THE SUPREME COURT OF THE
FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA
Cite as Ponape Enterprises Co. v. Bergen ,
6 FSM Intrm. 411 (Pohnpei 1994)
PONAPE ENTERPRISES CO., POHNPEI AGRICULTURAL
DEVELOPMENT, INC., CAROLINE ISLAND DEVELOPMENT
CO. and HEIRS OF FLORENTINE ETSCHEIT,
LAURA BERGEN, MISAIL PADAHK, KINDINIANO LIGORIO,
MORIA SERCY, LORENZO PADAHK, WALTER EKIEK,
BELERINO PHILLIP, HENRY PHILLIP, BERNARD JACK,
KUPTER LUCIOUS, LUCAS CARLOS,
CONSTANTINE SOLOMON, ENERICO RODRIGUEZ,
CAMILLE ETSCHEIT, ROBERT ETSCHEIT, SR.,
ESTATE OF LEO ETSCHEIT, ESTATE OF
ELLA ETSCHEIT JOUBERT, ROBERT ETSCHEIT, JR.,
Individually and in his Capacity as Administrator,
PACIFIC MISSIONARY AVIATION, POHNPEI AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT, INC., PONAPE ENTERPRISES CO.,
POHNPEI AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT, INC.
and CAROLINE ISLAND DEVELOPMENT CO.,
ISO NAHNKEN OF NETT SALVADOR IRIARTE,
SULIANA PANUELO, EMELIANA MARTIN,
NADIP CANTERO, PASTOR PHILLIP, ANTONIO SULDAN,
ALBON SULDAN, TERESITA DAMARLANE, AUGUSTINE DAMARLANE, SULIANA REX, MARTINO RODRIQUEZ,
CLAUDIO PANUELO, ALFONSO LAURTRIN, MASAO SULDAN, IOAKIM CANTERO, ARUO WELSON, ENRICO ANAS,
ROMINI PANUELO, LINUS ACTOUCKA, HERCULANO KOHLER, DOLONIER DEVELOPMENT PROJECT and
their Successors in Interest,
CIVIL ACTION NOS. 1992-138, 1992-143, 1992-148, 1992-152, 1992-153, 1993-002, 1993-020, 1993-074
CIVIL ACTION NO. 1993-080
ORDER AND MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
Andon L. Amaraich
Hearing: May 11, 1994
Decided: June 2, 1994
For the Plaintiffs: Daniel Berman, Esq.
Rush, Moore, Craven, Sutton, Morry & Beh
2000 Hawaii Tower
745 Fort Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813
For the Defendants: Elizabeth Keys, Esq.
(Laura Bergen et al.) Micronesian Legal Services Corporation
P.O. Box 129
Kolonia, Pohnpei FM 96941
Delson Ehmes, Esq.
P.O. Box 1018
Kolonia, Pohnpei FM 96941
For the Defendant: Mary Berman, Esq
(Iso Nahnken of Nett) P.O. Box 163
Kolonia, Pohnpei FM 96941
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Appeal and Certiorari ) Stay
The FSM Code provision authorizing the general powers of the Supreme Court gives the court the authority to grant a stay of proceedings in one case pending the outcome of another case which addresses the same or similar issues. Ponape Enterprises Co. v. Bergen, 6 FSM Intrm. 411, 414 (Pon. 1994).
Appeal and Certiorari ) Stay
Factors for a court to consider in determining whether it should exercise its discretion to grant a stay of proceedings in one case pending the outcome of another case which addresses the same or similar issues, include whether judicial economy will be furthered by a stay because the cases on appeal may have claim or issue preclusive effect on the case to be stayed, the balance of the competing interests, the orderly administration of justice and whether the case is one of great public importance. Ponape Enterprises Co. v. Bergen, 6 FSM Intrm. 411, 414 (Pon. 1994).
Appeal and Certiorari ) Stay
A stay should be granted in one case pending the outcome of another case on appeal which addresses the same or similar issues, when it is in the interests of avoiding the waste of judicial resources, managing the court's calendar, sparing the parties unnecessary litigation efforts, and avoiding inconsistent or confusing outcomes, especially if granting the stay will not adversely affect the parties opposing the stay to any substantial extent because they are also parties to the other case on appeal. Ponape Enterprises Co. v. Bergen, 6 FSM Intrm. 411, 415-16 (Pon. 1994).
* * * *
ANDON L. AMARAICH, Associate Justice:
The defendants have requested a stay of proceedings in these trespass cases pending the outcome of the appeals in ten similar cases in which this Court has granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs.1 The defendants ask that the stay not apply to discovery. The plaintiffs oppose the request. On May 11, 1994, a hearing was held on the defendants' motion for a stay at which counsel for all parties presented oral argument. For the reasons discussed below the Court will grant a stay of proceedings.
