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ATLANTA-Taking on the largest shopping center developer in the US, two metro area shoppers are suing Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group in state court here, alleging the company’s dated gift cards and certificates violate Georgia law requiring retailers to honor the cards for five years.

Simon officials responded by saying the “gift card complies with all applicable state and federal laws, including those of the state of Georgia,” in a statement. “It is the opinion of our legal staff after preliminary review of the complaint that it lacks legal as well as factual merit.”

Simon has faced other challenges to its gift card program this year. Last month the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts filed suit against Simon because of the program.

According to the suit, Simon’s gift cards and certificates, issued under the Visa brand, lose $2.50 in value each month, starting seven months after purchase. They expire one year after purchase.

Major retailers such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot have no expiration dates on their cards and charge no fees for its use, representatives of the retailers tell GlobeSt.com.

Area real estate lawyers familiar with the case tell GlobeSt.com the Atlanta suit is expected to trigger similar litigation in several other states where Simon owns mall properties. The suit seeks class action status so that thousands of Georgia shoppers may be added to the complaint as plaintiffs.

According to the suit, one of the plaintiffs, Andrea Nay-Richardson, purchased $400 worth of Simon gift certificate at the 1.6-million-sf Lenox Square mall in Fulton County in May 2001. When she tried to use the cards in 2002, a Lenox Square retailer told her the cards had expired and could not be used.

Another plaintiff, Betty Benson, alleges she, too, was told by a retailer that her $75 gift card had expired. The plaintiffs’ lawyer is Roy Barnes, the former governor of Georgia. He argues in the suit that the expired gift cards are unclaimed property that must be delivered to the state as abandoned property.

Besides Lenox Square, Simon’s other Atlanta area properties are the 900,000-sf Phipps Plaza, across the street from Lenox in the Buckhead nieghborhood; the 1.2-million-sf Gwinnett Place in Gwinnett County; the 1.3-million-sf Town Center in Cobb County; and the 1.9-million-sf Mall of Georgia in Gwinnett County, the largest shopping center in Georgia. Simon owns 300 malls nationwide.

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