Article VII
JUDICIAL

     Section 1.  The judicial power of the State Government is vested in the State Supreme Court, such inferior state courts as may be established by statute, and the municipal courts.

     Case annotations:     - Judicial Powers

The Chuuk State Supreme Court has constitutional jurisdiction to review the actions of any state administrative agency, and decide all relevant questions of law, interpret constitutional and statutory provisions and determine the meaning or applicability of the terms of an agency action.  Robert v. Mori, 6 FSM Intrm. 178, 179 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 1993).

The ultimate interpretation of any provisions of the Chuuk State Constitution is within the sole authority of the Chuuk State Supreme Court, as the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution, and that includes the authority to interpret the meaning of whether a matter has been committed by the Constitution to another branch of government, or whether the action of that branch exceeds its authority.  Robert v. Chuuk State House of Representatives, 6 FSM Intrm. 260, 264 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 1993).

- Separation of Powers

The ultimate interpretation of any provisions of the Chuuk State Constitution is within the sole authority of the Chuuk State Supreme Court, as the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution, and that includes the authority to interpret the meaning of whether a matter has been committed by the Constitution to another branch of government, or whether the action of that branch exceeds its authority.  Robert v. Chuuk State House of Representatives, 6 FSM Intrm. 260, 264 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 1993).

Policy determinations by other branches of the government are always to be given wide latitude when under judicial review, and policy determinations within the constitution itself must therefore receive the widest possible latitude when under review.  Robert v. Chuuk State House of Representatives, 6 FSM Intrm. 260, 269 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 1993).

      Section 2.  The State Supreme Court is a court of record and consists of a trial division and an appellate division.  It is the highest court in the State of Chuuk and consists of a Chief Justice and 4 Associate Justices, all of whom shall be members of both divisions.  Upon request of the Chief Justice, the number of Associate Justices may be increased pursuant to statute.

      Section 3.
          (a)     The trial division of the State Supreme Court has original and exclusive jurisdiction over disputes between municipalities and cases arising under this Constitution.

          (b)     Except for those matters which fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the Federated States of Micronesia, the trial division of the State Supreme Court has concurrent original jurisdiction with other courts to try all civil, criminal, probate, juvenile, traffic, and land cases, disputes over waters in the State of Chuuk, cases involving state laws, and cases in which the State Government is a party.

          (c)     The trial division of the State Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review the actions of any state administrative agency, board, or commission, as may be provided by law.

          (d)     When jurisdiction is concurrent, the appropriate court may be prescribed by statute.

Case annotations:  The constitutional provision making the House the sole judge of the qualification of its members does not automatically preclude the Chuuk State Supreme Court from having jurisdiction to decide if a member-elect of the legislature has been excluded from membership on unconstitutional grounds nor is the court's jurisdiction over alleged unconstitutional applications of the Legislature's powers necessarily precluded by the political question doctrine.  The court ultimately has the power to determine if the Legislature has exercised its powers in an unconstitutional and invalid manner.  Robert v. Chuuk State House of Representatives, 6 FSM Intrm. 260, 264-65 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 1993).

The Chuuk State Supreme Court has the subject matter jurisdiction to hear suits alleging that the legislature has exercised its power to be the sole judge of the qualifications of its members in an unconstitutional manner in violation of the constitutional prohibitions against ex post facto laws.  Robert v. Chuuk State House of Representatives, 6 FSM Intrm. 260, 265 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 1993).

      Section 4.  The appellate division of the State Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review all decisions of the trial division, of inferior state courts, and of the municipal courts.  Decisions of the appellate division of the State Supreme Court may be appealed to the Supreme Court of the Federated States of Micronesia, whose decisions are final.

Case annotations:  Under the FSM Constitution the FSM Supreme Court may hear cases on appeal from the highest state court in which a decision may be had if that state's constitution permits it.  The Chuuk State Constitution permits such appeals, which, in civil cases, Chuuk statute provides be made by certiorari.  Gustaf v. Mori, 6 FSM Intrm. 284, 285 (App. 1993).

