Court to hear dismissal motions in Mafnas’ suit in November
The District Court for the NMI is set to hear the dismissal motions filed by the defense in the lawsuit of Division of Customs director Jose Mafnas in November.
Last Thursday, District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona Manglona issued an order granting the stipulation filed by the parties to continue the motion hearing on the defense’s motions to dismiss from Oct. 6 to Nov. 10, to allot the parties more time to file their responses.
The motions that will be heard in November include Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ chief of staff William Castro’s motion to dismiss and Department of Finance Secretary David Atalig’s motion to dismiss.
The most recent motion filed was from Castro, through his lawyer Colin Thompson, asking the federal court to dismiss the complaint against him made by Mafnas for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
According to Thompson, Mafnas has failed to state a claim under the First Amendment rights as to Castro because there are no allegations that Castro has any authority over plaintiff to effectuate the employment reassignment forming the basis of all of plaintiff’s claims.
Thompson added that Mafnas’ civil claim for political coercion does not allege any direct threats made by Castro and accordingly fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted
“Recognizing, perhaps, that Mr. Castro, in his role as chief of staff for the Office of the Governor, has no actual authority to make decisions regarding Mr. Mafnas’ work assignment, plaintiff resorts to vague and spurious allegations in an effort to link Mr. Castro to the administrative decision made by [Finance Secretary David DLG] Atalig to reassign Mr. Mafnas,” Thompson said.
In addition, Mafnas alleged that some arguably inappropriate text messages were sent by Castro referring to the plaintiff and allegedly regarding Castro’s disappointment with plaintiff’s lack of support for the Governor’s vision.
“Examining these messages, one must struggle to find any threat, much less a threat to demote in rank, classification, or position, a threat to decrease pay/benefits, or a threat to reduce tenure of employment. If anything the message conveys a willingness on the part of Mr. Castro to meet with Mr. Mafnas to work out any disagreements they might have ‘like men.’ The mere mention of having never lost a civil service battle cannot amount to a threat of employment sanction or demotion, particularly when coming from someone out of Mr. Mafnas’ chain of command,” Thompson argued.
Mafnas, through his lawyer Charity Hodson, filed a complaint with the District Court for the NMI and named as defendants Castro, in his personal capacity and in his official capacity as the governor’s chief of staff; Atalig, in his personal capacity and in his official capacity as secretary of Finance; and the CNMI government.
Mafnas is suing Castro and Atalig for transferring him to another position in the Department of Commerce.
Mafnas has asked the federal court to, among other things, prevent Atalig from removing Mafnas from his position as Customs director or to otherwise reinstate him pending a decision on the merits of his complaint.
Mafnas also requested the court to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the defendants.
Manglona issued a TRO last Aug. 2 with an expiration date of Aug. 16.
On Aug. 15, Manglona issued a preliminary injunction in favor of Mafnas.