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December 6, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0018
Jensen Alexander v. People of the Virgin Islands
The Superior Court erred in summarily dismissing a habeas corpus petition without a hearing. The obligation to serve the governmental respondents lies with the Superior Court under 5 V.I.C. § 1306, and thus the petitioner himself had no obligation to serve the respondents with process upon filing the petition for writ of habeas corpus. Because issuance of the writ is an intermediate step and does not address the underlying merits of the petition's allegations, the petitioner was not required to establish his ultimate entitlement to relief and the Superior Court erred in reaching the merits of his claims on the allegations in his petition. The ineffective assistance of counsel claim in the petition was not procedurally barred and was properly presented. Accordingly, the Superior Court erred in summarily denying the petition without giving the petitioner an opportunity to prove his allegations at an evidentiary hearing as mandated by Virgin Islands law in 5 V.I.C. §§ 1308 through 1311. The Superior Court's order of January 27, 2015 is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings. Addressing issues likely to recur on remand, it is held that – while a habeas corpus petitioner has no constitutional right to counsel – the Superior Court has discretion to appoint counsel. The Superior Court also erred in denying a motion for recusal of the trial judge on the ground that the same judge presided over the petitioner's criminal trial. Under 4 V.I.C. § 284 the question is not whether the judge is impartial in fact but whether impartiality might reasonably be questioned. Accordingly, that portion of the Superior Court's order denying the recusal motion is also reversed and it is directed that on remand this case be assigned to another Superior Court judge for further proceedings as provided herein.
September 30, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2016-0012
Anduze Alexander v. Hilda Alexander, as guardian of Austin Alexander
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September 23, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2016-0012
Anduze Alexander v. Hilda Alexander, as guardian of Austin Alexander
Considering an appeal from a Superior Court judgment granting summary judgment in favor of a father concerning real property that was purportedly conveyed to his son via a 2008 quitclaim deed, no error is found. The Superior Court correctly held that the deed conveying the property to the son was invalid because it only contained one witness’s signature verifying the conveyance, instead of the two witnesses’ signatures required by 28 V.I.C. § 42(a). Although some delay inheres in the witnessing of a deed, subscribing witnesses must, in a timely fashion after the grantor signs the deed, be identified on the deed as witnesses and affix their signatures thereto. It is insufficient to prove a deed’s validity, as the son attempted to do in this case, through a person’s affidavit attesting to the fact that they witnessed the grantor sign a deed conveying property and could have signed the deed as a witness, as an affidavit does not comply with the statutory requirement that the individual sign the deed as a subscribing witness. The son’s belated attempt to unilaterally cure the defective recorded deed is also rejected, as the proffered witness did not sign the deed in a timely fashion when he signed the already recorded deed seven years after purportedly observing the father sign the deed. The Superior Court’s grant of summary judgment is affirmed, as the original deed was defective to convey title of the property due to the lack of a second witness’s signature on the deed.
September 7, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2016-0013
Tremcorp Holdings, Inc. v. Scott Harris, et al.
A motion to dismiss this appeal because it is purportedly not from a final judgment is denied. This Court has jurisdiction over this appeal relating in part to a motion below to vacate an arbitration award in litigation involving two actions that have been consolidated. Under 4 V.I.C. § 32(a) denial of a motion to vacate an arbitration award constitutes a final judgment for purposes of section 32(a). Although in this case the Superior Court has not yet ruled on a motion to confirm the arbitration award, requiring confirmation prior to permitting an appeal when a motion to vacate has been denied as untimely would be a vain and superfluous procedural step because – absent a timely motion to vacate, modify, or correct the award – a court has no choice but to confirm the award as rendered. Consequently, the Superior Court’s failure to rule on the motion to confirm the arbitration award does not defeat the finality of its February 16, 2016 order. Denial of the motion to vacate as untimely effectively resolved all claims between the parties to that case. For purposes of 4 V.I.C. § 32(a), an order issued by the Superior Court in a consolidated case is appealable as of right to this Court as a final judgment if that order would qualify for appeal as a final judgment had the cases not been consolidated. Because the Superior Court’s order would have been an appealable final judgment had the Superior Court not granted the motion to consolidate, this Court possesses jurisdiction over this appeal. Because separately-filed cases consolidated by the Superior Court do not lose their individual character, the February 16, 2016 order is a final judgment, since it disposed of all issues in Super. Ct. Civ. No. 85/2013 (STX) even though certain issues in Super. Ct. Civ. No. 45/2013 (STX) remain pending. Accordingly, the motion to dismiss is denied, and the Clerk of the Court is directed to issue a new briefing schedule.
September 6, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0070
Symone James v. Samuel Faust
In a child custody dispute, following remand from an earlier appeal, the Superior Court’s July 22, 2015 custody order, unlike its earlier vacated custody order, is supported by a much more robust body of factual findings and legal conclusions. But it nonetheless failed to comply with the full breadth of this Court’s remand instruction, which required the Superior Court to engage in a two-step procedure to first outline a set of relevant factors that it intends to use in determining the best interests of the child, and then second, to explain how its findings of fact regarding those factors are supported by the evidence introduced at the custody hearing. Here, while the Superior Court complied with the first step by specifying a set of nine relevant factors, it did not sufficiently explain how its findings of fact regarding those factors were supported by the evidence introduced at the hearing. Meaningful appellate review is simply not possible where the Superior Court fails to sufficiently explain its reasoning, and the importance of explanation is even more pronounced in a case such as this, where the mother disputes the legal sufficiency of the evaluation of the guardian ad litem’s recommendation—ultimately rejected by the Superior Court—which was based on the effects of relocation to Florida on the child and the mother’s status as primary caretaker. The custody order awarding the father physical custody of their minor child is therefore vacated and the matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. On remand, based on a Banks analysis, in conducting an evaluation of the best interests of the child, the Superior Court must consider, if relevant, at least the following non-exhaustive list of factors: (1) the respective home environments of each parent, including the degree to which relocation between those respective environments will impact the child’s best interests; (2) the ability of each parent to nurture the child, including the degree to which each parent has acted as primary caretaker; (3) any evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, or child neglect; (4) the interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parent or parents, his or her siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect his or her best interests; and (5) any recommendation by a court-appointed guardian ad litem. Each factor included on this list is not necessarily entitled to similar weight, however, because the court must look to the unique family relationships of each case in order to reach a resolution that is in the best interests of the child in that particular family, and to the extent that the Superior Court considers other additional factors, such factors must be relevant to the child’s best interests.
