VOLUME 1, CHUUK STATE SUPREME COURT REPORTS


IN THE
CHUUK STATE SUPREME COURT
APPELLATE DIVISION - WENO
Federated States of Micronesia
Cite as Barker v. Paul, 1 CSR 1 (1994)

[1 CSR 1]
NOPUKO BARKER,
Plaintiff/Appellant,

vs

ERMES PAUL,
Defendant/Appellee.

APPEAL NO 40

OPINION
Decided August 23, 1994

Before:
     Hon. Keske Marar, Associate Justice, Chuuk State Supreme Court,
              Presiding
     Hon. John Tharngan, Temporary Justice, Chuuk State Supreme Court
     Hon. Ready Johnny, Temporary Justice, Chuuk State Supreme Court

Appearances:
     Barrie Michelson                          Anter Chipen
     Kolonia, Pohnpei                          Weno, Chuuk
     Counsel for Appellant                  Counsel for Appellee

[1 CSR 2]
 
Headnotes
(Not included in original written decision)
 
It is the duty of courts and counsel to insure jurisdiction exists.  Barker v Paul, p 2

Courts may sua sponte raise jurisdictional issues as it is their duty to do so.  Barker v Paul, p 2

The Court reviews questions of jurisdiction de novo.  Barker v Paul, p 2

Actions concerning the determination of land title rest initially with the Chuuk State Land Commission (Commission).  67 TTC 101.  Barker v Paul, p 3

The Chuuk State Land Commission may designate a registration area.  67 TTC 104.  Barker v Paul, p 3

Once the Land Commission has designated a registration area, the courts shall not entertain any action with regard to interests in land with that registration area without a showing of special cause on the record why action by the court is desirable.  67 TTC 105.  Baker v Paul, p 3

Any determination of the Chuuk State Land Commission may be appealed to the Trial Division of the Chuuk State Supreme Court. 67 TTC 115.  Baker v Paul, p 3

IAbsent a finding of "special cause" on the record a trial court has no jurisdiction to entertain an action asserting an interest in land located within a designated registration area.  All such actions must be first filed with the Chuuk State Land Commission.  Barker v Paul, p 3

A determination of the Land Commission that has not been appealed becomes final and conclusive upon lapse of the appeal time. 67 TTC 117.  Barker v Paul, p 3

KESKE MARAR, Associate Justice
     This is an appeal from a judgment of the Trial Division determining an interest in land located in the Land Commission designated registration area of Nepukos, Weno Island.  Nopuko Barker (Nopuko), the Appellant here and plaintiff in the lower court, brought suit seeking title to a parcel of land.  Ermes Paul (Ermes), the appellee, had begun to build a concrete structure on a part of the land claimed by Nopuko and he was named as the defendant.

     The area Nopuko claimed would encompass what has been preliminarily designated by the Land Commission as Lots 014-A-21 and 014-A-20.1  Both lots are subdivisions of what was once a single larger parcel of land known as Neotis or Newotes.

     In 1978, Nopuko was issued a Determination of Ownership to parcel 014-A-20 which was designated in the determination as Lot 64076.  This property is commonly known as the Truk Women's Association (TWA) land.  The TWA lot is a portion of the larger lot 014-A-21 which Ermes claims.  Ermes' claim is currently pending in the Land Commission.2

     The trial court found that Nopuko owned the TWA land and held that the lot consisted of only acre of land. 3  The trial court awarded the remainder of lot 014-A-21 to Ermes.

     Nopuko timely filed her appeal and raised three issues.  None of these issues require direct discussion as we hold that the trial court lacked jurisdiction and therefore vacate the judgment.

I.
     The issues facing this Court are: (a) may a trial court hear and decide an interest in land located within a designated land registration area absent a showing of "special cause" and (b) to what extent may a trial court alter a Determination of Ownership that has become final?   We sua sponte raise these jurisdictional issues as it is our duty to do so. See, Campbell v Porter, 162 U.S. 476, 16 S.Ct. 871, 40 L.Ed 1044 (1896)[it is the duty of courts and counsel to insure jurisdiction exists]; See also, Chk. R. Civ. P., Rule 12(d) [at any time it appears to the court it lacks jurisdiction it shall dismiss the action].  The Court reviews questions of jurisdiction de novo.

[1 CSR 3]

     Actions concerning the determination of land title rests primarily with the Chuuk State Land Commission (Commission). 67 TTC 101 et seq.  That Commission is statutorily charged with the registration and determination of land ownership. 67 TTC 101.  The Commission may also designate a registration area. 67 TTC 104.  We take judicial notice that the island of Weno and the Nepukos area have long been designated as a registration area.

     Once the Land Commission has designated a registration area, "the courts shall not entertain any action with regard to interests in land with that registration area ... without a showing of special cause why action by the court is desirable...". 67 TTC 105 [emphasis added].  Of course, any determination of the Commission may be appealed to the Trial Division of this Court. 67 TTC 115.  If the Commission's determination is not appealed, it becomes final and conclusive. 67 TTC 117.

I.A.
     In applying these statutory provisions to the lower court's ruling concerning Lot 014-A-21, we first note that the land involved is in a designated registration area, pursuant to 67 TTC 104.  Therefore, before the trial division of this court may entertain an action with regard to an interest in land within the registration area, there must be a finding of "special cause" showing why "action by the court is desirable". 67 TTC 105.  There is nothing in the record below that even suggests that any "special cause" existed for the trial court to take jurisdiction of this action.  Apparently, Nopuko by filing her action with the court below sought to bypass the Commission and the statutory requirement that she file her claim there first.  Ermes testified that his claim for this land and adjacent properties is currently pending before the Commission.  See, Trial Transcript (TT) pp 55-56.

     We hold that absent a finding of "special cause" on the record the trial court had no jurisdiction to entertain an action asserting an interest in land located within a designated registration area. 4  All such actions must be first filed with the Chuuk State Land Commission.

I.B.
     The trial court's decision with respect to the TWA parcel presents a different problem.  It is undisputed that the Commission on March 23, 1978 issued Determination of Ownership Number 103-78 for Lot 64076 located in Nepukos and known as Newotes to Nopuko and her children.  This is presumably Lot 014-A-20 on the preliminary plat map in the appendix.  The determination of the Commission was not appealed, thus it became final upon lapse of the appeal time. 67 TTC 117.

     As a final determination, there is nothing for the trial court to decide.  The ownership

[1 CSR 4]

of that lot has been determined.  Also at the time of the determination the exact size of the property and its boundary was established.  The lower court simply has no authority nor power to alter any of these final determinations, under the circumstances of this case.  5  The ownership, the size and the boundaries of the property remain as shown in the file of Determination of Ownership Number 103-78.

II.
     The judgment of the lower court is vacated with instructions to dismiss the action and remand the matter to the Chuuk State Land Commission for its determination.
 
 
A map labeled as an appendix is in the CSR on this page.

Footnotes:

 1.  The preliminary map of the area in question has been attached to this opinion for reference only.  (Back to opinion)

 2.  Testimony of Ermes. Trial Transcript (TT) pp 55-56.  (Back to opinion)

 3.  Nopuko introduced some evidence that indicated the lot size was acre, but also introduced maps that show the lot as acre based upon the dimensions shown on the maps(104 X 110 feet equals approximately acre).  (Back to opinion)

 4.  Since, there is nothing in the record concerning "special cause" we need not decide what cause is sufficient to bypass the Land Commission process in a designated registration area.  (Back to opinion)

 5.  This does not preclude an independent action to set aside the judgment. See, Election Commissioner v Assoc. Justice, Trial Division, 1 CSR 5, 11 (1994).  (Back to opinion)