U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona directed yesterday the seven construction workers who are suing Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC and its contractor and a subcontractor to file under seal their response to an IPI motion that wants the case stayed or suspended.
Manglona’s court order was in response to a request by the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Aaron Halegua and Bruce Berline, to direct them to file their memorandum of law under seal.
Last Nov. 19, Manglona issued a sua sponte order sealing two exhibits attached to IPI’s second motion to stay. Sua sponte order refers to a judge’s action made without a request by any party to the case.
The judge sealed the two exhibits, citing Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Manglona directed the plaintiffs to file their memorandum of law under seal based on that same legal authority, and for the reasons stated in the plaintiffs’ motion.
In the Nov. 19 order, Manglona said the first exhibit shall be sealed pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because it is a sealed document from another matter pending in the District Court.
Manglona said the second exhibit shall be sealed pursuant to Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
Court’s dockets show that the two exhibits pertain to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe against Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, IPI, and several others.
The first exhibit is the search and seizure warrant, while the second is the grand jury subpoena.
Manglona, however, unsealed the third exhibit, the FBI’s receipt for property, which lists the items that were seized from IPI’s accounting office at Marina Heights Building I in Puerto Rico, Saipan.
In the seven workers’ motion to file under seal, Halegua and Berline said their memorandum refutes IPI’s argument that the criminal investigation in question justifies a stay in their civil case that alleges forced labor and negligence.
Halegua and Berline said the memorandum demonstrates that IPI offered no evidence that the criminal investigation “arises out of the same occurrence in which the plaintiffs are the victims” as required to grant a stay.
In doing so, the lawyers said, the memorandum describes specific content of the sealed exhibits and quotes directly from one of them.
Halegua and Berline said filing their memorandum under seal is therefore the safest way to prevent any unauthorized disclosure of the contents of the sealed exhibits.
Last Nov. 13, IPI, through counsel Phillip Tydingco, filed the second motion to stay and a memorandum of support of the motion in the seven workers’ lawsuit.
The plaintiffs—Tianming Wang, Dong Han, Yongjun Meng, Liangcai Sun, Youli Wang, Quingchun Xu, and Xiyang Du—are suing IPI, MCC, and MCC’s subcontractor, Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI) LLC, over the injuries they suffered during accidents at IPI’s casino/resort project worksite.
The plaintiffs, who are all Chinese nationals, are suing the defendants for alleged forced labor in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Re-authorization Act, forced labor in violation of the CNMI Anti-Trafficking Act, negligence, and liability for employees of subcontractor.
The workers alleged, among other things, that they were forced to work long hours for below minimum wage under extremely dangerous conditions at the casino-resort worksite.
In its response to the lawsuit, IPI, through Tydingco, said any wage claims by the plaintiffs are barred because they voluntarily illegally entered the CNMI to work.
Tydingco said the plaintiffs knowingly and voluntarily worked illegally in the CNMI.