August 30, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0068
Freeston Drayton v. Nadia Drayton
In equitable distribution proceedings after the entry of a final decree of divorce between the parties, the Superior Court properly exercised its discretion in the equitable distribution of the marital homestead, and did not commit error in its findings regarding the husband's allegedly missing property and the sale of a home in Antigua. However, the court's amended findings of fact and conclusions of law erred in finding that a specified automobile purchased by the husband was a gift to the wife, and also erred by failing equitably to distribute the marital debt. Accordingly, this case is remanded to the Superior Court for further proceedings in compliance with this opinion, including equitable distribution of the contested vehicle and the parties’ marital debt, consistent with the evidence presented. The Superior Court's September 1, 2015 amended findings of fact and conclusions of law are affirmed in all other respects.
August 22, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0046
Joseph Gerace, et al. v. Maria Bentley, et al.
In a civil action on contract and other theories, where the Superior Court dismissed the complaint of plaintiffs – who were residents when they filed the lawsuit but later moved out of the Virgin Islands – for failure to post a security bond under 5 V.I.C. § 547 because they are non-residents, this statute applied to the underlying matter and it does not violate the separation of powers principles inherent in the Revised Organic Act. However, the statute is nevertheless unconstitutional under both the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV, Section 2 of the United States Constitution. Accordingly, the Superior Court’s April 16, 2015 opinion dismissing the complaint is reversed, the April 18, 2013 order setting a cost bond is vacated, and the case is remanded to the Superior Court for further proceedings.
August 22, 2016
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2015-0080
Alejandro Velazquez v. People of the Virgin Islands
The defendant's convictions on eight criminal charges, including first degree attempted murder, assault and firearms offenses, are affirmed. Title 23 V.I.C. §470 is the controlling statute with respect to firearm reporting, and to sustain a conviction there must be evidence that a person failed to immediately report the purchasing or obtaining of a firearm or ammunition. The Legislature’s use of the word “immediately” clearly contradicts any alleged intent to permit reporting of a firearm on the next business day following a Saturday, Sunday, legal holiday, or other non-business day. Once the prosecution proved that defendant was in possession of a firearm, was not authorized to carry a firearm and ammunition, and that he did not report the firearm to the Commissioner of Police, defendant was required to prove that he satisfied the immediacy requirement. He did not do so, and a reasonable jury could have concluded that he did not immediately report because, inter alia, he stashed the weapon in a nearby trash receptacle. He presented no evidence that he met the immediacy requirement and there was sufficient evidence to support his conviction for failure to report receipt of a firearm and ammunition. The element of premeditation on the charge of attempted murder was satisfied by the circumstances of the firing the weapon itself, since defendant shot the victim once, then walked in his direction and fired two more rounds into his body. The testimony of one witness is sufficient to prove any fact, and a conviction may be sustained on the testimony of a single witness or victim, even when other witnesses may testify to the contrary. Because the jurors in this case were presented with the facts surrounding the identification of the defendant and listened to the testimony of witnesses, it was for them to assess the veracity and credibility of the testimony, and the jurors reasonably concluded—based on that testimony—that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As a result, the convictions on these charges will not be upset. Nor did the Superior Court did not commit plain error by instructing the jury on first-degree attempted murder without also giving an instruction on the lesser-included offense of attempted second-degree murder. A jury instruction must contain a lesser included offense only if the evidence adduced at trial could support a guilty verdict on either charge. Here there was insufficient evidence indicating any other kind of attempted killing, and thus there was no plain error in the decision to not give an instruction on second degree attempted murder. The Superior Court’s August 21, 2015 judgment and commitment in this case is affirmed.
August 18, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2013-0148
Bertram Inniss v. Vashtie Inniss
Considering a husband’s appeal from the Superior Court’s decision concluding that his settlement payment emanating from a civil lawsuit for personal injuries he sustained in an automobile accident was marital property and that, since the personal injury settlement award was marital property, his spouse at the time of the injury was entitled to a portion of the settlement payment in the parties’ divorce action, the Superior Court failed to consider what portion of the settlement payment was to compensate the husband for his lost earnings during the marriage and what portions were for the wife’s claims for compensation, as the non-injured spouse, for loss of services or loss of consortium. Conducting an analysis under Banks v. Int'l Rental & Leasing Corp., 55 V.I. 967, 981–84 (V.I. 2011) to determine what common law rule should govern the determination in the Virgin Islands of whether a personal injury settlement payment is marital property or separate property of the spouse who suffered the injury, the “analytic approach” to classification of a personal injury settlement or jury award as marital or separate property, adopted by 34 other jurisdictions in the United States, is the most appropriate for the Virgin Islands and is consonant with the legislative intent underlying the law of the Virgin Islands governing dissolution of marriages. Applying this approach, the Superior Court’s decisions and awards were an abuse of discretion. Accordingly, the Superior Court’s December 4, 2013 decision is reversed and the matter is remanded for consideration of all the components of damages for which the settlement agreement was meant to compensate and for distribution in accordance with this opinion.
August 9, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0117
Gent Mosby v. Rick T. Mullgrav, Director of the Bureau of Corrections
Considering an appeal from an opinion and order of the Superior Court denying a petition for habeas corpus as procedurally barred, the Superior Court correctly recognized that, under Virgin Islands law, such a petition should be granted and the matter set for an evidentiary hearing on the merits if the petitioner has set forth a prima facie case for relief, and the petition is not procedurally barred. Nevertheless, in determining that the habeas petition in this case was procedurally barred, the Superior Court placed undue weight on the fact that the petitioner had appealed his underlying criminal convictions to the Appellate Division and the Third Circuit. Issues raised on direct appeal to the Appellate Division and the Third Circuit are not procedurally barred in a local habeas corpus action. Even so, while the fact that the Appellate Division and the Third Circuit affirmed petitioner’s convictions does not establish a procedural bar providing that he is per se banned from seeking habeas relief, he still maintains the burden of establishing a prima facie case for relief, meaning that he must establish facts that—if true—would entitle him to relief. Accordingly, the conclusion that the petition is not procedurally barred, is not a determination that petitioner has set forth a prima facie case on all or some of his claims, including alleged prosecutorial misconduct, violation of due process, and whether the government violated its obligations under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) and Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972), all of which are questions of law. The Superior Court’s October 30, 2015 opinion and order is reversed, and the case is remanded so that the Superior Court may determine whether petitioner has established a prima facie case on any of his claims.
