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September 27, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2016-0049 (Cite as: 2019 VI 29)
Charles v. Arcos Dorados USVI Inc. d/b/a McDonald’s Restaurant
Considering the Superior Court’s August 19, 2016 memorandum opinion and order entering summary judgment in favor of the defendant restaurant on the basis that plaintiff failed to identify potentially admissible evidence to support a jury finding that the fish fillet sandwich that the restaurant sold to her and which she partially consumed proximately caused her to become ill, the Superior Court’s judgment is affirmed. Proof of causation in a food poisoning case may be established by either medical expert evidence alone or by a combination of admissible lay evidence and medical evidence, based on reasonable inferences. While a layperson such as the plaintiff in this case is permitted to testify about her personal symptoms and experience after consuming food, proof of proximate cause as an element of liability is required for a breach of implied warranty of merchantability cause of action brought pursuant to 11A V.I.C. § 2-314 with respect to food that has been prepared and sold by a restaurant to a customer for consumption. Here, viewing the evidence presented in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the record indicates that her only proof was her lay opinion that the sandwich was the proximate cause of her illness. Determining whether the sandwich that plaintiff partially consumed proximately caused her illness requires medical evidence, and, because only a qualified expert may testify to his or her opinion on the issue of proximate cause in this context in accordance with Virgin Islands Rules of Evidence 702, plaintiff’s lay opinion, standing alone, is insufficient. In addition, the Superior Court did not abuse its discretion when it included exhibits from plaintiff’s medical record in deciding the motion for summary judgment, since they could be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence at trial as required by Rule 56(c)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and they suggested that some of plaintiff’s symptoms preceded her consumption of the sandwich, making them relevant within the intendment of Rule 401 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.
October 9, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2018-0058 (Cite as: 2019 VI 30)
World Fresh Markets, LLC v. Josephat Henry
In a premises liability case, on the proprietor’s appeal from the Superior Court’s order denying its motion for judgment as a matter of law and a final judgment memorializing a 2015 jury award—plus statutory interest—both of which were entered on the docket 1,083 days later, the ruling and judgment are affirmed, notwithstanding the Superior Court’s failure to timely enter its judgment on the docket in accordance with the requirements of Rule 58(b) of the Virgin Islands Rules of Civil Procedure, which mandate that the judge “shall promptly sign the judgment” embodying the jury’s verdict and that the clerk “must promptly enter th[at] judgment” on the docket. While the proprietor raised certain arguments concerning the applicability of 11 V.I.C. § 951(a)(1) in the Superior Court, the arguments it presents on appeal relating to whether pre-judgment interest under this statute is applicable to a claim sounding in tort for personal injuries, and whether the plain language of the statute supports the availability of compounded interest, are legally distinct theories from the arguments it presented to the Superior Court. Accordingly, the proprietor’s arguments on appeal were not fairly presented to the Superior Court for resolution, and those arguments are properly deemed waived on appeal by operation of Rules 4(h) and 22(m) of the Virgin Islands Rules of Appellate Procedure; no exceptional circumstances exist that warrant their consideration for the first time on appeal, particularly given plaintiff’s prompt and vigorous assertion of its claim that the proprietor’s appellate arguments have been procedurally defaulted.
August 15, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2017-0033 (Cite as: 2019 VI 28)
Donna Slack v. Rudolph Slack
Following this Court’s prior opinion in Slack v. Slack, 69 V.I. 567 (V.I. 2018), holding that the Superior Court had erred in a divorce proceeding by failing to explain its decisions on two issues – involving recovery of legal fees and costs, as well as refusal to recognize monthly interest payments on credit card debt as necessary expenses in computing an award of alimony and pendente lite support – that court on September 6, 2018 entered an order on remand explaining its decision as to each issue. The Superior Court acknowledges that it failed to consider the request for recovery of attorney’s fees and costs under 16 V.I.C. § 108(1), which allows for such awards during the pendency of the litigation based upon the requesting party’s financial need. Thus, unlike the attorney’s fees provision in Title 5—which only allows such awards to the prevailing party at the conclusion of litigation—§ 108 allows the trial court, during the pendency of the litigation, to award a party in need a sufficient amount of funds to litigate his or her case. Because the Superior Court denied the present request for legal fees and costs solely on the basis of its determination that the ex-wife was not a prevailing party, without any consideration of her financial need at the time of the litigation, it abused its discretion and that portion of the February 10, 2017 order requiring each party to bear his or her own fees and costs is reversed; this matter is remanded for a determination whether the ex-wife is entitled to an award of attorney’s fees and costs under 16 V.I.C. § 108. On the issue of alimony or pendente lite support, a party seeking such an award bears the burden of proving all elements of the claim, including, as part of demonstrating the need for alimony, establishing his or her necessary living expenses. Here, however, the ex-wife failed to introduce sufficient evidence to establish, beyond the level of speculation, that her monthly credit card debt interest payments constituted necessary living expenses rather than business expenses. Thus, the Superior Court did not abuse its discretion in declining to consider those interest payments as necessary expenses for purposes of alimony or pendente lite support, and the February 10, 2017 amended final decree of divorce is affirmed on that issue.
