Know Your Court
Office of the Clerk
Supreme Court News
2018 Published Opinions
2017 Published Opinions
2016 Published Opinions
2015 Published Opinions
2014 Published Opinions
2013 Published Opinions
2012 Published Opinions
2011 Published Opinions
2010 Published Opinions
2009 Published Opinions
2008 Published Opinions
2007 Published Opinions
2018 Published Opinions
You can search opinions by title, case number or any text contained within the opinion
PDF documents on this website are best viewed with Adobe Acrobat Reader 9 or above
July 20, 2018
S. Ct. Misc. No. 2017-0024
In Re: The Official Proceedings Relating to the Naming of the Raymond L. Finch Supreme Court Building.
On June 15, 2017 the Supreme Court conducted a ceremony at No. 18 Strand Street, Frederiksted, St. Croix at which the Court formally unveiled the name of that building, “The Raymond L. Finch Supreme Court Building” pursuant to Act No. 7626. At the ceremony, the Legislature formally presented the perma plaque copy of the Act to the Honorable Raymond L. Judge Finch, Senior Sitting Judge, District Court of the Virgin Islands. Due to the institutional and historic value of the ceremonial background and proceedings, the Court will direct publication the official proceedings related to the naming of the Raymond L. Finch Supreme Court Building.
Download Official Notice
July 27, 2018
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2015-0121
Michael Davis v. People of the Virgin Islands
In an appeal from three convictions in a prosecution arising out of a shooting, this defendant’s convictions for third-degree assault and unauthorized possession of a firearm during a crime of violence are affirmed, but his conviction for first-degree reckless endangerment is reversed. The argument that an acquittal and new trial were warranted by prosecutorial misconduct – involving the People’s characterization of the victim’s testimony during an objection – is rejected; the comment cannot was not an improper characterization of the testimony, which itself had then been admitted without objection, thus it was not error to deny a motion for mistrial. Nor was there reversible error in the jury instructions on the crime of third-degree assault under 14 V.I.C. § 297, which states the substantive elements of that offense and directs that a defendant be sentenced within a particular range if, and only if he has committed an assault of the type specified in subsections (1)-(4), which does not rise to the level of first or second degree assault, which would instead require that the defendant be sentenced under § 295 or § 296. Thus § 297 does not establish an additional substantive element of the offense, but rather contains a condition precedent to application of the sentencing range prescribed in § 297. The Superior Court did not err—let alone plainly err—in its instruction to the jury on third-degree assault. The defendant was entitled to an instruction on issues of self-defense under title 14 V.I.C. §§ 41, 43, and 293(a)(6) only if the record contained evidence sufficient for a reasonable jury to find these defenses, and in this case the evidence failed to support any of these defenses. In order to obtain a conviction for first-degree reckless endangerment, the People must prove that the defendant (1) recklessly engaged in conduct (2) in a public place that (3) created a grave risk of death to another person (4) under circumstances evidencing a depraved indifference to human life, as provided in 14 V.I.C. § 625. The evidence in this case was that the shooting occurred near a tree, which appears to be located on privately owned property on or adjacent to a privately owned dirt road, and the people failed to demonstrate that the area of the shooting was used by the public in general rather than only the residences next to the area. Therefore, there was insufficient evidence to uphold the conviction for reckless endangerment. The Superior Court’s December 8, 2015 judgment is affirmed in part, and reversed in part.