July 18, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0029
Redemption Holdings, Inc. v. Government of the Virgin Islands et al.
Multiple indicia of fraud arise in this case from a debtor's conduct in assigning his right of redemption for certain foreclosed real property to a closely-held corporation of which he was the only shareholder, hiding his interest in the corporation, redeeming the property through that entity and then ultimately conveying his shares in the corporation to another person, indicating his intent to put the property out of reach of the creditor involved in this quiet title action, and other creditors. This amounts to a fraudulent conveyance: The debtor acted with actual intent to defraud the creditor and caused the creditor harm. Under the former Virgin Islands Uniform Fraudulent Conveyances Act, 28 V.I.C. § 207, in effect at the time of these transactions, every conveyance made and every obligation incurred with actual intent to hinder, delay, or defraud either present or future creditors, is fraudulent and a creditor may have the conveyance set aside to the extent necessary to satisfy his claim, or may disregard the conveyance and attach or levy execution upon the property conveyed, as provided in former 28 V.I.C. § 209(1)(a) and (b). In this case the Superior Court correctly determined that there was sufficient evidence that the debtor conveyed his right of redemption to the close corporation he controlled with actual intent to defraud the creditor. In addition, the true ownership of the property was concealed from creditors, because, during the time the debtor was the sole shareholder of the corporation there was no notice that he still effectively had possession and ownership over the property. While a defendant's default only admits to the facts as laid out in the complaint, here the debtor's disappearance for a period of years, coupled with the default judgment in the action to collect upon the debts, supports a finding that he had intent to avoid repaying the creditor. Absence of even a single valid payment on any of the three loans to the creditor is further evidence tending to show actual intent to defraud. In order for a creditor to be successful in a claim against a debtor for fraudulent transfer, the creditor must also show that he was prejudiced by the transfer, and that the transfer put some property beyond the creditor’s reach which otherwise would have served to fulfill the debt. The evidence supports that finding here, and this transfer prejudiced creditors. Thus the debtor’s conveyance of the right of redemption to the closely-held corporation he controlled was fraudulent and may be set aside. The Superior Court’s February 27, 2015 judgment setting aside the debtor's conveyance of his right of redemption to the closely-held corporation, and permitting the creditor to execute upon the property to the extent necessary to satisfy the judgment obtained in Super. Ct. Civ. No. 534/2007, is affirmed.
July 13, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2016-0036
Valerie L. Stiles v. John P. Yob, et al.
In a case involving the Supervisor of Elections and other parties, relating to the decision to remove plaintiffs from the list of electors for the Election District of St. Thomas and St. John for purportedly not complying with residency requirements under 18 V.I.C. § 262, and specifically a 90-day waiting period prior to qualifying for registration as an elector, the Superior Court's ruling denying leave to file a superseding amended answer solely due to the movant's status as an intervenor misinterpreted prior case law. A party granted intervention is treated as if it were an original party and has equal standing with the original parties. While not permitted to enlarge the proceedings beyond what the original defendant would have been permitted, an intervenor may assert other claims that remain available. In this case the intervenor did not attempt to raise a defense personal to original defendant, or resurrect a claims-processing rule that had already been waived. Consequently, the Superior Court erred when it denied the intervenor's motion to amend her answer solely based on her status as an intervenor to the litigation. Accordingly, the April 25, 2016 order is reversed and this matter is remanded to the Superior Court so that it may grant the motion to amend and conduct other proceedings.
July 8, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2016-0001
In re Samuel L. Joseph, Esq. People of the Virgin Islands v. Rodney F. Miller, Sr.
In an appeal by the Chief Public Defender in the Office of the Territorial Public Defender from Superior Court orders which involuntarily appointed him to represent a specific criminal defendant, jurisdiction is accepted and the appointment orders are vacated. Jurisdiction is exercised under the collateral order doctrine, upon a finding that the orders below conclusively determine the disputed question, resolve an important issue completely separate from the merits of the action, and are effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment. On the merits, the Superior Court lacks the authority to assign a specific public defender from the Office of the Territorial Public Defender to represent an indigent defendant. Creation of a public defender office or system has been an obligation reserved for and delegated to the legislative branch, given that it wields the power of the purse. Under 5 V.I.C. § 3503(a) the legislature vested the Office of the Territorial Public Defender with the primary responsibility of representing indigent defendants. In 1998 the Office became governed by the Public Defender Administration Board, and an extensive statutory scheme governs the Office of the Territorial Public Defender. A plain language reading of 5 V.I.C. § 3503(a) confirms that the legislature empowered the court to appoint the Office of the Territorial Public Defender to represent indigent defendants, rather than have a selection of public defenders at its disposal. There is neither an express nor inferential authority of a judge to assign representation of an indigent defendant to a specific public defender of the court’s choosing. Oversight of the Office is not the court’s prerogative, and the legislature intended to create a self-regulating and independent public defender system for the representation of indigent defendants, within which the Chief Public Defender administers the operations of the Office and accounts to the Public Defender Administration Board. With the exception of indigency determinations, the statutes simply do not authorize the court to be involved in the managerial decisions of the Office of the Territorial Public Defender, which includes case assignments to specific attorneys in its employ. The absence of language in the governing statute prohibiting a judge from assigning a specific attorney from the Office of the Territorial Public Defender does not imply that a judicial action is permitted. Nor does the statute governing in forma pauperis proceedings, 4 V.I.C. § 513, diminish the fact that case assignments in the Office of the Territorial Public Defender are not even remotely within the province of the court. It is the Chief Public Defender—and not the court—who possesses statutory managerial authority, and is best positioned to assess the Office’s resources and experience of its lawyers, in achieving effective case management. Accordingly the Superior Court's orders appointing the Chief Public Defender personally to represent a named defendant in the underlying criminal proceedings are vacated and this case is remanded so that the Superior Court may appoint the Office of the Territorial Public Defender, leaving the determination as to the specific attorney to be assigned to be made within the discretion of the Chief Public Defender.
