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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Judge certifies 2 questions to NMI Supreme Court

The federal court has issued an order certifying two questions to the CNMI Supreme Court regarding issues of the CNMI Constitution’s scope that will resolve one of the claims in Jesus I. Taisague’s lawsuit against Gov. Eloy Inos and the CNMI government

As this developed, U.S. District Court for the NMI designated judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood on Thursday granted the Office of the Attorney General’s motion to dismiss Taisague’s claims against the Department of Finance. The judge also dismissed most of Taisague’s claims.

In an order also issued Thursday, Tydingco-Gatewood certified the two questions:

-Are a retiree’s contractual rights “impaired” or “diminished” under Article I, Section I of the Commonwealth Constitution or under Article III, Section 20 of that Constitution where the Commonwealth (1) does not pass any law creating a defense to the breach of the pension contract, (2) does not pass any law depriving a retiree of the ability to sue for breach of the pension contract, and (3) passes a law requiring the Legislature to appropriate funds before court judgments can be enforced?

-If the answer to the first question is yes, what are the elements to a claim under these constitutional provisions?

Tydingco-Gatewood said Inos and the CNMI government have filed a motion to dismiss Taisague’s claim for violation of the CNMI Constitution, and the CNMI Supreme Court’s answers on these questions would be dispositive of the federal court’s proceedings.

Although the CNMI Supreme Court has twice interpreted the U.S. Constitution’s contract of clause, it has not yet ruled on the corresponding provisions in the CNMI Constitution, Tydingco-Gatewood said.

Taisague, through counsel Ramon Quichocho, is suing on his own behalf to recover 100 percent of his pension payments and his health insurance coverage.

Taisague opted out of the settlement in the Betty Johnson’s class action against the CNMI government and the NMI Retirement Fund.

According to Taisague, the settlement agreement with Johnson is unconstitutional and illegal.

With Tydingco-Gatewood’s dismissal of the Department of Finance from the lawsuit, the remaining defendants in the case are Inos, the CNMI government, and the Fund.

In her separate order, Tydingco-Gatewood dismissed Taisague’s claim for violation of the U.S. Constitution’s contract clause, violation of due process, and deprivation of rights.

The judge allowed Taisague to amend his claim for deprivation of rights only to assert a plausible due process claim against Inos.

On Taisague’s claim for violation of the Commonwealth Constitution’s contract clause, Tydingco-Gatewood withheld ruling on the claim until the High Court resolves the two certified questions.

Taisague’s other pending claims are breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment, and declaratory relief count.

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