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Washington DC sues AT&T for unused calling card balances

The District of Columbia filed suit against AT&T in an effort to claim the unused balances remaining on old prepaid calling cards.

District of Columbia seal

It is estimated that 5% to 20% of the purchased value of calling cards goes unused - for calling card users, it is hard to time calls exactly to consume all the purchased time and/or people simply forget they have the time.

The suit is based on the idea that the unused balances are 'abandoned property' which the city is entitled to collect under District law. This is similar to how the city would handle, say, a residential property that was abandoned after a homeowner died with a proper will and no surviving beneficiaries. In such case, the city would claim the property which then either use it or sell it.

The suit applies to calling cards that haven't been used for 3 years, but still have balances remaining.

If successful, the money would not be returned to the original purchasers of the calling cards, but rather would be collected by the District and deposited in the city's 'general fund' for use as required by the city. Currently, any remaining balances are retained by AT&T.

This type of suit has been tried before by a private attorney in DC, but the case was thrown out due to lack of standing. Possibly the Attorney General has proper standing to pursue the matter.

If the case appears to be getting traction in the DC courts, the AG Peter Nickles has stated that he intends to name other defendants.

If successful, the suit might generate some millions of dollars in calling card balances. However, if the suit is successful, one can expect AT&T and other companies to implement dormant account or similar fees to ensure that no unused calling card retains a balance for 3 years.

We can't really comment on the legal merits of this case because we aren't lawyers, but on a common sense basis, this suit seems absurd.

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