July 17, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2018-0043 (Cite as: 2019 VI 27)
Dawn Montgomery v. Virgin Grand Villas St. John Owners’ Association
In an action by an owners’ association for unpaid dues against a deed holder of two unit-weeks of time share ownership in a condominium complex, while defendant’s notice of appeal was untimely, and she has not demonstrated excusable neglect or good cause for the delay, here the plaintiff has waived its right to challenge the timeliness of the appeal by failure to raise the issue. In this case the plaintiff association filed an untimely motion for summary judgment under formerly applicable provisions of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(b), which allowed a party to file a motion for summary judgment at any time until 30 days after the close of all discovery. Accordingly, the April 23, 2018 judgment and order of foreclosure is vacated and the case is remanded for trial. In addition, the plaintiff association has failed to comply with the statutory mediation requirement under 28 V.I.C. § 531(b). On the facts presented, the Superior Court erred when it granted the plaintiff’s motion to deem mediation waived. Rather than constituting evidence of a good faith effort to resolve the matter through mediation, the substantial misrepresentations in plaintiff’s email an letter communications appear calculated to discourage the defendant from participating in mediation and – to the extent she may have failed to act in good faith by not responding to the correspondence – the Superior Court was obligated to consider appropriate alternate remedies to obtain her compliance and waive the application of § 531(b) only as a last resort. Consequently, the November 29, 2016 order granting the motion to deem mediation waived is vacated, and the Superior Court is directed to immediately refer this matter to mediation on remand. The case will be assigned to a different judge on remand.
July 16, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2017-0037 (Cite as: 2019 VI 26)
Elbe V. Brathwaite v. Phillip Xavier d/b/a Gary’s Marine Service
In a personal injury action by a plaintiff seeking damages for injuries suffered as a passenger on a boat owned and operated by the defendant when he negligently crashed that boat onto a rocky outcropping near Cruz Bay, St. John, the Superior Court’s erred in excluding portions of the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert witness. Although exclusion was couched in terms of Virgin Island Rule of Evidence 403, it resulted from the court’s concern that some of the conclusions about the plaintiff’s alleged brain injuries were contradicted by certain objective medical evidence; however, the differential diagnosis satisfied the Daubert reliability test and a patient's medical history, including subjective complaints, may be a sound basis for a medical expert's diagnosis in some instances. It was for the jury to determine the credibility of the medical evidence. Because the Superior Court improperly usurped the role of the jury by substituting its own determination of weight and credibility for that of the jury, it abused its discretion by excluding this expert testimony. Although the Superior Court committed procedural error by dismissing, sua sponte, a claim for gross negligence and accompanying prayer for punitive damages without providing her any notice or opportunity to be heard, the dismissal of that claim is affirmed as harmless error because plaintiff failed to introduce any evidence to establish that the defendant was grossly, as opposed to ordinarily, negligent. Because the defendant failed to introduce any evidence from which the jury might reasonably infer that plaintiff was comparatively negligent in causing her injuries, the Superior Court abused its discretion by instructing the jury on comparative negligence. The judgment of April 5, 2017 is vacated, and the matter is remanded for a new trial.
July 11, 2019
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2015-0078 (Cite as: 2019 VI 25)
Louis Milton Willis v. People of the Virgin Islands
In a prosecution for conspiracy to defeat or evade tax, as well as aiding and abetting willful failure to collect or pay over tax, the territorial gross receipts tax does not constitute an “income tax law applicable to the Virgin Islands” within the meaning of 48 U.S.C. § 1612(a), hence the Superior Court properly exercised jurisdiction over this criminal matter charging violations of this tax. On the merits, there was no plain error affecting the defendant’s substantial rights regarding intent to defraud the Government of the Virgin Islands, the statute of limitations, or whether the tax clearance letters involved here were material, considering the instructions as a whole and in light of the full record. In addition, there is no conflict or apparent contradiction between the provisions of § 1522—criminalizing conspiracy to evade or defeat taxes generally—and § 1533, which outlines various tax crimes specifically committed by government employees, and no argument that the prosecutor’s election to charge defendant under § 1522 was in any way improper or prejudicial in this case. There was no error in failing to grant a motion for judgment of acquittal, or in any of the other arguments raised, many of which were waived for purposes of appeal. The Superior Court’s October 1, 2015, judgment and commitment is affirmed.
June 28, 2019
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2015-0073 (Cite as: 2019 VI 24)
Jim Wallace v. People of the Virgin Islands
In a prosecution arising from the defendant’s act of shooting into an occupied vehicle, the jury was instructed on each and every essential element of third-degree assault, and there was nothing misleading or inadequate in the instructions that would support a finding of plain error. Nor did the Superior Court abuse its discretion in denying the defendant’s motion for a new trial, since the affidavit submitted as newly-discovered evidence was not inconsistent with evidence received at trial. Thus, convictions for third-degree assault and unauthorized possession of a firearm during commission of a crime of violence are affirmed. However, the Superior Court erred in instructing the jury on the elements of first-degree reckless endangerment. To be depravedly indifferent within the meaning of 14 V.I.C. § 625(a), a person must act with an utter disregard for the value of human life, not because he or she intends harm, but because the person simply doesn’t care whether grievous harm results or not. The overbroad notion that the act of firing a loaded gun at or near someone is always, by definition, reckless conduct creating a grave risk of death under circumstances evincing an extreme indifference to human life is rejected – the People are required to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the shooting was the product of a conscious disregard for a grave risk of death. The instruction on the “public place” element of reckless endangerment impermissibly removed the People’s burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the residential street in question fell within the definition of “public place” set forth in § 625. Accordingly, the conviction for reckless endangerment in the first degree is reversed, and the case is remanded for a new trial on that count if the People are disposed to pursue that charge.
