The Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals has ruled that “[n]ot just any worthy recipient can qualify as an appropriate cy pres beneficiary.” Dennis v. Kellogg Co., 697 F.3d 858, 865 (9th Cir. 2012). The group benefited by the cy pres award must not be too removed from the class members that were intended to benefit from the case. Id.  To that end, the decision about which organizations should be chosen should be guided by the objective of the statute being enforced and the interests of the silent class members. Id.

Washington state courts have a similar consideration for distributing residual funds. Class actions brought in state court must allocate 25% of leftover funds to the Legal Foundation of Washington and the rest may go “to any other entity for purposes that have a direct or indirect relationship to the objectives of the underlying litigation or otherwise promote the substantive or procedural interests of members of the certified class.” CR 23(f)(2).

300 year old statue of head of lady justice

When is Disability Rights Washington a good option for cy pres funds?

Disability Rights Washington is often an excellent choice for cy pres funds.  Disability Rights Washington serves people of all ages with all types of disabilities in every corner of the state.  Our constituents have a broad array of civil and human rights related needs.  As such, Disability Rights Washington is well-positioned to put cy pres funds to work for a variety of classes affected by a variety of legal issues. 

How do I select Disability Rights Washington as a cy pres recipient?

Just pick up the phone or email David Carlson, Disability Rights Washington Director of Legal Advocacy, to learn more about how we can meet the needs of your class. 

David R. Carlson 
Director of Legal Advocacy 
davidc (at) dr-wa.org