June 20, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2014-0033
John Cianci and Thomas Chaput v. Robert Chaput
Considering appeals from Superior Court orders denying a petition for guardianship brought by the respondent’s sons, seeking guardianship and conservatorship over their father, and denying their counsel’s request to withdraw due to a disagreement as to legal fees, because the father filed for bankruptcy before the Superior Court entered its final order, and the automatic stay imposed as a result of that filing by operation of 11 U.S.C. § 362 had not been lifted at that time, the Superior Court’s order denying the petition for guardianship was void. That case is remanded to the Superior Court to resume the proceedings after termination of the father’s bankruptcy case or the lifting of the automatic stay by the bankruptcy court, whichever comes first. However, the Superior Court correctly determined that permitting the sons’ counsel to withdraw would cause prejudicial delay to both parties, given the substantially completed proceedings and the fact that they needed only to file post-hearing motions. Thus, the Superior Court’s order in that case is affirmed.
June 9, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0023
Charles E. Engeman v. Kimberly L. Engeman
Considering a father’s his motion to modify his child support obligations under a separation agreement he entered with the children’s mother, which was merged into the parties' divorce decree, the Superior Court was required to apply the child support guidelines promulgated by the Division of Paternity and Child Support of the Virgin Islands Department of Justice, as set out in 16 V.I. R. & Regs. § 345–01, and it erred by not applying these guidelines. In plain and unambiguous language, 16 V.I.C. § 345(b) provides that the guidelines must be applied, even in cases where the parties have agreed to the amount of child support—like the parties did in this case through their separation agreement. Moreover, 16 V.I.C. § 345(c) provides that in modifying or disregarding the guidelines, the Superior Court must support that decision with specific and written findings of fact, including, at a minimum, the amount that would have been established by the guidelines and the reasons for the variance therefrom. Here, the Superior Court failed to make any findings of fact supporting its decision to disregard the guidelines and accept the child support provisions of the parties’ separation agreement, and never determined what the guidelines would have required the father to pay in child support in this case. However, father invited this error when he asked the Superior Court to grant the divorce and enforce the provisions of the separation agreement—including the very child support obligations he seeks to modify— in the joint divorce petition. When a party induces or encourages the Superior Court to commit an error, the invited error doctrine precludes that error from forming the basis for reversal on appeal. Here, neither party disputes that the separation agreement imposes greater child support obligations on the father than the guidelines otherwise would have, and when a parent agrees to pay more child support than is legally required, that parent cannot later be heard to complain that the support obligation should be modified because the amount he or she agreed to pay differs from the guideline amount. In addition, father’s argument that he is entitled to a review of the child support obligations in the parties’ agreement under 16 V.I.C. § 369(a) is misplaced, because that requirement only applies to child support orders to which the Division of Paternity and Child Support is a party, and the Division was not a party to the child support arrangement the parties reached in this case and incorporated by reference into the divorce decree. Because the Division was not a party to this child support arrangement, in order to obtain a modification of his child support obligations, father had to satisfy 16 V.I.C. § 110 by showing such a substantial and continuing change of circumstances since the entry of the original decree as to make continued enforcement of that decree unfair. In this case, the Superior Court correctly held that the father failed to make this showing because fluctuations in the parties’ incomes were contemplated under the separation agreement and taken into account in the child support arrangement it set up. Accordingly, the Superior Court’s February 4, 2015 order is affirmed.
June 7, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0051
Orsel Edney, Jr. v. Delta Edney
Considering a former husband’s appeal from the Superior Court’s order denying his motion to modify a 2007 settlement agreement reached in divorce proceedings with his former wife that was incorporated into the divorce decree, no error is found in the Superior Court’s ruling denying the husband’s request to be relieved from paying a portion of his pension to his former wife under the terms of the settlement agreement. Regardless of whether the pension was marital property subject to distribution during divorce proceedings, nothing prevented the parties from including it in the 2007 settlement agreement. The husband’s assertion of changed circumstances warranting modification of the settlement agreement were supported only by his attorney’s unsworn statements at the hearing regarding the husband’s cancer diagnosis, and it is well-established that such representations are not evidence. In addition, his argument that principles of equity required the Superior Court to impose an end date on the wife’s receipt of a portion of his pension benefits is deemed waived under Supreme Court Rule 22(m), because the Superior Court found that the parties intended for this provision of the settlement agreement to continue indefinitely based on the formula set out in Fuentes v. Fuentes, 41 V.I. 86 (V.I. Super. Ct. 1999), and he failed to challenge this finding or cite any authority supporting his assertion that the settlement he agreed to is somehow inequitable. Thus, the former husband failed to demonstrate a substantial and continuing change in circumstances that would justify modifying the settlement agreement. Accordingly, the Superior Court’s order is affirmed.
June 3, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0028
Coastal Air Transport v. Edward Royer and Florence Royer
Considering a passenger air carrier’s appeal from a February 25, 2015 judgment issued by the Superior Court in favor of the appellees, who were passengers on a flight from St. Croix to Dominica in 2004 and who were injured when a door on the aircraft opened during flight, and the passengers’ cross-appeal from the Superior Court’s decision to sua sponte remit the jury’s award of economic damages to one appellee (Florence Royer) based on its own weighing of the evidence, the Superior Court’s decision to deny the passenger air carrier’s motion for judgment as a matter of law is affirmed. Given the strong policy expressed in Virgin Islands jurisprudence to permit juries to come to rational conclusions, rather than be instructed to do so by the court, it is held that the principle of res ipsa loquitur as applied in Restatement (Second) of Torts § 328D and the majority procedural approach represents the most apt rule for the Virgin Islands, such that a jury in the Virgin Islands is permitted to infer a defendant’s negligence from the happening of an extraordinary event under the defendant’s control, rather than being compelled to find negligence in absence of evidence to the contrary. Because a rational jury could have found that all elements of the passengers’ negligence claims were satisfied under the facts presented, the passenger air carrier’s request for judgment as a matter of law was properly denied. In addition, the passenger air carrier’s argument that the passengers’ claims are limited and/or barred by the Warsaw Convention and Montreal Convention because they failed to show how the incident on the flight amounted to an “accident” under these treaties is waived, because the passenger air carrier failed to assert its argument regarding the Warsaw Convention as an affirmative defense in its first responsive pleading, and it raised its argument regarding the Montreal Convention as to all of the passengers for the first time on appeal. Regarding the cross-appeal, given the decision reached in Antilles School v. Lembach, S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0039 (V.I. Mar. 14, 2016) to not recognize remittitur in the Virgin Islands, the Superior Court’s grant of remittitur is reversed and the Superior Court is directed, on remand, to restore the jury’s original damages award to Florence Royer.
