U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona granted Friday a default judgment against Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC in connection with a lawsuit filed by seven former workers.
At the order to show-cause hearing, Manglona described IPI’s noncompliance and delays in this lawsuit as “mind-boggling and “very frustrating.”
The judge will later determine how much to be awarded to the former workers.
IPI general counsel Michael W. Dotts said IPI is disappointed with the decision, disagrees with it, and will ask Manglona to reconsider. He said IPI is having a lot of troubles now, but hopes to turn it around once IPI is back on its feet.
“The entry of default is a hard blow but it is not fatal. IPI can come back and IPI will come back and litigate this case to the end,” Dotts said.
He said Manglona entered the default judgment primarily for two reasons: First, Dotts said, IPI had not paid sanctions of about $30,000 to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, had not paid $42,000 to plaintiffs’ technology expert, and had not paid about $51,000 to the third-party vendor called Litigation Edge in Singapore. While it is true that IPI did not pay these amounts, Dotts said IPI did say it could pay within 60 days. “Everyone knows IPI is in financial turmoil and IPI had hoped the court would have given the extra 60 days IPI requested,” he said.
The second reason for the default is because IPI has not complied with some discovery requests that date back to last year. “This is also mostly true, but it is not as bad as what the plaintiffs’ claimed, and since mid-May, IPI has been producing a lot of documents to try to catch up,” said Dotts, stressing that IPI was willing to produce all of the rest.
Aaron Halegua, who is one of the lawyers of the plaintiffs said that Manglona has decided that IPI’s violations of multiple court orders, as well as its obstruction and delay in gathering evidence, were willful acts and have continued for too long.
Halegua said their clients suffered tremendously as victims of a forced labor and human trafficking scheme in which they paid high recruitment fees based on false promises, only to then work long hours under dangerous and inhumane conditions. The plaintiffs’ other lawyer is Bruce Berline
The plaintiffs, who are now based in China, are suing IPI and its two former contractors for allegedly forcing them to work long hours for below minimum wage under extremely dangerous conditions at the casino worksite, among other allegations.
In its response, IPI said any wage claims by the plaintiffs are barred because they voluntarily illegally entered the CNMI to work.