KOSRAE STATE COURT TRIAL DIVISION
Cite as Kosrae v. Seventh Kosrae State Legislature
10 FSM Intrm. 668 ( Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2002)
 
[10 FSM Intrm. 668]
 
STATE OF KOSRAE,
Plaintiff,
 
vs.
 
SEVENTH KOSRAE STATE LEGISLATURE,
Defendant.
 
CIVIL CASE NO. 6-02
 
ORDER AND MEMORANDUM
 
Martin Yinug
Justice by Designation
 
Decided: May 29, 2002
 
Amended: August 13, 2002
 
APPEARANCES:
 
For the Plaintiff:                                   Paul J. Simonett, Esq.
                                                              Assistant Attorney General
                                                              Office of the Kosrae Attorney General
                                                              P.O. Box 870
                                                              Tofol, Kosrae FM 96944
 
For the Defendant:                              Paul Vignos, Esq.
                                                              Rhonda Byers, Esq.
                                                              Legislative Counsel
                                                              P.O. Box 187
                                                              Tofol, Kosrae FM 96944

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HEADNOTES

Constitutional Law ) Kosrae ) Case
     A difference of opinion between parties is not in and of itself a sufficient basis on which the Kosrae State Court may assume jurisdiction over a dispute. Kosrae v. Seventh Kosrae State Legislature, 10 FSM Intrm. 668, 670 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2002).
 
Constitutional Law ) Kosrae ) Case
     The Kosrae State Court has original jurisdiction in all cases, except cases within the exclusive and original jurisdiction of inferior courts. "Case" means a justiciable controversy, which is another way of saying that it must be suitable for determination by a court. Kosrae v. Seventh Kosrae State Legislature, 10 FSM Intrm. 668, 670 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2002).
 
[10 FSM Intrm. 669]
 
Constitutional Law ) Kosrae ) Case
     A court will not pass on questions that are abstract, moot, academic, or hypothetical. The constitutionality of yet-to-be-enacted legislation presents a hypothetical question that is not justiciable. Kosrae v. Seventh Kosrae State Legislature, 10 FSM Intrm. 668, 670 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2002).
 
Civil Procedure ) Declaratory Judgment
     Even when a court has subject matter jurisdiction, if the declarative relief sought will not terminate the controversy giving rise to the proceeding, the court may exercise its discretion and decline to grant relief. Kosrae v. Seventh Kosrae State Legislature, 10 FSM Intrm. 668, 670-71 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2002).
 
Constitutional Law ) Kosrae ) Case ) Standing
     Standing exists where a putative plaintiff has a sufficient stake or interest in a justiciable controversy so that he may obtain judicial resolution of that dispute. Kosrae v. Seventh Kosrae State Legislature, 10 FSM Intrm. 668, 671 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2002).
 
Constitutional Law ) Kosrae ) Case ) Standing
     A public official who is called upon to perform a legally required duty which he concludes is violative of the constitution has standing to ask a court to declare the statute unconstitutional. Kosrae v. Seventh Kosrae State Legislature, 10 FSM Intrm. 668, 671 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2002).
 
Constitutional Law ) Kosrae ) Case ) Standing
     When the Legislature could very well exercise its legislative prerogative to decline to enact the proposed legislation irrespective of any declaration by the court of the constitutionality of the proposed legislation, Kosrae does not have a stake or interest that is amenable to judicial resolution. Kosrae v. Seventh Kosrae State Legislature, 10 FSM Intrm. 668, 671 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2002).
 
Civil Procedure ) Declaratory Relief; Constitutional Law ) Kosrae ) Case
     Because duly enacted laws are presumed constitutional in the first instance, confirmation through a suit for declaratory relief of what is already presumed is not a fruitful exercise when there is no certainty that such a declaration would alter the parties legal interests. Kosrae v. Seventh Kosrae State Legislature, 10 FSM Intrm. 668, 671 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2002).
 
Constitutional Law ) Kosrae ) Case ) Standing
      To have standing, a plaintiff must show that he personally has suffered some actual or threatened injury as result of the defendants putatively illegal conduct. Kosrae v. Seventh Kosrae State Legislature, 10 FSM Intrm. 668, 671 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2002).
 
Constitutional Law ) Kosrae ) Case ) Standing
     To the extent that an alleged salary loss constitutes a stake or interest that is subject to judicial resolution, it belongs to the specified officials, and not to Kosrae. Kosrae v. Seventh Kosrae State Legislature, 10 FSM Intrm. 668, 672 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2002).