June 18, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2018-0023 (Cite as: 2019 VI 23)
Pavel v. Estates of Judith’s Fancy Owners’ Association, Inc.
Considering the homeowners’ appeal from a memorandum opinion and order granting a homeowners association’s converted motion for summary judgment, in which the homeowners argue that the Superior Court erred in its interpretation of certain provisions of a Declaration establishing restrictive covenants which requires a twenty-foot building setback from any boundary line for plots in the development and that the court erred in failing to conclude that the doctrine of merger bars application of the Declaration’s setback provision to the boundary line between their two adjacent plots, the homeowners’ arguments are rejected. Because the Declaration unambiguously requires a twenty-foot setback from any boundary line, unless two or more adjacent plots are combined within one ownership and title—in which case the relevant boundary lines are the outer boundaries of the combined plots—the doctrine of merger is inapplicable. Since all of the benefits and burdens of the setback provision of the Declaration have not come into single ownership under the facts presented here, the doctrine of termination of servitudes by merger is not applicable to this case. And because the plain and unambiguous language of the Declaration provides for an exception to the twenty-foot building setback requirement for boundaries between adjacent plots only where the adjacent plots are combined in both ownership and title, the Superior Court’s judgment based on its memorandum opinion and order is affirmed.
June 17, 2019
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2016-0014 (Cite as: 2019 VI 22)
Julian Viera, Jr. v. People of the Virgin Islands
Considering an appeal from a judgment and commitment adjudicating the defendant guilty on charges including voluntary manslaughter (14 V.I.C. § 924(1)), assault in the first degree (14 V.I.C. § 295(1)), unlawful possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence (14 V.I.C. § 2253(a)), unauthorized possession of ammunition (14 V.I.C. § 2256(a)), and reckless endangerment in the first degree (14 V.I.C. § 625(a)), in which the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions on these charges and argues that his claim of self-defense was adequately established at trial, the defendant’s argument as to the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction for voluntary manslaughter is deemed waived by operation of V.I. R. App. P. 22(m), and the Superior Court’s ruling that the People presented sufficient evidence to disprove the defendant’s claim of self-defense is affirmed. The evidence is also deemed to be sufficient to support all of his other convictions, and since, measured by the standard required by V.I. R. App. P. 22(a)(5), he inadequately briefed his argument that, by operation of Superior Court Rule 135, he was entitled to a new trial in the interest of justice, he failed to demonstrate that the Superior Court’s denial of his motion for a new trial was an abuse of discretion. Accordingly, the judgment and commitment is affirmed.
June 13, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2017-0084 (Cite as: 2019 VI 21)
Basic Services, Inc. v. Government of the Virgin Islands
In a case alleging breach of a contract to provide technological services for public schools, summary judgment for the Government is affirmed, but one of the grounds that the Superior Court relied on in its reasoning is rejected. Under V.I. R. CIV. P. 8(a), plaintiff’s pleadings were sufficient to assert a claim that the Government’s obligation of good faith under the contract required it to assist plaintiff in obtaining payment, encompassing all foreseeable obligations under the contract. Thus the Superior Court erred in finding this claim was not properly before it. On summary judgment, after the Government’s showing, the burden shifted to plaintiff to identify affirmative evidence upon which a reasonable jury could return a verdict in its favor. Since plaintiff failed to carry its burden in response to the Government’s motion under Rule 56 to identify facts rendering these issues disputed and triable, it was not error for the Superior Court to grant summary judgment in favor of the Government. Particularly with regard to the third and fourth elements of a contract claim—breach of the duty and damages—the affidavit relied upon by plaintiff was conclusory because it set forth conclusions that are unsupported by the record. Consequently, plaintiff had no right to summary judgment. The argument that it was error for the Superior Court to deny its motions to amend its complaint to add a claim for quantum meruit is without merit, since that claim would be futile because a contract existed between the parties, and plaintiff therefore could not recover on the equitable remedy of quantum meruit under governing case law. Thus there was no error in denying leave to amend. For the reasons stated, the judgment of the Superior Court entered upon its October 17, 2017 rulings on the cross-motions for summary judgment is affirmed.
June 12, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2018-0012 Cite as: 2019 VI 20
John P. Charles v. Aisha Payne
In a personal injury action by a woman who slipped on stairs and suffered personal injuries, including loss of an unborn baby, the Superior Court did not err in denying the defendant apartment building owner’s motion to dismiss and his renewed after a jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff. The notice of appeal was timely under Appellate Rule 5(a)(4), given the highly unique and unusual procedural posture of this case. The defendant waived his argument for judgment as a matter of law and dismissal under the terms of the lease agreement by perfunctory argument, and failure to raise the lease indemnification argument in his pre-verdict motion. He also waived the argument that there was insufficient evidence of negligence because – while this contention was made in in a pre-verdict motion – it was not made in his renewed Rule 50(b) motion. The judgment of the Superior Court entered upon the jury verdict in this case is affirmed.