May 18, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2013-0065
Timothy Ernest a/k/a Timothy Earnest v. Kenneth Morris and Corlette Morris
In an appeal from an order of the Superior Court denying a motion to set aside, or vacate, default judgments entered in 1990 and 1998 resulting in a loss of property the appellant owned in St. Thomas, the Superior Court erred in holding that a motion to set aside a default judgment as void must be brought within a reasonable amount of time. A default judgment entered when a complaint has not been properly served is void and must be set aside, and courts applying Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(4), made applicable to the proceedings through Superior Court Rule 50, have held that no amount of time renders a void judgment valid, and that such judgments must be set aside if good cause is shown and notice has been given to all adverse parties. In this case, the appellant claimed that he was never served with process and that, as a result, the default judgments are void because the court never acquired personal jurisdiction over him. The Superior Court rejected this claim without holding a hearing, concluding that too much time had passed to allow him to challenge the judgments. However, whether a basis exists for vacating a default judgment due to improper service implicates factual questions that can only be resolved by an evidentiary hearing. Accordingly, the Superior Court’s July 24, 2013 order is vacated and the matter is remanded for further proceedings on the challenges to the default judgments. On remand, the Superior Court should conduct an evidentiary hearing on these challenges, giving notice to all adverse parties and allowing them the opportunity to prove their factual contentions.
May 12, 2016
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2015-0006
Jalani Williams v. People of the Virgin Islands
The judgment and commitment sentencing the defendant to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole for first degree murder committed when he was a juvenile is affirmed. After issuance of the Court’s prior decision in Williams v. People, 59 V.I. 1024, 1030 (V.I. 2013), affirming the convictions, the case was remanded for resentencing on the first-degree murder count in accordance with United States Supreme Court precedent. The Superior Court subsequently entered an amended judgment and commitment re-sentencing the defendant to life imprisonment with parole on his first-degree murder conviction. Issues the defendant should have raised in the prior appeal are waived, and are not considered in the current appeal. On the only issue properly presented here – whether defendant was properly sentenced to life with the possibility of parole – the Superior Court committed no error. After holding the required hearing and concluding that the constitutionally controlling factors did not warrant a sentence of life imprisonment without parole, it determined that the only remaining option was a sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. The judgment and commitment of December 23, 2014 is affirmed.
May 4, 2016
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2014-0021
Jose Ventura v. People of the Virgin Islands
Defendant’s conviction for first-degree murder is affirmed, but the case is remanded so that the Superior Court may consider a motion for a new trial in the first instance. The amended information charged this defendant under 14 V.I.C. § 11(a) as an aider and abettor to first degree murder. Without a confession, the corpus delicti rule is wholly irrelevant to this case and, instead, the People had a duty to prove beyond a reasonable doubt each element of first degree murder. Where a body has not been found, the People must produce sufficient circumstantial evidence for the finder of fact to infer beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged victim is, in fact, dead. Then the People must prove that the death was caused by an unlawful killing. In this case, while the testimony of the government’s sole eyewitness must be viewed with special scrutiny, it was not inherently improbable or incredible and it sufficiently proved all elements of murder in the first degree. Thus the Superior Court correctly denied a motion for a judgment of acquittal. The Superior Court also correctly denied the defendant’s Fifth Amendment due process motion to dismiss based on pre-indictment delay. A mere argument of presumed prejudice due to the passage of time, without more, is insufficient to support a constitutional violation, and here the defendant failed to show that he was actually suffered any substantial prejudice in a way that impeded his defense or affected his right to a fair trial under the Fifth Amendment. The Superior Court may grant a new trial in the interest of justice pursuant to Superior Court Rule 135, and this defendant moved for such relief based upon the absence of physical evidence that he committed any of the alleged crimes and the argument that testimony of the only eyewitness was unbelievable. The Superior Court erred in concluding that it was obligated to deny the motion due to untimeliness because the ten-day deadline in Superior Court Rule 135 is a claims-processing rule and not jurisdictional. It is established solely by court rule and may be extended or waived. Here, the People admit that it did not object to the late filing of the motion for a new trial, and the Superior Court should have proceeded to address the merits of the motion. When deciding a motion for a new trial, the Superior Court is uniquely situated to weigh the credibility of witnesses and it is this special function that necessitates a remand, especially in a case such as this where there is not an abundance of evidence indicating guilt and the credibility of a primary witnesses is, at best, questionable. Therefore this case is remanded to the Superior Court so that it may consider the issue in the first instance.
May 4, 2016
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2014-0027
Jose Rivera v. People of the Virgin Islands
Conviction for first-degree murder is affirmed, but the case is remanded to the Superior Court so that it may consider the defendant’s motion for a new trial in the first instance. While the testimony of the government’s sole eyewitness must be viewed with special scrutiny, it was not inherently improbable or incredible and it sufficiently proved all elements of murder in the first degree. Section 26 of the Revised Organic Act authorized the People to demand a jury trial in criminal cases, and the defendant was not deprived of his Sixth Amendment rights. While a defendant is entitled to an impartial jury that has not already made up its mind based on media reports, applying the factors identified in Skilling v. United States, 561 U.S. 358 (2010), the alleged media coverage of this case was not so pervasive that the selected jurors were biased against the defendant. There was much delay in both charging this defendant and in bringing him to trial. Despite the long delays, all based on the People’s inaction, defendant’s claims under both the Fifth and Sixth Amendments fail for lack of proof that he suffered actual and substantial prejudice from the delay. However, the Superior Court erred when it determined it did not have jurisdiction to hear a co-defendant’s motion for a new trial and – because in a companion appeal it is held that the other defendant is entitled to a determination on the merits of that issue – to prevent manifest injustice the present case is also remanded so that the Superior Court can decide the issue of a new trial in the first instance.
May 3, 2016
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2015-0126
People of the Virgin Islands v. David A. Armstrong
Considering the People’s appeal from a Superior Court opinion and order granting the appellee’s renewed motion to suppress evidence seized from his vehicle, because Superior Court Rule 128 obligates the Superior Court to rule on all motions prior to judgment, and because that court possesses the inherent authority to review any of its earlier interlocutory orders prior to entry of final judgment, the Superior Court was within its rights to consider the renewed motion to suppress on the merits. However, since the Superior Court is also required to hold an evidentiary hearing whenever a factual dispute exists that requires it to weigh the evidence, it erred when it summarily granted that renewed motion. Accordingly, the Superior Court’s December 15, 2015 opinion and order are vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the Superior Court is directed to hold a suppression hearing in which the People may introduce evidence to support the legality of the search of the appellee’s vehicle, including challenging the credibility of a key witness affidavit upon which appellee’s renewed motion principally relied.
