Court frees regents from Fernandez’s suit

Posted on Feb 13 2012
By Moneth Deposa

The Northern Marianas College board scored a win once more in the case filed against its regents by the college’s former president, Dr. Carmen Fernandez, who was fired from her post two years ago.

Associate Judge David A. Wiseman issued a ruling last Friday granting the regents’ motions to dismiss the case appealed by Fernandez last year.

The college’s former chief executive officer was suspended in January 2010 following a board decision to investigate her for alleged unauthorized changing of students’ grades. After a hearing on April 9, Fernandez was terminated three days later. She then sued the board and asked for a jury trial in the U.S. District Court.

She filed six charges against NMC and individual regents, including breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, wrongful termination, defamation, conspiracy to defame, and intentional interference with a contract.

On May 3, 2011, the district court dismissed counts 1 and 2 of Fernandez’s complaint with prejudice and dismissed all other counts without prejudice. Dismissed with prejudice means the case cannot be reopened.

In his seven-page order issued Friday, Wiseman ruled in favor of the regents for counts 3, 4, and 5, saying there is no evidence that any of the individual regents published any false, defamatory, or stigmatizing statement about Fernandez. He then dismissed the claim of wrongful termination and defamation.

“The fact is there is no evidence that the individual defendants said anything that reasonably could be construed as suggesting that plaintiff was under criminal investigation. To infer otherwise would enlist the concept of defamation by implication which is disfavored in this jurisdiction,” said Wiseman.

Wiseman said that Fernandez also failed to allege, or even mention, in her complaint the violation of any public policy in connection with her termination.

The regents are represented in the case by attorney Michael Dotts who expressed himself pleased with the judge’s decision.

“I am, of course, very pleased with the decision, but I have not yet had the chance to fully review it with my clients. What will probably please them most is that the individual regents who were sued are now out of the case. The claims against the individual regents were all dismissed,” he told Saipan Tribune.

According to Dotts, the case will go on for now, but it will be a lot more simple. “We should be able to get it over with once and for all, fairly soon,” he added.

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