June 11, 2019
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2015-0118 (Cite as: 2019 VI 19)
Jose Rodriguez v. People of the Virgin Islands
In a prosecution for kidnapping premised on the abduction, taking or carrying away of the victim with the intention to commit rape, first-degree unlawful sexual contact, and interfering with officer discharging his duty, the convictions for first-degree unlawful sexual contact and interfering with officer discharging his duty are affirmed. The claim of a speedy trial violation from the more than eight year delay between defendant’s arrest and the trial is rejected after detailed consideration of the causes and responsibility for each of the many delays in the proceedings, and whether defendant suffered any prejudice from the delays. Defendant’s trial was not delayed to the extent that his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial was violated. There was sufficient evidence to sustain the convictions for first-degree unlawful sexual contact and interfering with officer discharging his duty. The Superior Court erred in instructing the jury regarding kidnapping because it failed to include the modified test for asportation required under 14 V.I.C. § 1052(b) by instructing the jury to consider the duration of victim’s asportation or whether that asportation created a significant danger to her independent of the intended rape. This was plain error and it cannot be concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury’s verdict would have been the same had it been properly instructed. On the crime of interfering with an officer discharging his duty, the Superior Court erred by imposing a fine greater than that allowed under former 14 V.I.C. § 1508, and that sentence is vacated. The Superior Court erred by denying the defendant’s motion for acquittal and new trial without holding an evidentiary hearing to determine whether juror misconduct occurred. The October 27, 2015 judgment and commitment is vacated in part, and the order of that date is vacated insofar as it rejected the defendant’s arguments relating to his conviction for kidnapping and juror bias. On remand, the court must conduct an evidentiary hearing on juror bias, resentence the defendant on the conviction for interfering with an officer discharging his duty and, if requested by the People, conduct a new trial on the charge for kidnapping.
June 11, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2017-0045 (Cite as: 2019 VI 18)
Tip Top Construction Co. v. Austin
In a wrongful discharge case alleging that the employer defendant breached the duty of good faith and fair dealing, the Superior Court committed reversible error in excluding the testimony of one of the defendant’s witnesses without sufficiently explaining its reasoning, and committed further reversible error by excluding the testimony of three additional witnesses whose identities were disclosed by the defendant during discovery, solely on the basis that it failed to provide their contact information. The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded for a new trial.
June 3, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2018-0022 (Cite as: 2019 VI 17)
Frederic J. Balboni, Jr. vs. Ranger American of the V.I., Inc. and Emica King
On a pretrial motion in a motor vehicle accident personal injury action – in which the plaintiff sought a determination that the damage recovery cap of $100,000 in 20 V.I.C. § 555 for non-economic damages is unconstitutional, and the Superior Court certified the issues for immediate interlocutory appeal under 4 V.I.C. § 33(c) – the free-standing equal protection and due process clauses unique to the Virgin Islands Bill of Rights are separate limitations on the power of the government which (under the doctrine of constitutional avoidance) may be independently and definitively interpreted by this Court before reaching any issue under the federal constitution. Section 555 treats individuals who suffer injuries in automobile accidents differently (and less favorably) than other personal injury victims, clearly implicating the equal protection clause of the Virgin Islands Bill of Rights. Heightened rational basis review represents the appropriate standard for determining the validity of this statute, and it fails to satisfy that standard of review. The “ends analysis” and “combination analysis” of the heightened rational basis standard require consideration of the actual legislative purpose, but here the legislation creating the statute does not contain any legislative findings whatsoever, let alone findings on the non-economic damages cap, leaving only speculation as to the basis for its distinctions between classes of injured people. Even if the Court accepted the contention that the Legislature enacted the cap on non-economic damages for the legitimate purpose of stabilizing the automobile insurance market, the cap fails heightened rational basis review because some actual connection (other than mere speculation) has not been shown between the cap actually selected and that goal, hence there is no basis for concluding that the cap is a reasonable method of implementing that purpose, whether applying the more deferential “means analysis” test or the more liberal “combination analysis.” There is no evidence that a cap on non-economic damages—in any amount—will have any effect on the automobile insurance market in the Virgin Islands. Since § 555 treats certain classes of people differently but is not reasonably related to a legitimate legislative purpose, the cap on non-economic damages in automobile accident cases violates the equal protection clause of the Virgin Islands Bill of Rights. The portion of the Superior Court’s January 24, 2018 opinion holding that the plaintiff’s non-economic damages could not exceed $100,000 is reversed, and this matter is remanded for further proceedings.
May 16, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2017-0038 (Cite as: 2019 VI 16)
Tarah S. Malek v. Anthony W. Romano
Considering mother’s appeal from a Superior Court order granting physical custody of her minor child to the child’s father, in which she argued that the Superior Court erred in finding that there had been a substantial and continuing change in circumstances warranting modification of physical custody, on the issue of whether the order is appealable, considering the applicable case law and the important policy interests that must be balanced in child custody proceedings, a custody order will be considered final by operation of 4 V.I.C. § 32(a), and therefore appealable, only if it (1) is entered after the Superior Court has completed a full hearing on the merits; and (2) disposes of all the issues relevant to the proceedings then presented before the court. In custody proceedings, this means that a custody order is final and appealable only if it comes after a full adversarial hearing on the matter where the trial court considered sufficient factors it found to be relevant to the best interests of the child, and if it disposed of all the issues then presented to the trial court. Applying this standard, the Superior Court’s December 1, 2016 order is a final, appealable order, because it was entered after the court had conducted a full adversarial hearing where both parties were allowed to testify and present evidence, and it resolved all issues relevant to the child custody determination by disposing of all pending motions, and by placing the child in the father’s physical custody. While it is true that in child custody proceedings there always exists some possibility that future developments might require modification of custody at some later date, a custody determination like the one appealed from in this case will remain final and permanent unless such developments take place and a motion seeking modification based on those developments is filed with the court, consistent with 16 V.I.C. §110. Additionally, because the record contains ample evidence supporting the Superior Court’s findings of fact, it cannot be concluded either that those findings were clearly erroneous, or that the Superior Court abused its discretion in entering its order modifying custody. Accordingly, the order of the Superior Court granting physical custody of the minor child to father is affirmed.