July 27, 2018
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2015-0124
Akeam K. Davis v. People of the Virgin Islands
In a prosecution arising out of a shooting, on a charge of aiding and abetting third-degree assault, 14 V.I.C. §§ 11(a) & 297(4), the People were required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the substantive crime was committed and that the defendant knew of the crime and attempted to facilitate it, with the specific intent to facilitate it. Evidence that he drove the perpetrator to the victim’s location and stood by the vehicle holding a weapon visible to the victim while the shooter approached and eventually shot the victim, was sufficient for a reasonable juror to infer that this defendant intended to facilitate the assault by standing guard and preventing the victim from escaping, aiding and abetting the shooter’s third-degree assault. The charge of aiding and abetting the unauthorized use of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, 14 V.I.C. §§ 11(a) & 2254(a), required proof linking the alleged aider and abettor to the firearm. Because a reasonable jury could have inferred from the evidence that this defendant knew the shooter possessed a firearm before driving him to the victim’s location, there was sufficient evidence to link this defendant to the firearm that shot the victim. A claim of error in the wording of the jury instruction on aiding and abetting possession of a firearm is without merit, reading the instructions as a whole. A conviction for aiding and abetting reckless endangerment in the first degree, 14 V.I.C. §§ 11(a) & 625(a), requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had the specific intent to facilitate the underlying crime, but a jury can infer intent to aid and abet when a defendant transports a principal to the crime scene with knowledge that he has a weapon and plans to use it. However, the crime of aiding and abetting requires proof that the underlying, substantive crime has been committed. Because it is held in the appeal of co-defendant Michael Davis, S. Ct. Crim. No. 2015-0121, that the People failed to introduce sufficient evidence to establish that Michael discharged his weapon in a public place, the interests of justice compel reversal of the present defendant’s conviction on the reckless endangerment charge because proof of an essential element—the commission of the underlying offense—is absent. This defendant’s claim that the Superior Court abused its discretion in denying his motion for a mistrial on all charges is rejected; although he was entitled to production of a police report, the Superior Court’s instruction cured any prejudice he may have suffered. The Superior Court’s December 8, 2015 judgment is affirmed in part and reversed in part.
July 18, 2018
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2017-0065
Christopher Gayanich v. Brittley Dawn Gayanich
In divorce and child custody actions, there is no error in the Superior Court’s holding that the Virgin Islands is an inconvenient forum to hear the child custody portion of the case under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, 16 V.I.C. § 133, dismissing that aspect of the case under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. No reversible error was committed in taking statutory factors into account when analyzing section 133(b)(6) and each factor can be construed to support the conclusion that the majority of witnesses and evidence of parenting is located in Oklahoma, thus indicating that litigation of the underlying child custody matter is more appropriate there. Because the Superior Court’s factual conclusion bears a rational relationship with the evidentiary data under the relevant factors for analysis, there is no error on that issue. However, the Superior Court’s sua sponte dismissal of the action in its entirety is reversed. Title 5 V.I.C. § 4905 extends a general inconvenient forum provision to cases filed in this Territory, but the parties did not have the opportunity to address the question of proper forum specifically for the divorce action before the Superior Court sua sponte dismissed it. The judgment is reversed insofar as it dismissed of the divorce action, and that portion of the matter is remanded to the Superior Court with instructions to determine whether the Virgin Islands is the proper forum to hear that matter after permitting the parties to present evidence on that question.
July 5, 2018
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2017-0033
Donna Slack v. Rudolph Slack
In its amended final decree of divorce the Superior court erred by entirely failing to explain its decision to deny, rather than grant, the wife’s request for legal fees and costs. While the court erred in finding that there was insufficient evidence to show that the husband possessed a Government Employees Retirement System account, such error was harmless because the wife failed to introduce any evidence to establish the projected value of the husband’s pension benefit, and consequently failed to prove an element necessary for equitable distribution of those benefits. The argument that the Superior Court erred in failing to address the wife’s credit card debt, either by distributing the debt as marital debt, or by recognizing her monthly interest payments on the debt as necessary expenses for purposes of computing the award of pendente lite support, was not raised below and is thus waived on appeal. The Superior Court, for unexplained reasons, failed to consider the wife’s motion for pendente lite support until after trial, and only granted her request retroactively in its final opinion, at a time when determination of her financial need during the course of the litigation was no longer a matter of future speculation, but of historical fact. It abused its discretion by reducing its award of pendente lite support by 50% on the basis of its findings concerning the probable future financial positions of the parties in light of the husband’s imminent retirement. That portion of the decree is reversed and remanded with instructions to fix an appropriate amount of pendente lite support consistent with this opinion. The amended final decree entered February 10, 2017, is affirmed in part and reversed in part and this matter is remanded for further proceedings.