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COURTS OPINION

MARTIN YINUG, Justice by Designation:

     The court has received and considered the motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction filed on April 8, 2002, by the defendant Seventh Kosrae State Legislature ("the

[10 FSM Intrm. 670]

Legislature"), and the response on May 14, 2002, by the plaintiff state of Kosrae ("Kosrae"). The issues are fully briefed, and no oral argument is required. The motion to dismiss is granted.

     Kosrae, which evidently means the executive branch of the Kosrae state government, seeks declaratory relief under Rule 57 of the Kosrae Rules of Civil Procedure. It alleges in the complaint filed on January 28, 2002, that Kosrae has proposed legislation raising the salaries of the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, and the Chief Justice and Associate Justice of the Kosrae State Court. The complaint further alleges that the Legislature has refused to enact that legislation because it, the Legislature, believes that the legislation violates the Kosrae Constitution. According to the complaint, the proposed legislation is in form identical to S.L. 6-132, which is the prior legislation that reduced the salaries, and if the proposed legislation is unconstitutional, then so is S.L. 6-132. Kosrae seeks a declaratory judgment as to the constitutionality of both S.L. 6-132 and the proposed legislation. In practical terms, Kosrae is seeking a confirmation of the constitutionality of the legislation that it has proposed, as well as the legislation that has already been enacted.

      This court has previously held that the salary reduction provision of S.L. 6-132 as it related to the then Chief Justice of the Kosrae State Court is constitutional. Cornelius v. Kosrae, 8 FSM Intrm. 345, 352 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 1998). The basis for the constitutional challenge in Cornelius case was that in order for the legislature to constitutionally reduce the salary of the Chief Justice, it had to reduce the salaries of the contract workers as well. Id. at 348. The salaries of the contract workers had remained unaffected. Id. In the case at bar, the feature of the proposed legislation to which the Legislature allegedly assigns constitutional defect ) and by implication to S.L. 6-132 as well ) is that the salary increase for public service employees is achieved by increasing their number of hours worked, and not their hourly rate of pay. The record thus far is barren of any indication why increasing salaries in this way would offend the Kosrae Constitution.

A. Justiciability

     The parties may well differ on the constitutionality of both S.L. 6-132 and the proposed legislation. However, a difference of opinion between parties is not in and of itself a sufficient basis on which this court may assume jurisdiction over a dispute. Article VI, Section 6 of the Constitution of the State of Kosrae provides that "[t]he State Court has original jurisdiction in all cases, except cases within the exclusive and original jurisdiction of inferior courts." "Case" means a justiciable controversy, which is another way of saying that it must be suitable for determination by a court. Ponape Chamber of Commerce v. Nett Mun. Govt, 1 FSM Intrm. 389, 401 (Pon. 1984). A court will not pass on questions that are abstract, moot, academic, or hypothetical. Id. The proposed legislation is not the law in Kosrae. Thus, the constitutionality of this yet-to-be-enacted legislation presents a hypothetical question that is not justiciable.

B. Adverseness

     The hypothetical character of the dispute also implicates the notion of adverseness. In order for this court to have jurisdiction over a suit, the dispute must be "'definite and concrete, touching the legal relations of parties having adverse legal interests." Id. at 401 (quoting Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Haworth, 300 U.S. 227, 240-41, 57 S. Ct. 461, 464, 81 L. Ed. 617, 621 (1937)). While the parties in this case may be adverse to the extent that they may hold differing views on the constitutionality of S. L. 6-132 and the proposed legislation, that adverseness is illusory as it relates to their legal interests. If the court rightly reads the complaint, then there is no allegation in the complaint that were this court to resolve the constitutionality of both S.L. 6-132 and the proposed legislation consistent with Kosraes view of the matter, the Legislature would pass the legislation. Even when a court has subject matter jurisdiction, "[i]f the declarative relief sought will not terminate the controversy giving rise to the

[10 FSM Intrm. 671]

proceeding, the court may exercise its discretion and decline to grant relief." 12 James Wm. Moore et al., Moores Federal Practice 57.42 (3d ed. 1999) (footnote omitted). This court could afford Kosrae all the relief it requests, and yet the parties claimed legal interests would remain unaffected in the event that the Legislature did not pass the proposed legislation. Interests that could be subjected in this way to the entire litigation process from complaint to judgment without alteration are not adverse in the sense required for a definite, concrete case over which this court may assume jurisdiction.