May 6, 2019
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2017-0026 (Cite as: 2019 VI 15)
In re: Michael L. Sheesley, Esq.
The Superior Court committed no error when it held a member of the Virgin Islands Bar in criminal contempt for his conduct at hearing in refusing to abide by an appointment order to represent a client, entered two weeks previously. The record does not reflect that the Superior Court violated any of the attorney’s constitutional rights, or that it applied the incorrect legal standard in imposing contempt sanctions. Nor was the judge presiding over the matter under any obligation to recuse herself sua sponte. The evidence was more than sufficient to sustain the criminal contempt conviction on either a theory of obstruction of the administration of justice or willful disobedience of a lawful order, and the likelihood that the appointment order may have actually been erroneous does not excuse the attorney’s refusal to abide by that order. Likewise, the Superior Court committed no error when it held attorney in civil contempt for his failure to appear at an ordered show cause hearing. The Superior Court’s February 15, 2017 order is affirmed in its entirety, and this matter is referred to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel and the Board on Professional Responsibility for further investigation as to whether the attorney may have violated Rule 211.1.16(c) or Rule 211.3.5(d).
May 1, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2018-0001(Cite as: 2019 VI 14)
Sheena James v. George G. O’Reilly III
In a domestic relations case with contested issues of visitation and child custody, because there is no statute or court rule authorizing automatic re-transfer to the original judicial district when a party ceases employment with the Superior Court, the St. Thomas Family Judge erred in granting the father’s motion to transfer the case back to St. Croix without awaiting a response from the mother and without determining whether a transfer was warranted under 4 V.I.C. § 78(b). The transfer order of June 16, 2016 is vacated. Even if it were appropriate to transfer venue, the St. Croix Family Judge erred by presiding over the case after having previously recused herself. On remand the Clerk of the Court shall reassign the matter to the St. Thomas Family Court Judge, who shall exercise jurisdiction over the matter, including ruling under the proper legal standard on any renewed motion to retransfer venue to St. Croix after all parties have an opportunity to be heard. In the event that retransfer is again ordered on a renewed motion, the case shall not be re-assigned to the St. Croix Family Judge who previously recused herself. All orders entered by the St. Croix Family Judge after her order of recusal are vacated as nullities having no legal effect. Because this includes the February 21, 2017 visitation order, the August 14, 2017 visitation order, and the December 29, 2017 order granting the father interim custody, the St. Thomas Family Judge is directed to immediately enter a new interim order to address both visitation and child custody.
March 29, 2019
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2016-0050 (Cite as: 2019 VI 13)
Alan Nigel Archibald v. People of the Virgin Islands
Convictions on charges of aggravated rape in the second degree as an act of domestic violence in violation of 14 V.I.C. § 1700a(a) and 16 V.I.C. § 91(b)(6), and incest in violation of 14 V.I.C. § 961, are affirmed. The Superior Court did not err or violate the defendant’s constitutional rights when it granted the People’s motion to amend the information or in denying in part his motion for judgment of acquittal. defendant is not deprived of his right to notice of the charges against him when the prosecution amends an information to add a lesser-included offense since the elements of the lesser offense are necessarily contained in the greater. Here the defendant had every opportunity to prepare a defense regarding whether he perpetrated an act of sexual intercourse or sodomy and whether the victim was his spouse, and had sufficient notice to defend himself concerning both elements. He also had abundant notice that the victim’s age was an element of the charge he faced—and the prosecution’s allegation that the victim was a minor—from the information that included the charge of aggravated rape in the first degree. Because aggravated rape in the second degree under former § 1700a(a) did not require the prosecution to prove any additional or different elements beyond the required elements of aggravated rape in the first degree under former § 1700(a)(2), it was a lesser-included offense of aggravated rape in the first degree. In ruling on the defense motion for judgment of acquittal the Superior Court correctly reasoned that because the prosecution elicited testimony that the victim was the defendant’s daughter, she could not possibly be his spouse as a matter of law. Because the victim was 14 at the time of the incident, the prosecution was not required to prove that he used force, intimidation, or his position of authority to accomplish the sexual act in order to establish guilt under § 1700a(a). In light of expert DNA testimony that there is a 99.9999 percent likelihood that defendant was the father of his daughter’s child, the prosecution also introduced sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could the defendant guilty of aggravated rape in the second degree and incest, and the Superior Court did not err in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal. The September 15, 2016 judgment and commitment is affirmed.