May 2, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0026
Velma Samuel v. United Corporation d/b/a Plaza Extra
Considering an appeal from a jury verdict finding that the defendant owner and operator of a grocery store was not liable for a slip-and-fall injury sustained by the plaintiff, the Superior Court erred in denying plaintiff’s motion for a spoliation of evidence inference at trial. The defendant failed to preserve a reasonable portion of surveillance footage from before the fall as required by Bright v. United Corp., 50 V.I. 215 (V.I. 2008). Here, the defendant only retained 1 minute and 21 seconds of footage before plaintiff’s fall. Since there is no evidence in this case of actual notice, the video surveillance footage in question was the only evidence that would have established whether defendant had constructive notice of the spill that caused plaintiff’s fall—either by showing how long the spill had been on the floor, or by showing how long that area of the store had gone without being inspected by a store employee. Retaining only 1 minute and 21 seconds of footage unquestionably fails to comply with the requirement to preserve video footage for a reasonable period of time preceding and following an accident. Deletion of the relevant surveillance footage after it was reviewed by the store manager is enough to indicate the defendant’s bad faith and fraudulent intent to suppress the truth, thus warranting a spoilation inference. In addition, addressing issues that are likely to recur on remand, the Superior Court’s orders excluding plaintiff’s proposed expert testimony are vacated, and the Superior Court must conduct a hearing on the admissibility of the testimony of such expert witnesses. In addition, the Superior Court must hold the trial with a six-member jury empaneled as required by 4 V.I.C. § 80. The Superior Court’s judgment is reversed and the case is remanded for a new trial.
April 26, 2016
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2014-0069
Mario Gumbs v. People of the Virgin Islands
Defendant’s convictions for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in violation of 19 V.I.C. § 604(a)(1) and simple possession of marijuana in violation of 19 V.I.C. § 607(a) are affirmed. There was substantial and sufficient evidence from which a rational jury could reasonably conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of knowingly and intentionally possessing marijuana. The form and amount of the crack cocaine confiscated from the defendant are themselves evidence of intent to distribute that material, and the People’s evidence regarding the chain of custody was sufficient for the jury to reasonably conclude that the contraband used in the prosecution was the same as that confiscated from the defendant. Where items have been in official custody and there is no affirmative evidence of tampering, there is a presumption that public officers have discharged their duties properly to preserve the items’ original condition. The defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights were not violated when the his counsel’s motion to withdraw was denied. Defendant failed to provide sufficient evidence to support his claim that acts or omission of his counsel fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that counsel’s performance prejudiced him resulting in an unreliable or fundamentally unfair outcome in the proceeding. The Sixth Amendment does not guarantee a meaningful relationship between an accused and his counsel, only that the attorney will be effective and free of any actual conflicts—which occurs when an attorney represents a directly conflicting interest. Nor were the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights violated, and the Superior Court was correct in finding that a valid Terry stop was conducted to ensure that the defendant had no weapons on his person. The Superior Court did not err in admitting certain chemical analyses concerning the material seized. While the People were obligated to disclose the chemical analysis during discovery under Rule 16(a)(1)(F), under Rule 16(d) the Superior Court has discretion to fashion an appropriate remedy if required information is not timely produced. Here, the Superior Court found that the analysis by the DEA lab was a confirmation of the field test that was done on St. Thomas, which was initially provided to the defendant in discovery. The Superior Court was correct in granting a continuance of the trial, and did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence after opposing counsel was given adequate time to review the issue. The judgment and commitment of October 29, 2014 is affirmed.
April 18, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2013-0144
George R. Simpson v. Andrew L. Capedeville, P.C., et al.
On appeal from a Superior Court order holding a defamation defendant in contempt for failing to comply with an earlier order finding him liable and ordering him to disable and remove several websites containing allegedly defamatory statements made against the plaintiff attorney and his law firm, the statements are held to be not defamatory as a matter of law. Only statements that are provable as false are actionable. Where a statement is so imprecise or subjective that it is not capable of being proved true or false, it is not actionable in defamation. Hyperbole and expressions of opinion not provable as false fail to meet this actionability element of a defamation claim, and are also constitutionally protected. Plaintiffs had the burden of proving that the statements were false as part of their case-in-chief at trial. While calling a private individual a liar could, in some very limited circumstances, permit recovery for defamation, such statements must still be provable as false in order to constitute actionable defamation. In this case, as a matter of law all of the defendant’s allegedly defamatory statements are personal opinions representing subjective viewpoints and beliefs about the plaintiffs that cannot be proved as false. These statements both fail to satisfy the requirements of defamation under Virgin Islands law, and are entitled to First Amendment protection. Therefore, the Superior Court’s order finding the defendant liable for making defamatory statements against the plaintiffs is reversed, the resulting contempt sanctions are vacated, and the matter is remanded to with directions to dismiss the complaint with prejudice.
March 21, 2016
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2015-0030
Oriel Destin v. People of the Virgin Islands
Under Virgin Islands law, a criminal prosecution in the Superior Court may be lawfully initiated by information rather than grand jury indictment, for the reasons explained in Codrington v. People, 57 V.I. 176 (V.I. 2012) and Simmonds v. People, 59 V.I. 480 (V.I. 2013). Thus, the People were not required to initiate the prosecution of the defendant in this case by grand jury indictment. In addition, the Superior Court committed no plain error when it sentenced the defendant as a habitual offender pursuant to 14 V.I.C. §§ 61 and 62 after he failed to file a written response to the habitual offender information filed by the People, which was accompanied with a certified judgment and commitment entered in another Superior Court case approximately four-and-a-half years earlier indicating that he had been convicted of third-degree assault, and his counsel stated on the record that he did not challenge the allegation of this prior conviction. The Superior Court’s May 14, 2015 judgment and commitment is affirmed.
