A long-running antitrust class action produced a peace pact in 1999 for $164 million. A claims administrator mailed checks to many class members but couldn't find others. The district court ordered a cy pres remedy — payment of the remaining funds to an air quality monitoring project.
The sum of $4,638,283 remained on account for class members whose "last known" addresses put them within the borders of the Lone Star State. The Attorney General of Texas said the money belonged to Austin for the benefit of the true owners. He also claimed the right of Texas to keep all interest on the $4.6 million. He tried to intervene. The district court rebuffed him.
The Fifth Circuit reversed. In re Lease Oil Antitrust Litig., No. 08-40230 (5th Cir. May 28, 2009). The court went through the factors that govern "intervention as of right" under Rule 24(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and held that the AG satisfied enough of them. The central factor — whether the state could assert "a direct, substantial, legally protectable interest in the action" — turned on Texas's right to the funds or the interest that accrued on them. Id., slip op. at 8. The court said the state didn't own the money but could claim the interest.