March 28, 2019
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2017-0070 (Cite as: 2019 VI 12)
Irvin O. Flores v. People of the Virgin Islands
Convictions for first degree rape as an act of domestic violence, 14 V.I.C. § 1701(a)(4), and unlawful sexual conduct in the first degree, 14 V.I.C § 1708(a)(6), as acts of domestic violence under 16 V.I.C. § 91(b)(6), are vacated and the order denying a motion for judgment of acquittal is reversed. The plain meaning of the word “stupor” in 14 V.I.C. § 1701(a)(4) is a mental condition marked by absence of spontaneous movement, greatly diminished responsiveness to stimulation, and usually impaired consciousness. Reading § 1701(a)(4) in its entirety, dulled sensibility must be so great as to prevent the victim from being able to resist sexual intercourse. While the evidence supports the inference that the putative victim in this case was tired at the time of the incident, it is insufficient to demonstrate her state of mind as required by § 1701(a)(4): that her sensibility was so greatly dulled as to prevent her from being able to resist sexual intercourse. In addition, because the alleged stupor in this case was not induced by an intoxicating, narcotic or anesthetic agent, the People were required to prove that the victim was known by defendant to be in such state of stupor, and here there was insufficient evidence to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant had knowledge of her dulled state of mind. On the charge of engaging in sexual contact with a person not his spouse, knowing that her mental capacity was compromised, in violation of 14 V.I.C. § 1708(a)(6), although not defined by the Legislature in the statute, the plain meaning of “unconscious” is (a) not knowing or perceiving: not aware and (b) free from self-awareness. Here, the People failed to introduce sufficient evidence to support the inference that the victim was unconscious at the time of the sexual contact act. The contention that this defendant is guilty under § 1701(a)(1) generally, despite not being charged under this subsection, because his fraudulent misrepresentation of himself as the victim’s husband should invalidate her consent, is without merit. Generally, in the absence of a statute, where a woman is effectively capable of consenting and does consent to sexual intercourse, the perpetrator is not guilty of rape even though consent was obtained through fraud. Under the circumstances of this case, and in absence of a rape by fraud statute in the Virgin Islands, the conviction for first-degree rape cannot stand. The Superior Court’s order entered July 18, 2017 is reversed and the Superior Court is instructed to enter a judgment of acquittal in accordance with this opinion.
March 26, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2016-0051 (Cite as: 2019 VI 11)
David Aubain v. Kazi Foods of the V.I., Inc. D/B/A Pizza Hut St. Thomas
In a personal injury, premises liability action, the Superior Court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant because the plaintiff demonstrated the existence of a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendant had constructive notice of the dangerous condition of a wooden bench on the premises. Summary judgment is a drastic remedy and should not be used to short-circuit litigation by deciding disputed facts without permitting the parties to reach a trial on the merits. The burden is on the moving party to identify those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, at which point the burden shifts to the non-moving party to present affirmative evidence from which a jury might reasonably return a verdict in his favor. Here the Superior Court did not err in treating plaintiff’s arguments regarding foreseeability of the incident as addressing the question of defendant’s notice of a dangerous condition. To establish that the defendant breached its duty, plaintiff must show that it had actual or constructive notice of the condition, not merely that the incident was foreseeable. Here, however, the plaintiff – in responding to the motion – identified conflicting testimony of the defendant’s employees about the frequency and the reasonable nature of its inspections of the benches, and thus demonstrated the existence of a triable issue concerning whether the defendant had constructive notice of the defect. As a result, the defendant failed to establish that it was entitled to the drastic remedy of summary judgment, and the Superior Court erred in granting that motion. The judgment is reversed.
March 22, 2019
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2017-0036 (Cite as: 2019 VI 10)
Angel Rodriguez v. Bureau of Corrections, et al.
After the prior appeal decided in Rodriguez v. Bureau of Corrections, 58 V.I. 367 (V.I. 2013), the petitioner filed another petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the Superior Court, which that court denied. There was no error in dismissing this most recent petition for writ of habeas corpus after determining that it was procedurally barred. Because this Court already addressed the petitioner’s due process claims of perjured testimony and prosecutorial misconduct in considering his previous petition seeking a writ of habeas corpus, further review of those claims is denied under the abuse of the writ doctrine. Further, because the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held on direct appeal that there was sufficient evidence to convict this petitioner of first degree murder and possession of an unlicensed firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, review addressing this same sufficiency of the evidence challenge as raised in the current petition for habeas corpus relief is declined, since consideration by this Court of this fact-based claim would not in any way implicate the role of this Court as the court of last resort for the Virgin Islands with the final authority on issues of Virgin Islands law. Accordingly, the Superior Court’s denial of this petition for writ of habeas corpus is affirmed.
March 25, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2016-0016 (Cite as: 2019 VI 9)
Marlene Wilkinson v. Sinclair Wilkinson
In an appeal from a Superior Court order denying a former wife’s motion to vacate a portion of a mediated settlement agreement, contending that her former husband fraudulently misrepresented the amount of money owed under a contract for construction of the marital home, it is concluded that §§ 162 and 164 of the Restatement (Second) of Contracts represent the soundest rules of decision for the Virgin Islands. To prevail on a claim to rescind a contract based upon fraud in the inducement, a party must show that: (1) there was a misrepresentation, (2) the misrepresentation was fraudulent or material, (3) the misrepresentation induced the recipient to enter the contract, and (4) that the recipient's reliance on the misrepresentation was reasonable. A misrepresentation is fraudulent where the maker intends his assertion to induce a party to manifest assent and the maker (a) knows or believes that the assertion is not in accord with the facts, or (b) does not have the confidence that he states or implies in the truth of the assertion, or (c) knows that he does not have the basis that he states or implies for the assertion. A misrepresentation is material if it would be likely to induce a reasonable person to manifest his assent, or if the maker knows that it would be likely to induce the recipient to do so. Claims for rescission of contracts based upon fraudulent misrepresentation require proof by clear and convincing evidence. Because the Superior Court failed to consider each piece of evidence presented in support of the former wife’s claim, this matter is remanded for the court to make specific findings of fact with respect to each of the five items of evidence presented, and to explain its determinations concerning the credibility and weight of that evidence. After making its findings of fact, the Superior Court shall apply the law of fraudulent inducement set forth in this opinion to determine whether, considering all the evidence together, the former wife has demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that the former husband misrepresented the amount of money owed for the construction and, if so, whether she has satisfied the remaining elements of her claim for rescission based upon fraud in the inducement.