March 16, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2014-0012
Rosa Maria Peralta Rodriguez v. Carmelo Rodriguez-Ramos
In a proceeding regarding division of proceeds from the sale of a marital home shared for 16 years by a couple who were divorced in 2009, the Superior Court properly exercised its discretion in allowing certain expert testimony by the former husband, but abused its discretion in determining the former wife’s share of the proceeds from the sale, erring in finding the amount of the actual mortgage payoff. It also erred in applying a repair credit that the former husband gave to the purchaser, in a manner causing an unsubstantiated reduction in the wife’s share of the proceeds. The court failed to clearly apportion responsibility for the repair allowance between the parties, considering that the divorce decree allocated all responsibility for maintaining the former marital home to the former husband. Likewise, the Superior Court appears to have failed to consider a January 2010 ruling which prohibited both parties from damaging, changing and altering the former marital home in any way that would result in a reduced market value. The February 14, 2014 order of the Superior Court is vacated, and this case is remanded for further proceedings in compliance with this opinion, including factual findings on the appropriate distribution of the proceeds of the sale of the marital home, factual findings on each party’s fault with regards to deterioration of the property, and factual findings on their effect on the apportionment of the sale proceeds to each party.
March 15, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0055
In re Ronald Edward Gillette
A writ of mandamus is granted, directing the nominal respondent in the Superior Court to consider and rule on the petitioner’s pending application for writ of habeas corpus within 60 days, or take other meaningful action to further disposition of petitioner’s case in that period. Petitioner, convicted of multiple counts of first- and second-degree aggravated rape and unlawful sexual contact, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in November, 2014. After motion filings, the Superior Court judge took no action for several months, and in June 2015 the present petition for writ of mandamus was filed, seeking an order requiring a decision on the habeas corpus application. The record reflects that the Nominal Respondent has not issued any orders in the underlying matter since granting permission for petitioner proceed in forma pauperis. Petitioner has met the requirements for granting the writ of mandamus, establishing that his right to the writ is clear and indisputable and that he has no other adequate means to attain the desired relief. Based on independent review of the record without the benefit of a response from the nominal respondent, no legitimate excuse can be found for the nearly one and one-half year delay. Accordingly, since the public interest and other considerations strongly support mandamus relief, a writ of mandamus shall issue directing the nominal respondent to rule on this petitioner’s habeas corpus petition within 60 days of the date of this Opinion, or take other meaningful action to further the disposition of that case in that period, such as issuing a ruling on the respondent’s motion to dismiss.
March 14, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0039
Antilles School, Inc. v. Jamie Lembach
Considering an appeal from a jury verdict in plaintiff’s favor in a personal injury case alleging claims for negligence and premises liability, as well as the denial of the defendant’s motion to set aside the verdict, because the plaintiff introduced sufficient evidence of a breach of duty and causation, the evidence was sufficient to sustain the jury’s verdict. Although the Superior Court erred by separately instructing the jury on negligence and premises liability, the error is both harmless and invited, given the defendant’s representation to the Superior Court that the elements of negligence and premises liability are the same and its request that the Superior Court utilize a verdict form with only a single liability question. Further, while the Superior Court committed several errors with regard to plaintiff’s expert testimony, these errors benefited the defendant, and thus cannot form the basis for a new trial. Declining to adopt the common-law doctrine of remittitur, the defendant’s invitation to reduce the jury’s damages award based on an independent weighing of the evidence on appeal is also refused. Accordingly, the Superior Court’s May 12, 2015 judgment is affirmed.
March 7, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0034
Meral Smith v. Employees of the Bureau of Corrections, et al.
The Superior Court did not err in denying a petition for writ of mandamus in which the petitioner requested that the Director of the Bureau of Corrections be ordered to consider his application for parole. A petitioner must establish that his right to a writ of mandamus is clear and indisputable and that he has no other adequate means to attain the desired relief. Even if these two prerequisites are met, the issuing court, in the exercise of its discretion, must be satisfied that the writ is appropriate under the circumstances. Here the petiole has failed to establish that his right to a writ of mandamus is clear and indisputable. There is no constitutional or inherent right of a convicted person to be conditionally released before the expiration of a valid sentence. Thus, the fact that a jurisdiction provides a mechanism for parole does not mean that a person automatically obtains a right to be released. Nothing in 5 V.I.C. § 4601 provides that any inmate possesses a right to parole, whether early or otherwise. On the contrary, the statute expressly provides that an inmate may not even be considered for parole without the recommendation of the Director of the Bureau of Corrections, an act that requires exercise of discretion and judgment. The parole statute neither sets forth any factors that must guide the Director’s exercise of his discretion, nor requires that the inmate be provided with an explanation of the reasons for not providing a favorable recommendation. Thus Virgin Islands statutory law provides only for discretionary parole, with no inmate eligible for parole until the Director of the Bureau of Corrections has first issued a favorable recommendation. Because such a recommendation is a discretionary, rather than a ministerial act, the petitioner cannot establish that his right to mandamus relief is clear and indisputable. Accordingly, the Superior Court’s February 24, 2015 order dismissing this petition seeking a writ of mandamus is affirmed.
March 2, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2014-0044
Daryl Blyden v. Government of the Virgin Islands, et al.
The Superior Court erred in summarily denying a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. There was no defect in obtaining personal jurisdiction over the Government as respondent in the action since the petitioner need not serve the petition upon the Government. Under 5 V.I.C. § 1306 the Superior Court itself has the duty of serving the writ on the Government respondents once it is issued, and the Government must then file a return responding to the allegations. Granting the writ of habeas corpus constitutes an intermediate step in the statutory procedure – it does not address the underlying merits of the petition’s allegations, nor does it entitle the petitioner to the ultimate relief sought in the petition. Issuing the writ and serving it on the Government respondents simply requires the filing of a return responding to the petition and production of the petitioner in court for a hearing on the merits of his allegations. A habeas petitioner may raise purely legal questions, which would include challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence when not otherwise procedurally barred, since a conviction based on insufficient evidence presents an error of constitutional dimension that must be remedied. Arguments concerning the lack of authentication of a firearm and inadequate cross-examination could not be raised in the petition because both issues were previously raised on direct appeal and rejected by this Court – a habeas petition may not be used to re-litigate issues previously raised on direct appeal, and this case does not present any exceptional circumstances that would justify revisiting those issues. Petitioner’s prima facie showing of fabricated evidence was not raised on direct appeal and is not procedurally barred. Likewise, his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is properly raised in the collateral proceeding rather than on direct appeal. The Superior Court erred by addressing the merits of these claims based only on the allegations of the petition, demanding too much of the petitioner, too soon. Because the petition made out a prima facie case for relief that was not procedurally barred, the Superior Court was required to issue a writ of habeas corpus to the person having custody over him, mandating the petitioner’s production in court for an evidentiary hearing prior to addressing the merits of his claims, in accord with 5 V.I.C. § 1308 through § 1311. The Order of June 21, 2014 is reversed and this matter is remanded to the Superior Court with directions to issue the writ and conduct further proceedings as required by chapter 91 of title 5 of the Virgin Islands Code.
