Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho ruled yesterday that a CW-1 worker who has prevailed in a civil case can be awarded attorney’s fees even if the worker is represented by Micronesian Legal Services Corp., a non-profit organization.
Camacho said doing so promotes the public policy of allowing indigent individuals to enforce their rights pursuant to the Alien and Immigrant Consumer Protection Act. Also, in light of the CNMI Supreme Court’s decision in a separate case, Camacho said the Act authorizes awarding attorney’s fees to a prevailing plaintiff even if the plaintiff is represented by a non-profit organization.
Camacho said he will issue a separate order as to the amount of attorney’s fees that will be awarded to Segundo Lapeceros Jr.
Lapeceros was among the six Filipino CW-1 workers who were awarded a total of $91,832 in default judgment.
In his order yesterday, Camacho said that, because the Act does not exclude non-profit organizations, the phrase “[a] prevailing plaintiff may be awarded…attorney’s fees” does not limit recovery for attorney’s fees to individuals represented by not-for-profit attorneys.
And since the Act does not expressly prohibit prevailing plaintiffs represented by non-profit attorneys from being paid attorney’s fees, Camacho said he finds that attorney’s fees can be awarded to prevailing plaintiffs even if plaintiffs are represented by a non-profit organization.
Camacho cited a precedent case in which the CNMI Supreme Court found that the Superior Court appropriately awarded attorney’s fees after finding a violation of the NMI Consumer Protection Act, even though the prevailing party was represented by an attorney employed by MLSC.
Camacho noted that the language used by both statutes to authorize the awarding of attorney’s fees is similar.
According to court records, the six workers sued Edita Capilitan Cruz, the owner of a manpower services company on Saipan, for defrauding them of cash in exchange for promised CW-1 visa applications that she never filed.
After the court issued its default judgment, Lapeceros, through counsel Jane Mack of MLSC, requested attorney’s fees.
Mack based the claim for attorney’s fees on the section of the Alien and Immigrant Consumer Protection Act that allows prevailing plaintiffs to be awarded attorney’s fees.
In Lapeceros’ case, court records show that Cruz advertised her business as a manpower agency that would process paperwork for foreign workers who sought employment as CW-1 workers.
Cruz offered Lapeceros a CW-1 employment as a commercial cleaner for her business.
After Lapeceros began his employment, Cruz offered to hire Lapeceros’ wife as a kitchen helper. Lapeceros paid Cruz $950 to process his wife’s papers for the kitchen helper position.
Cruz, however, did not submit CW-1 documents to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for Lapeceros’ wife.
In March 2019, Lapeceros sued Cruz for fraud and for violating the Alien and Immigrant Consumer Protection Act. On July 31, 2019, Camacho issued a default judgment against Cruz, finding evidence that Cruz’s conduct violated the Act.
Camacho awarded Lapeceros $10,735 in damages and costs.