A total of 20 trespass cases have been filed2 over a period of just under a year against persons farming on an area of land comprised of three parcels (Nos. 046-A-01, 046-A-02, and 046-A-04) for which certificates of title have been issued by the Pohnpei Land Commission in the name of "The legal heirs of Florentine Etscheit."3 Nineteen of the cases were brought by the identical plaintiffs, and the twentieth, Civil Action No. 1993-80, was brought by the same plaintiffs plus one additional plaintiff ) Pacific Missionary Aviation. All of the plaintiffs in all of the cases are represented by the same counsel, and most of the pleadings and motions filed by the plaintiffs have been substantially identical in the various cases. Similarly, all of the defendants but one are represented by the same counsel, and the pleadings and motions filed by counsel have been substantially the same in the various cases.
Previously, on August 17, 1993, the Court granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs (Etscheits et al.) in ten of the cases and denied it in two others.4 The Court ruled that the certificates of title that had been issued to the Etscheits for the parcels created a presumption of ownership that was not rebutted except in those cases where a defendant could show that he or she had an individual interest in the land dating back to the time of the title determination process, but had not received notice of that process. Although the Court's judgment in the ten cases where summary judgment was granted included an injunction barring the defendants from the land, the Court subsequently modified that injunction to preserve the status quo by allowing the defendants
to remain on the land during the pendency of their appeals, but prohibiting them from expanding their activities or further entrenching their positions. Of the nine cases currently pending before me, in six cases, preliminary injunctions have been issued to preserve the status quo while the litigation proceeds.5 Those injunctions, like the modified injunctions in the cases on appeal, allow the defendants to remain on the land, but prohibit them from expanding their activities or entrenching their positions.
Court's Authority to Grant Stay
There is no provision in the FSM Constitution, Code, or Civil Rules, that explicitly discusses whether or not this Court may grant a stay of proceedings in one case pending the outcome of another case which addresses the same or similar issues. However, the Court finds authority to grant the relief requested under the FSM Code provision titled "General Powers of the Supreme Court," which states in relevant part:
The Supreme Court and each division thereof shall have power to issue all writs and other process, make rules and orders, and do all acts not inconsistent with law or with the rules of procedure and evidence established by the Chief Justice, as may be necessary for the due administration of justice, . . . .
4 F.S.M.C. 117. That provision has been read to give the Court authority to issue writs of mandamus, writs of certiorari, and writs of garnishment, Bank of Guam v. Elwise, 4 FSM Intrm. 150, 152 (Pon. 1989), and, on its face, gives the Court authority to grant the stay requested by the defendant as long as doing so is necessary for the due administration of justice."6
Appropriateness Of Granting A Stay In These Cases
A number of factors bear on the decision about whether the Court should exercise its discretion to grant a stay of proceedings in a particular instance: whether judicial economy will be furthered by a stay because the cases on appeal may have claim or issue preclusive effect on the case to be stayed, Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Foremost-McKesson, Inc., 751 F.2d 475, 477 (1st Cir. 1985); McDonald v. Piedmont Aviation, Inc., 625 F. Supp. 762, 767 (S.D.N.Y. 1986); the balance of the competing interests, Landis v. North American Co., 299 U.S. 248, 255, 57 S. Ct. 163, 166, 81 L. Ed. 153, 158 (1936); the orderly administration of justice; whether the case is one of great public importance, id. at 256, 57 S. Ct. at 166-67, 81 L. Ed. at 159. The Court has concluded that a stay should be granted in these cases in the interests of avoiding the waste of judicial resources, managing the Court's calendar, sparing the parties unnecessary litigation efforts, and avoiding inconsistent or confusing outcomes. Moreover, the Court believes that it is unlikely that granting the stay will adversely affect the plaintiffs to any substantial extent.
This Court cannot know what holdings the appellate division may reach in the ten cases that
are on appeal. However, given that the legal issues, and many of the factual issues, are nearly identical in the various cases the appellate division's decision should at a minimum clarify the issues that the parties need to address, and could conceivably substitute new issues. Therefore, allowing the nine trial level cases to go forward would force both the parties and the Court to waste an enormous amount of resources on the litigation of issues and the presentation of evidence that possibly bear little or no relevance to the outcome of the litigation.
This Court recently granted a stay under similar circumstances in Civil No. 1993-049, a case which also involved the Etscheit land claim. Etscheit v. Mix, Order Granting Stay of Proceedings (Nov. 10, 1993) (attached to Defs.' Motions To Supplement The Record In Defs.' Motion For Stay). There the Court granted a stay of proceedings in the action pending a final disposition of the merits of Civil No. 1992-150 ) a case which raised many of the same issues relating to the Etscheit land claim. See also Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Foremost-McKesson, Inc., 751 F.2d at 475 (affirming district court decision that stayed federal action pending outcome of state proceedings based on concern for judicial economy).