March 1, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2017-0063 (Cite as: 2019 VI 8)
Miron E. Reynolds v. Lee Rohn, Esq. and Lee J. Rohn and Associates, LLC
The judgment of the Superior Court granting a defense motion for judgment on the pleadings in a legal malpractice action, and denying leave to amend the complaint is affirmed. After analysis it is concluded that the majority rule specifying the elements for a claim of legal malpractice based in tort—requiring (1) an attorney-client relationship giving rise to a duty; (2) breach of that duty; (3) a causal connection between the negligent conduct and the resulting injury; and (4) damages—is the soundest rule for the Virgin Islands. In this case the plaintiff failed to allege facts that would prove two elements of a claim for legal malpractice based in tort: (1) a causal connection between the negligent conduct and the resulting injury, and (2) damages. Thus the motion for judgment on the pleadings was properly granted. The Superior Court’s denial of a consolidated motion for reconsideration and for leave to amend the complaint is also affirmed. Plaintiff has essentially reargued the same points he already made in previous filings with the court (which is insufficient under the standards for granting a motion to reconsider), and the Superior Court properly denied the motion to amend the complaint in this action as futile. The Superior Court’s judgment dismissing this case based on its orders dated July 2, 2014 and August 22, 2014 is affirmed.
February 27, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2017-0059 (Cite as: 2019 VI 7)
Cristia Allenbaugh v. Shane I.M. Hodge
Orders entered by the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands pertaining to a child custody case are vacated and the Superior Court’s jurisdiction over the child custody matter is terminated. A request for imposition of monetary sanctions is refused. Although the custody action commenced within six months of the child leaving the Virgin Islands as permitted by 16 V.I.C. § 127 (a)(1), the Virgin Islands was never the home state of the child, who had never lived in the territory for six months. Moreover, the record lacks evidence that the child has a substantial nexus to the territory or that another state has declined to exercise jurisdiction. On the date the action was filed in Superior Court, another state had already become the child’s home state and had jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination. Because the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction to enter its 2014 custody order, that order and all orders emanating from it are vacated, and all notices of appeal relating to those orders are moot. The parties are encouraged to initiate custody proceedings in a state that has jurisdiction. This matter is remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
February 13, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2018-0031 (Cite as: 2019 VI 6)
Randy Burke v. Diane Prosper, Acting Warden of the Bureau of Corrections, et al.
On appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court denying a petition for a writ of habeas corpus that alleged ineffective assistance of counsel, the judgment is affirmed. Issues previously raised on direct appeal are unsuitable to be re-litigated with a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, and thus certain of the claims in this petition are barred. The claim that petitioner was denied effective assistance of counsel by his trial attorney’s failure to cross-examine a government witness requires a showing that counsel’s performance was deficient and that petitioner suffered prejudice as a result. Regarding the alleged prejudice from failure to cross-examine, any mitigation of the offense such examination could have produced was already in the record for the jury to consider. Even if petitioner was prejudiced by failure to cross-examine the witness, petitioner failed to demonstrate that counsel’s decision was not part of a sound trial strategy, and thus has failed to meet the high burden to satisfy either prong for a successful ineffective assistance claim. The claim based on failure to call the medical examiner as a witness is similarly without merit. The judgment dismissing the petition for writ of habeas corpus is affirmed.
February 8, 2019
S. Ct. BA. No. 2018-0031 (Cite as: 2019 VI 5)
In re Anne Elder Kershaw
In response to an order to show cause as to whether pro hac vice admission should be denied in light of an allegation that the applicant has engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in the Virgin Islands, the motion for pro hac vice admission is denied. The New York attorney seeking pro hac vice admission was directed by prior order of this Court to execute the required oath of office before the Clerk of the Court. However, she appeared as counsel for the defendants in a pending litigation at a mediation that occurred on prior to taking the oath. Reliance by the attorney and her sponsor on American Bar Association Model Rule of Professional Conduct 5.5(c) is misplaced, since that provision was never applicable in the Virgin Islands, and its adoption was expressly declined in the order promulgating the Virgin Islands Rules of Professional Conduct, which also invoke 4 V.I.C. § 443. Applying Rule of Professional Conduct 211.5.5 and § 443—the correct legal authorities—it is clear that the applicant engaged in the unauthorized practice of law when she appeared as counsel at the mediation. Accordingly the petition to admit this attorney pro hac vice is denied, and this matter is referred to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the Board on Professional Responsibility, the Board on Unauthorized Practice of Law, and the Virgin Islands Attorney General, for the purpose of taking any additional action which they may find appropriate with respect to the conduct of the applicant and her sponsor in this matter.