July 5, 2018
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2017-0042
Chris George v. People of the Virgin Islands
In a pro se appeal from the judgment and opinion of the Appellate Division of the Superior Court affirming two convictions before the Magistrate Division for operating an unregistered motor vehicle on a public highway in violation of 20 V.I.C. § 331, and for operating a motor vehicle on public roads without insurance, in violation of § 712 of that same title, the argument the Magistrate Court lacks jurisdiction over his traffic offenses is rejected because 4 V.I.C. § 124 expressly grants the Magistrate Division of the Superior Court “exclusive jurisdiction over all traffic offenses, except felony traffic offenses.” Similarly the argument that sections of the Virgin Islands Code prohibiting the operation of unregistered or uninsured vehicles on public highways violate the constitutional right to travel is without merit because it is well established that burdens placed upon a single mode of transport, such as automobiles, do not implicate the constitutional right to travel. The April 5, 2017 judgment opinion of the Appellate Division is affirmed.
June 14, 2018
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2016-0043
People of the Virgin Islands v. Jah’var Looby
Because the Superior Court properly exercised its authority to reconsider its ruling on a motion to suppress evidence seized in a pat-down frisk of the defendant, the People’s notice of appeal from the ruling on reconsideration was timely and comports with Virgin Islands Rule of Appellate Procedure 5(b)(2). A review of the totality of the circumstances supports a finding of reasonable suspicion for the search in this case, because marijuana remains contraband in this Territory under 19 V.I.C. § 595 and possession of it is punishable as either a crime or civil infraction under 19 V.I.C. §§ 607(a) or 607a. When suspicious conduct is noticed, leading a law enforcement officer reasonably to conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot, the officer may stop the individual to identify himself and make reasonable inquiries. The validity of a pat-down frisk search is considered independently under the totality of the circumstances. Because possession of marijuana remains unlawful in this Territory, reasonable suspicion to conduct a stop may be established if an officer relied upon his or her experience and training to detect the presence of that contraband. In this case, the defendant told an officer – after the stop but before a pat-down frisk – that he possessed a marijuana cigarette. Admissions of crime carry their own indicia of credibility sufficient to support a finding of probable cause to search, thus the officer had probable cause to believe that this defendant possessed contraband subject to seizure, especially considering that the officers, in fact, smelled marijuana coming from his person. That the officers exercised their discretion not to issue a citation for possession of marijuana does not render the search of the defendant’s person unlawful. Accordingly, the Superior Court erred in excluding the firearm discovered as a result of the lawful search, and it erred in denying the People’s motion to reconsider its ruling granting the defendant’s motion to suppress. The July 27, 2016 opinion and order granting suppression is reversed, and this action is remanded to the Superior Court for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.
June 13, 2018
S. Ct. Crim. No. 2017-0035
Mario Gevon Emanuel v. People of the Virgin Islands
The Superior Court did not err in denying a defendant’s motion to suppress an unlicensed firearm with obliterated serial numbers found on his person. Under the Fourth Amendment an officer may briefly detain a person to determine whether a crime has been committed or is about to be committed – if there is reasonable suspicion existed to justify the stop given the totality of the circumstances in light of the individual officer’s training and experience. In determining whether the detaining officer had a particularized and objective basis for suspecting legal wrongdoing, courts must evaluate the collective information of all officers involved. In this case, the officer relied on information from a taskforce briefing and believed that the defendant resembled the suspect described in a notice to “be on the lookout” for a perpetrator, providing a reasonable suspicion under a totality of the circumstances. In this case the suspected criminal activity for which the defendant was stopped was the future act of executing a threat and committing violence against an officer. Once a suspect has been stopped an officer may – for his own safety – perform a cursory inspection of the detainee’s outer clothing if the officer has reasonable suspicion that the detainee is both armed and dangerous. In this case the defendant told the officer, before a pat-down search began, that he had a gun in his pants pocket, giving legitimate cause for the officer to believe he was armed and dangerous. The Superior Court did not err in denying the motion to suppress, and its judgment entered upon convictions for unauthorized possession of a firearm, 14 V.I.C. § 2253(a), and unauthorized possession of a firearm with altered identification marks, 23 V.I.C. § 481(b), is affirmed.