The circumstance that decisions of the Appellate Division of the Chuuk State Supreme Court may be appealed to the Appellate Division of the FSM Supreme Court and the method chosen by the sovereign State of Chuuk to select members of their appellate panels will not foreclose the FSM Supreme Court trial division from certifying a question to the Chuuk State Supreme Court Appellate Division where there are other elements in favor of certification.Stinnett v. Weno, 6 FSM Intrm. 478, 479-80 (Chk. 1994).

The Chuuk Judiciary Act gives the Chuuk State Supreme Court Appellate Division the authority to issue writs, including writs of mandamus or prohibition directed to a justice.  In re Failure of Justice to Resign, 7 FSM Intrm. 105, 108 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 1995).

     Section 5.
          (a)     Matters before the trial division of the State Supreme Court may be heard by one Justice.

          (b)     At least 3 Justices shall hear all appeals in the appellate division.  Only one Justice of the State Supreme Court may hear or decide an appeal in the appellate division.  The other members of the appellate panel shall be temporary Justices appointed for the limited purpose of hearing the appeal.  Decision shall be by concurrence of a majority of the Justices sitting on the appellate panel, but a single Justice may make necessary orders concerning any appeal for want to jurisdiction, concerning failure to take or prosecute the appeal in accordance with applicable law and procedure, or at the request of any party in the case.  No Justice may hear or decide an appeal of a matter heard by such Justice in the trial division, and any party in a case may disqualify one or more of the Justices of the State Supreme Court sitting in the appellate division.  To complete an appellate panel, the Chief Justice may appoint as temporary Justices, for the limited purpose of hearing the appeal, a justice of the Supreme Court of the Federated States of Micronesia, a judge of a court of another state of the Federated States of Micronesia, or a qualified attorney in the State of Chuuk.  If the Chief Justice is a member of the appellate panel, or is so removed or disqualified, the most senior Associate Justice who has not been removed or disqualified from the case shall appoint the temporary Justices.

Case annotations:  The Chuuk State Supreme Court is a unified court system with two constitutionally mandated divisions - the trial division and the appellate division.  All justices are members of both divisions, but a justice does not serve in the appellate division until he has been designated by the Chief Justice to be the presiding justice on a specific case.  The trial division is the state's court of general jurisdiction.  Election Commissioner v. Petewon, 6 FSM Intrm. 491, 497 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 1994).

Whether the lower court erred by not holding the appellee in contempt of court involves a trial court's exercise of discretion and is reviewed using an abuse of discretion standard.  Onopwi v. Aizawa, 6 FSM Intrm. 537, 539 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 1994).

Because findings of fact shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous an appellate court starts its review of a trial court's factual findings by presuming the findings are correct.  The appellant's burden to clearly demonstrate error in the trial court's findings is especially strong when the findings are based upon oral testimony because, before reaching its conclusions as to the witnesses' credibility, the trial court had the opportunity to view the witnesses' demeanor as they testified, while the reviewing court has not.  Cheni v. Ngusun, 6 FSM Intrm. 544, 546 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 1994).

An appellate court may set aside a trial court's factual findings as clearly erroneous when the factual finding was not supported by substantial evidence in the record, or when the factual finding was the result of an erroneous conception of the applicable law, or when after a consideration of the entire record the appellate court is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.  Cheni v. Ngusun, 6 FSM Intrm. 544, 547 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 1994).

If no understanding by the parties appears in the record that evidence admitted at trial was aimed at an unpleaded issue, it is an abuse of discretion for a court to base its decision on issues not pled.  An adverse party must have sufficient notice to properly prepare to oppose the claim.  Apweteko v. Paneria, 6 FSM Intrm. 554, 557 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 1994).

A court commits reversible error by basing its decision on a theory of recovery that was not raised by the pleadings nor tried by consent or understanding of the parties.  Apweteko v. Paneria, 6 FSM Intrm. 554, 558 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 1994).

A trial court's findings of fact shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and the appellate court shall give due regard to the opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses.  Emilios v. Setile, 6 FSM Intrm. 558, 560 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 1994).

A trial court's factual findings are presumed correct.  An appellate court must be especially circumspect in reviewing a trial court for clear error when there was conflicting evidence presented on issues of fact because the trial court had the opportunity to observe the witnesses' demeanor while it has not.  Emilios v. Setile, 6 FSM Intrm. 558, 560 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 1994).