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February 7, 2019
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2016-0058 (Cite as: 2019 VI 4)
Charlesworth Gonsalves v. People of the Virgin Islands
There was sufficient evidence to support a defendant’s convictions for the crimes of second degree aggravated rape of his minor daughter under 14 V.I.C. § 1700a(a) as an act of domestic violence pursuant to 16 V.I.C. § 91(b)(6), and child abuse pursuant to 14 V.I.C. §§ 503 and 505. At any time prior to verdict the information in a criminal case can be amended unless it adds a new or different offense, or would prejudice a substantial right of the defendant. Here the essential elements of second degree aggravated rape were alleged in the original information, which specifically stated that defendant and the victim have a familial relationship of father and daughter, indicating that his position of authority over the victim would be the aggravating factor the People intended to pursue. Defendant had adequate notice of the charges and no prejudice to his case is found in the amendment of the information to specify that factor. Under the totality of the circumstances, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the prosecution to amend the information after it rested its case. Testimony elicited by the prosecution that defendant and the victim’s mother began an intimate relationship when she was only 14 years old was improper. However, because this was an isolated question in response to which immediate curative actions were taken, and the evidence of guilt was overwhelming, it is highly unlikely that such error affected the trial outcome. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying a motion for a mistrial. The convictions are upheld and the judgment is affirmed.
January 24, 2019
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2017-0043 (Cite as: 2019 VI 3)
Ralph Titre, Jr. v. People of the Virgin Islands
Multiple convictions stemming from a homicide and firearms prosecution are affirmed in part and reversed in part. The defendant’s concurrent sentences for second-degree murder, unauthorized use of an unlicensed firearm during that crime, and destruction of evidence do not violate the prohibition against double jeopardy, as the charging statutes underlying these counts contain separate and distinct elements, and no offense for which the defendant was convicted and sentenced is a lesser included offense of another. However, in this case three of the other counts are lesser-included offenses to Count Three, in that the People were not required to prove any additional elements to obtain convictions not required to obtain a conviction under Count Three. Two additional counts did not require the People to prove any elements beyond those required to obtain a conviction for Count Four. Consequently, the Blockburger test is satisfied, and all seven of these convictions come within the purview of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Superior Court was required to announce a sentence for only a single conviction of each group of offenses, and then to vacate—rather than merge or stay—the remaining offenses within that group. The Double Jeopardy Clause is not violated by the conviction for reckless endangerment in the first degree since that charged required the People to prove that the conduct occurred in a public place, which was not an element of any other count, but that conviction nonetheless violates 14 V.I.C. § 104 because the act that gave rise to the reckless endangerment conviction occurred as part of an indivisible course of conduct. Upon reexamination of the holdings of Williams v. People, 56 V.I. 821 (V.I. 2012), that portion of such decision mandating merger-and-stay as the remedy for a violation of § 104 is overruled. Vacatur shall be the remedy in cases in which § 104 is implicated, just as is the case with violations of the Double Jeopardy Clause. Because the convictions for Counts Five through Nine violate either the Double Jeopardy Clause or 4 V.I.C. § 104, the case is remanded with instructions for the Superior Court to vacate those convictions. Reviewing the jury instructions in this case as a whole for plain error, the jury was properly instructed on the definition of malice aforethought and could freely apply that definition to both counts challenged on this appeal, and the instructions were neither misleading nor inadequate to guide the jury’s deliberations. The Superior Court’s judgment and commitment with respect to Counts Three, Four, and Ten is affirmed.
January 17, 2019
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2015-0008 (Cite as: 2019 VI 2)
Shandos Powell v. People of the Virgin Islands
Convictions for second-degree murder and other offenses are affirmed. Defendant was charged with numerous offenses stemming from a shooting death at the St. Thomas office of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. The conviction for second-degree murder required proof beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant killed the victim with malice aforethought. The use of deadly force cannot be justified if the killing is unnecessary to repel an immediate and real threat, or is unnecessarily disproportionate to the threat posed, and in this case the People introduced sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that the killing was not justified. The jury could reasonably reject defendant’s testimony and credit other evidence that indicated that he was the initial aggressor or used disproportionate force against the victim. There was also sufficient evidence that the events occurred in a “public place” sufficient to support a conviction for first-degree reckless endangerment. The People proved that the shooting occurred in a place where a discharged gun could easily result in injury to innocent people who regularly pass close by. The Superior Court’s February 4, 2015 judgment and commitment is affirmed.
January 11, 2019
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2017-0046 (Cite as: 2019 VI 1)
Chavez Ali v. Thishelle Hay
Attempted appeal from the Superior Court’s denial of an emergency motion for return of children, treated by the parties and the Superior Court as an application for a temporary restraining order, and appeal from the imposition of a $150 sanction against counsel for tardiness on the second day of the hearing below, are both dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Generally, temporary restraining orders are not appealable interlocutory orders, and in this case the order denying the TRO motion and continuing the custody petition in this case lacked the necessary indicia of finality for two reasons: (1) the subsequent visitation and custody orders were subject to change; and, (2) the opposing party was never served, nor did she appear at the TRO hearing. With respect to the Superior Court’s order sanctioning counsel $150 for tardiness, the notice of appeal in this case specifies one party (the client) as the party taking the appeal, and only references a single order. Thus, counsel never separately appealed the Superior Court order imposing a sanction against her. Instead, she merely included her argument in the appellate brief she submitted for her client. Raising arguments for a separate appeal of a nonparty for the first time in a party’s appellate brief is impermissible under Rule 4(b) of the Virgin Islands Rules of Appellate Procedure. In light of counsel’s failure to either file a separate appeal or join her appeal with the client’s appeal pursuant to Rule 4(c), she has not presented a proper appeal to consider and – because counsel failed to file a notice of appeal within 30 days of the date that the Superior Court entered the order issuing her sanction – she waived her right to appeal that ruling. V.I. R. APP. P. 5(a)(1). The appeal is therefore dismissed in its entirety.
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