June 8, 2018
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0019
In re Suspension of Desmond L. Maynard, Esquire as a Member of the Virgin Islands Bar
Considering a petition for disciplinary action filed by the Board on Professional Responsibility arising from grievances filed against an attorney for his handling of certain probate proceedings and requesting that the attorney be suspended from the practice of law in the Virgin Islands and be ordered to pay restitution, the petition is granted and the recommended sanction is imposed in part. The attorney violated his duties under Supreme Court Rules 211.1.1, 211.1.3, 211.1.4, 211.1.15, and 211.8.1 by, among other things, permitting the probate of an estate to languish for over a decade, failing to communicate with an estate beneficiary with respect to the liquidation of certain securities, and failing to keep safe certain property of that estate. The attorney’s lethargic attitude toward the administration of the estate not only significantly delayed the beneficiaries’ receipt of certain assets, it also wholly precluded them from receiving other assets, which were lost due to the passage of time and the attorney’s generally negligent handling of the estate. This case presents a picture of a highly experienced, reputable attorney who nevertheless engaged in a pattern of egregious neglect that ultimately resulted in losses to his client—not just of cash, but of personal property that should have passed to the beneficiaries of her estate. Based on the record, the attorney’s violation of the Rules of Professional Responsibility has deprived his clients of $20,769.85, and caused his clients to expend an additional $8,500.00 in damages. Accordingly, the attorney is ordered to pay restitution to the beneficiaries of the estate in the amount of $29,269.85, representing the value of the assets lost due to his negligence, and the attorney is suspended from the practice of law in this jurisdiction for a period of 18 months.
Download Per Curiam Opinion
June 8, 2018
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2018-0040
Lilliana Bellardo de O’Neal, et al. v. Government of the Virgin Islands
The Superior Court did not err in finding the appellants, previously elected members of either the St. Croix Board of Elections or the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections, to be in violation of Act No. 7892 as amended by Act No. 7982, which directed that the St. Croix Board of Elections and St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections be merged into a single board of elections. These two Acts are not inconsistent with section 6(c) of the Revised Organic Act, since Congress has directed that plural words in federal statutes also include the singular unless context requires otherwise. Moreover, Act No. 7982 cannot be reasonably interpreted to allow the St. Croix Board of Elections and St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections to continue to co-exist along with the new single board of elections. Because the Government requested the Superior Court to determine the status of the district boards and the validity of the actions taken by them after August 1, 2017, the question was a proper one for a declaratory judgment. Accordingly, the Superior Court’s May 10, 2018 judgment is affirmed.
April 20, 2018
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2017-0050
Alicia “Chucky” Hansen and Carolina F. Fawkes v. Adelbert M. Bryan
In considering a motion pursuant to Virgin Islands Rule of Appellate Procedure 30 for recovery of costs and attorney’s fees incurred in a prior appeal – issues remanded by prior order of this Court for consideration by the Superior Court – the law of the case doctrine precluded the appellants in the prior appeal from challenging the timeliness of that motion, and their untimeliness argument in any event lacks merit since the prior appeal was not final for these purposes while a motion for reconsideration was pending. The fact that 18 V.I.C. § 412 is silent with respect to awards of costs and fees when a petition is not dismissed is not indicative that the Legislature intended to preclude the application of 5 V.I.C. § 541 to such proceedings. Because the movant in the present litigation could have recovered attorney’s fees and costs pursuant to § 541, it was not error to award him recovery of fees and costs pursuant to Rule 30. The Superior Court also committed no error when it declined to recognize an exception to the provisions for award of costs and fees for issues of “first impression,” and it properly found one of the former appellants jointly liable to the movant/former appellee for costs and fees given her decision to intervene in the litigation and then to become an appellant. No abuse of discretion is found with respect to the amount of the costs and fees award. Accordingly, the Superior Court’s April 21, 2017 decision awarding $17,625 in attorney’s fees and $363.70 in costs is affirmed.