If an appellant alleging clear error fails to show that the trial court's factual finding was not supported by substantial evidence in the record, or that the factual finding was the result of an erroneous conception of the applicable law, or that, if after a consideration of the entire record, the appellate court is not left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made, the appellate court can only affirm.  Emilios v. Setile, 6 FSM Intrm. 558, 561 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 1994).

     Section 6.  When a case in an inferior state court or municipal court involves a substantial question requiring the interpretation of this Constitution or state laws, the inferior state court or the municipal court shall, on application of a party, and may on its own motion, certify the question to the appellate division of the State Supreme Court.  The appellate division may require the inferior state court or the municipal court to so certify the question.  The appellate division may decide the case or remand it for further proceedings in accordance with its instructions.

     Section 7.  The Governor shall nominate and appoint, with the advice and consent of the Senate, the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the State Supreme Court, who shall hold their offices during good behavior.  The Legislature shall prescribe by statute for the appointment and removal of the judges of inferior state courts and municipal courts.

     Section 8.  If the Chief Justice is disabled, the most senior Associate Justice shall serve as Chief Justice.  If an Associate Justice is disabled, the Chief Justice shall appoint a temporary Justice who shall have the same qualifications required for Justices under Section 9 of this Article.  If the Chief Justice or an Associate Justice is disabled for more than 6 months, or if the office of the Chief Justice or an Associate Justice is vacant, a new Chief Justice or Associate Justice shall be appointed by the Governor, subject to the confirmation of the Senate.  The Legislature may prescribe by statute for the determination of the disability of a Justice.

     Section 9.  No person is eligible to serve as the Chief Justice or as an Associate Justice unless at least 35 years of age, was a born Chuukese, has been a resident of the State of Chuuk for at least 25 years, is a citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia, and has never been convicted of a felony.  Other qualifications may be prescribed by statute.

     Section 10.  Compensation of Justices and judges shall be prescribed by statute, but shall not be diminished during their terms of office unless there is a general reduction of all salaries prescribed by statute.

     Section 11.  The Chief Justice is the administrative head of the state judicial system, and with the approval of the Associate Justices may appoint an administrative director to supervise the administrative operation of the state judicial system.  The Chief Justice may appoint and prescribe duties of other officers and employees of the state judicial system.

     Section 12.  The Chief Justice shall prepare and submit to the Governor an annual budget with supporting justifications for the entire state judicial system.

     Section 13.  The Chief Justice shall promulgate rules of evidence, and rules governing the administration of all state courts, the regulation of the judicial profession, and practice and procedure in civil and criminal matters.  Judicial rules may be amended by statute.

     Section 14.  Court decisions shall be consistent with this Constitution, local traditions and customs, and the social and geographical configuration of the State of Chuuk.

Case annotations:  Since the judicial system and customary settlement in Truk are fundamentally different and serve different goals, the primary concern of customary settlement being community harmony rather than compensation for loss, the use of one should not prevent the use of the other.  Suka v. Truk, 4 FSM Intrm. 123, 128 (Truk S. Ct. Tr. 1989).

Offers or acceptances of customary settlement should neither be used in court to prove liability on the part of the wrongdoer, nor be deemed the same as a legal release on the part of the plaintiff.  Suka v. Truk, 4 FSM Intrm. 123, 129 (Truk S. Ct. Tr. 1989).

To the extent that customary settlements are given any binding effect at all, they should be only binding as to those persons that are part of custom; state agencies and non-Trukese persons are not part of that system.  Suka v. Truk, 4 FSM Intrm. 123, 129 (Truk S. Ct. Tr. 1989).

The absolute defenses of Assumption of the Risk and Contributory Negligence are contrary to the traditional Chuukese concepts of responsibility and shall not be available in Chuuk State.  Epiti v. Chuuk, 5 FSM Intrm. 162, 167 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 1991).

A court begins its analysis with the presumption that all legislative enactments are constitutional.  The burden is on the plaintiff to clearly demonstrate to the court that the ordinance is unconstitutional.  Wainit v. Weno, 7 FSM Intrm. 121, 122 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 1995).