C. Standing

     Standing exists where a putative plaintiff has a sufficient stake or interest in a justiciable controversy so that he may obtain judicial resolution of that dispute. In re Parcel No. 046-A-01, 6 FSM Intrm. 149, 153 (Pon. 1993). A public official who is called upon to perform a legally required duty which he concludes is violative of the constitution has standing to ask a court to declare the statute unconstitutional. Siba v. Sigrah, 4 FSM Intrm. 329, 334 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 1990). In the case at bar, Kosrae seeks a declaratory judgment from this court on the constitutionality of S.L. 6-132. Specifically, Kosraes contention is not that S.L. 6-132 is unconstitutional, but just the reverse. It seeks confirmation of the constitutionality of S.L. 6-132 to rebut the alleged opinion held by the Legislature that the legislation that Kosrae has proposed is unconstitutional. However, duly enacted laws are presumed constitutional in the first instance. Chuuk v. Secretary of Finance, 8 FSM Intrm. 353, 374, 387 (Pon. 1998); Truk v. Hartman, 1 FSM Intrm. 174, 181 (Truk 1982). Confirmation through a suit for declaratory relief of what is already presumed is not a fruitful exercise where, as here, there is no certainty that such a declaration would alter the legal interests of the parties. As previously noted, the Legislature could very well exercise its legislative prerogative to decline to enact the proposed legislation irrespective of any declaration by this court of the constitutionality of either S.L. 6-132 or the proposed legislation. To this extent Kosrae does not have a stake or interest that is amenable to judicial resolution. In re Parcel No. 046-A-01, 6 FSM Intrm. at 153.

     Two additional points bear making with respect to standing. First, Kosrae asserts that with respect to the existing law, S.L. 6-132, it should not be in the position of enforcing an unconstitutional statute because those whose salaries were reduced by S.L. 6-132 might sue to recover their salary reductions. This contention takes the allegations of the complaint about the constitutionality of S.L. 6-132 out of context. A fair reading of the allegations contained on the first two pages of the complaint does not disclose an attempt to confirm the constitutionality of S.L. 6-132 for it own sake. Rather, S.L. 6-132's relevancy is called into question only insofar as it relates to the legislation Kosrae has proposed to raise the salaries of the specified government officials. The complaint alleges that "if [the] proposed legislation is unconstitutional, so is S.L. 6-132." Complaint for Declaratory Relief 5 (Jan. 28, 2002). That consideration aside, the possibility that Kosrae might face suits at some time in the future does not confer standing on Kosrae. To have standing, "[t]he plaintiff must show that he personally has suffered some actual or threatened injury as result of the putatively illegal conduct of the defendant." Gladstone, Realtors v. Village of Bellwood, 441 U.S. 91, 99, 99 S. Ct. 1601, 1607-08, 60 L. Ed. 2d 66, 76 (1979). S.L. 6-132 was enacted in 1997, and only one suit appears to have been brought to challenge those salary reductions put in place by the statute. That challenge was rejected. Cornelius v. Kosrae, 8 FSM Intrm. 345, 352 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 1998). There is no allegation that other suits are threatened or even contemplated. Thus, this injury is speculative, and not "actual or threatened." Gladstone, 441 U.S. at 99, 99 S. Ct. at 1608, 60 L. Ed. at 76. Moreover, the supposed consequences for Kosrae in the event that S.L. 6-132 were shown at some future point to be illegal would flow from its own supposedly illegal conduct made the subject of some as yet unbrought lawsuit by as yet undesignated plaintiffs, and not from any "putatively illegal conduct of the defendant" in this case. Id. Standing does not emerge from the mist that rises from the inversion of the roles of plaintiff and defendant.

[10 FSM Intrm. 672]

     A second standing concern goes to who has suffered injury. At bedrock, the complaint is about the salary loss suffered by the specified state officials. Kosrae is the titular plaintiff, but the injury does not redound to either Kosrae in a generalized sense, nor in the more specific sense of the executive branch. To the extent that the alleged salary loss constitutes a "stake or interest that is subject to judicial resolution," In re Parcel No. 046-A-01, 6 FSM Intrm. at 153, it belongs to the specified officials, and not to Kosrae.

     Finally, it bears noting that it is the past action of the Legislature in enacting S.L. 7-184, which raised the salaries of other state employees, but did not raise the salaries of the specified officials, that resulted in loss of salary to the specified officials. At odds with the genesis of this injury is the present configuration of this case, which does not assail the constitutionality of S.L. 7-184 but rather constitutes a policy dispute between the executive and legislative branches over legislation that Kosrae has proposed as a curative measure to raise those salaries. It is not for the judicial branch to play a role in this dispute by casting a vote in favor of one or the other of the other two branches of the Kosrae state government by entertaining and deciding this suit for declaratory relief.

     For the foregoing reasons, the Legislatures motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is granted.

     The other pending motions are denied as moot. A judgment consistent with this order and memorandum issues herewith.

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