March 27, 2018
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0123
Gourmet Gallery Crown Bay, Inc. v. Crown Bay Marina, L.P.
In a suit by a grocery store and its principal relating to leasing of premises by the defendant marina, allegedly in violation of certain covenants in the plaintiffs’ lease, an order by the Superior Court denying a motion for the escrow of rent payments pending the outcome of the litigation is not a matter over which the Supreme Court may exercise jurisdiction in the present posture of the litigation, and review is denied as to that order. The escrow order is neither a final order nor one of the categories of interlocutory orders for which a right of appeal is specified in 4 V.I.C. Sections 33(b) and (c), and V.I. R. APP. P. 5(a)(2). Nor does that order satisfy all of the requirements for review as a collaterally appealable order. The Superior Court’s order denying a preliminary injunction is properly reviewable on appeal under 4 V.I.C. § 33(b)(1), and it is concluded that the Superior Court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the motion. A preliminary injunction requires a clear showing that (1) the movant has a reasonable probability of success on the merits, (2) the movant will be irreparably injured by denial of the relief, (3) granting preliminary injunction relief will not result in even greater harm to the nonmoving party, and (4) granting the preliminary relief will be in the public interest. Here the required proof regarding irreparable harm such as undeterminable or un-rectifiable monetary loss was insufficient, and the Superior Court did not err when it concluded that plaintiff did not demonstrate that the balance of hardships favored the issuance of an injunction. In addition, the evidence supported the Superior Court’s conclusion that granting the preliminary injunction would not be in the public interest. The portion of the judgment denying the preliminary judgment motion is affirmed, and this matter is remanded for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.
January 18, 2018
S. Ct. Civ. No. 2017-0010
Shirley Rymer v. Kmart Corporation
The Superior Court erred in dismissing a slip-and-fall personal injury action against the defendant retailer on summary judgment, a drastic remedy that should only be granted where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact. In a premises liability suit, a retailer’s actual notice of a hazardous condition can be shown if an employee created or was aware of the hazard before plaintiff fell. Here, the Superior Court improperly weighed the evidence against the plaintiff—the non-moving party—and resolved the conflicting evidence in favor of the retailer when it determined that an employee’s deposition testimony was a clarification of his loss prevention statement given on the day of the injury, rather than a contradiction of it. Where there is conflicting evidence in the record, a court cannot independently weigh the proof to resolve the conflict and must accept as true the evidence most favorable to the non-moving party, so long as it is supported by proper proofs. The Superior Court also erred in granting summary judgment on the basis that the record did not show a factual dispute as to whether the defendant had constructive notice of the hazardous condition. While a non-recurring hazardous condition lasting only a matter of minutes, without more, does not create the presumption of constructive notice, assessment of the opportunity for the proprietor of the premises to discover the dangerous condition involves contextual factors like the hazard’s color, size, location, and proximity to employees. Plaintiff in this case identified mitigating factors that, taken in the light most favorable to her, establish a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the retailer could or should have become aware of the hazardous condition before she fell. The explosive nature of the soda spill, its bright purple color, location near the store’s entrance, its proximity to employees, and the fact that another customer stayed by the spill and eagerly solicited help, are factors distinguishing this case from others where the only constructive notice factor is the hazard’s duration. Whether these circumstances are sufficient to overcome the spill’s short duration and establish that the defendant retailer had constructive notice of the dangerous condition is a balancing of the evidence that belongs with the jury, not the Superior Court at summary judgment. The judgment dismissing the case with prejudice on summary judgment is reversed.
Return to Top
Know Your Court
Office of the Clerk
Supreme Court News
Sign Me Up
Copyright © 2018 Supreme Court of the United States Virgin Islands