The United States Supreme Court faced a similar situation in Landis v. North American Co., 299 U.S. at 255, 57 S. Ct. at 165-66, 81 L. Ed. at 158,7 where many lawsuits had been filed challenging the validity of a new law. The court made clear that trial courts had the power to stay their proceedings while other "test" cases went ahead to determine the validity of the new law.8 The court held that such a stay was within the trial court's power, even though the parties were different in the various cases, and therefore the stay meant that the litigant in one case would be compelled to stand aside while a litigant in another case settled the rule of law that would define the rights of both. The argument for granting a stay is stronger in the case at bar since parties who are opposing the stay, with the exception of Pacific Missionary Aviation, are all also parties to the appeals. Furthermore, the counsel who is representing the parties in the cases on appeal is also representing all of the parties who are opposing the stay. Therefore, if a stay is granted in the instant case no one will be required to stand aside while someone else settles questions of law that will effect them.9
Granting the stay is further justified because doing so will promote the orderly administration of justice by avoiding piecemeal litigation and the possibility of inconsistent or confusing outcomes in the various cases. In Colorado Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 819, 96 S. Ct. 1236, 1247, 47 L. Ed. 2d 483, 499 (1976), the United States Supreme Court granted a stay based on those types of concerns, noting that it was appropriate to avoid piecemeal litigation where the relationships are "highly interdependent" and not staying the action is likely to result in "inconsistent dispositions of property." This case involves dozens of interrelated claims to the same land, and therefore granting the stay will promote the orderly
administration of justice.
Moreover, granting the stay of proceedings will not substantially burden the plaintiffs since even if the plaintiffs were able to obtain judgments before this Court in the cases still at the trial level, I would be wary about ordering the defendants off the land until after the defendants had an opportunity to present their arguments to the appellate division. Indeed, in the ten cases decided in favor of the plaintiffs at the summary judgment stage the Court modified the injunction pending appeal so as to preserve the status quo until the appellate division could rule. Given that preliminary injunctions, similar to those injunctions issued pending appeal, have already been granted in most of the cases presently pending at the trial level, the plaintiffs would probably not derive any significant benefit from pushing ahead with trial level litigation at this time. Therefore, the balance of interests weighs in favor of granting the stays.
Finally, a stay is warranted due to the public importance of these cases. "Especially in cases of extraordinary public moment, the individual may be required to submit to delay not immoderate in extent and not oppressive in its consequences if the public welfare or convenience will thereby be promoted." Landis, 299 U.S. at 256, 57 S. Ct. at 166, 81 L. Ed. at 159. Given that this case involves one of the largest land holdings in Pohnpei State, and the potential for serious dislocations, a stay of proceedings will promote the public welfare and convenience.
For the reasons discussed above the proceedings are stayed in following matters ) Civil Action Nos. 1992-138, 1992-143, 1992-148, 1992-152, 1992-153, 1993-002, 1993-020, 1993-074, and 1993 -080. The stay shall expire upon final disposition of the appeals currently pending in Civ. Nos. 1992-137, 1992-139, 1992-140, 1992-141, 1992-142, 1992-144, 1992-145, 1992-146, 1992-147, and 1992-149. The stay is without prejudice to the rights of the parties to proceed with discovery. The parties may also inform the Court of violations of the preliminary injunctions that have been issued at the trial level. Notwithstanding the stay, the Court will proceed with consideration of the plaintiffs' outstanding request for a preliminary injunction in Civil Action No. 1992-152.
* * * *
1. The motion for stay of proceedings was filed by counsel who represents all of the defendants with the exception of Iso Nahnken of Nett Salvador Iriarte. At the hearing on the motion, counsel for the Iso Nahnken supported the request for a stay.
2. The Court's jurisdiction in all twenty cases is invoked under article XI, section 6(b), on the basis of the diversity of citizenship of the parties.
3. One of the cases, Civil Action No. 1993-003, was reassigned to Associate Justice Martin Yinug. See Ponape Enterprises Co. v. Soumwei, 6 FSM Intrm. 341 (Pon. 1994).
4. The Court granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs in Civil Nos. 1992-137, 1992-139, 1992-140, 1992-141, 1992-142, 1992-144, 1992-145, 1992-146, 1992-147, 1992-149. The plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment was denied in Civil Nos. 1992-143 and 1992-148. In re Parcel No. 046-A-01, 6 FSM Intrm. 149 (Pon. 1993).
5. There is also a pending request by the plaintiffs for a preliminary injunction in Civil Action No. 152.
6. At the hearing on the motion counsel for the plaintiffs agreed that the Court had the power, under 4 F.S.M.C. 117, to grant the stay.
7. This Court may consider, but is not bound by, United States decisions on similar procedural questions. Andohn v. FSM, 1 FSM Intrm. 433, 441 (App. 1984).
8. In Landis the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the stay granted by the trial court because it lacked specificity and because circumstances had changed. However, the Landis decision affirmed that granting such stays was within a trial court's authority, and rather than reverse, the decision remanded the case so that the trial court could consider the motion for a stay in accordance with certain principles.