February 25, 2016
Aswad Pickering v. People of the Virgin Islands
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2015-0017
In a criminal case in which the defendant was charged with one count of third-degree assault in violation of 14 V.I.C. § 297(2); one count of unlawfully discharging a firearm in violation of 23 V.I.C. § 479(a)(2); three counts of unauthorized use of a firearm in violation of 14 V.I.C. § 2253(a); and one count of first-degree reckless endangerment in violation of 14 V.I.C. § 625(a), and in which the jury ultimately acquitted the defendant of both third-degree assault and unlawful discharge of a firearm, but failed to reach a unanimous verdict on the unauthorized use of a firearm and reckless endangerment counts, the defendant appealed the Superior Court’s order denying his motion to dismiss the unauthorized use of a firearm counts based on the jury’s acquittal on the third-degree assault and unlawful discharge of a firearm counts. Although the defendant maintained at trial and in his appellate brief that the remaining firearm charges must be dismissed due to his acquittal on the third-degree assault and unlawful discharge charges, he expressly conceded at oral argument that he may be retried on all remaining charges, and limited his argument solely to challenging the potential imposition of a sentence enhancer premised on use of a firearm during a crime of violence if he is ultimately convicted at retrial. Since the defendant’s waiver in this regard prevents the Court from granting him any relief that would prevent a retrial, an immediate appeal is not necessary to safeguard any of the rights conferred upon him by the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Accordingly, the appeal is dismissed for lack of appellate jurisdiction.
February 1, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No 2015-0048
People of the Virgin Islands in re M.R. and W.V., Minors
An order holding an attorney in criminal contempt for remarks made at a court hearing is reversed. Criminal contempt of court that obstructs the administration of justice is willful misconduct which embarrasses, hinders, or obstructs a court in its administration of justice or derogates the court’s authority or dignity, thereby bringing the administration of law into disrepute. Neither the purported acts of “arguing with the court in aggravated and elevated tones” nor “by personally criticizing a judge in open court” constitutes the obstruction of the administration of justice in this case. To the extent any disruption occurred, it is attributable not to this attorney, but to the Superior Court’s reaction to her advocacy. In presenting the client’s case to a court an attorney has the right to make a good-faith argument of which the judge does not approve. A Virgin Islands court may hold an individual in criminal contempt for disobedience or resistance to its lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree, or command, as provided in 14 V.I.C. § 581(3), and it must be established—beyond a reasonable doubt—that a valid court order existed and that the contemnor knew of the order yet nevertheless willfully disobeyed it. Here the record does not support the Superior Court’s conclusion that the attorney refused an order to leave the courtroom, and the Superior Court abused its discretion when it held her in criminal contempt for failure to obey such an order. While certain conduct may be punished summarily, here the court erred in concluding that it could preside over the matter simply because Superior Court Rule 138 does not mandate recusal. Pursuant to 4 V.I.C. § 284(4) a judge must recuse himself or herself from a case if it is probable that, by reason of bias or prejudice, a fair and impartial trial cannot be had before the judge. Here the Superior Court erred when it held that Superior Court Rule 138 governed the matter and it should have afforded the attorney all of the protections of Rule 139, including having the contempt proceeding assigned to a different judge. Attorneys possess an obligation to advocate zealously for their clients, in good faith within the bounds of the law. On some occasions, this may entail making an argument that displeases a judge, or that a judge interprets—rightly or wrongly—as criticism. In this case, the Superior Court perceived as criticism what an attorney likely intended as advocacy, and imposed the severe sanction of criminal contempt. In doing so, it ignored the maxim that the law gives judges as persons, or courts as institutions, no greater immunity from criticism than other persons or institutions. The Superior Court’s May 21, 2015 opinion and order adjudicating the attorney in criminal contempt are reversed.
January 13, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0060
Government of the Virgin Islands, Department of Human Services v. United Industrial, Service, Transportation, Professional and Government Workers of North America–Seafarers International Union of North America, Atlantic, Gulf, Lakes and Inland Waters, on behalf of Marie Danielson
Considering an appeal filed by the Department of Human Services (“DHS”) regarding the Superior Court’s May 20, 2015 opinion denying its request to vacate an arbitrator’s award dated February 25, 2007 directing that Marie Danielson, a DHS employee whose interests are represented by the United Industrial, Service, Transportation, Professional and Government Workers of North America–Seafarers International Union of North America, Atlantic, Gulf, Lakes and Inland Waters (the “Union”), receive $101,775.96 in back pay, because section 10 of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq. does not apply to this proceeding, and the Union has otherwise failed to meet its burden of establishing that the DHS’s complaint is time-barred under any other statute of limitations, it is concluded that the matter was properly before the Superior Court. As to the merits, even if the highly deferential standard of review provided for by the FAA were applied rather than a de novo standard of review—an issue not reached in this case—the arbitrator in this case did not attempt to apply the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the parties, despite the limitations on his authority and the instructions expressly included in section 7 thereof, but instead imposed his own brand of “industrial justice” in express contravention of the agreement’s terms. Accordingly, the May 20, 2015 opinion is reversed, and the Superior Court is directed on remand to vacate the arbitrator’s February 25, 2007 decision.
January 12, 2016
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0021
United Corporation v. Waheed Hamed
Considering the plaintiff corporation’s appeals from Superior Court orders dated June 24, 2013 and September 2, 2014, holding that its claims against the defendant were barred by the applicable statute of limitations, the Superior Court erred in converting the defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings to a motion for summary judgment without first giving the corporation notice and a chance to respond. The Superior Court also erred in later granting summary judgment to the defendant on the remaining claims of the corporation’s complaint because the defendant failed to meet his initial burden at summary judgment regarding the corporation’s claim that it was unaware of the defendant’s conduct until 2011 and that the applicable statute of limitations was tolled as a result via the discovery rule. The Superior Court’s June 24, 2013 and September 2, 2014 orders are reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings.
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