The Office of the Attorney General wants the Superior Court to prevent Remedio Elameto and her common-law husband Pedro Pua from presenting any expert testimony concerning Carolinian customary marriages.
If not, Elameto and Pua should disclose the identity of any witness it intends to produce at the evidentiary hearing, according to OAG Civil Division chief Christopher Timmons
Elameto’s and Pua’s lawyer, Claire Kelleher-Smith, said the the best source of information about Carolinian custom are members of the Carolinian community, who have personal knowledge of customary practices.
They claim that the government’s argument—that the testimony of experts in the Carolinian custom “has no probative value,” “would ultimately constitute a waste of time” “would unnecessarily confuse the issues before the court” and “would involve unfair prejudice”—is wholly without merit.
Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho ordered Friday that the presentation of testimony on the issue of Carolinian customary marriage will start tomorrow, Tuesday, at 9am. Camacho will hear today, Monday, at 9am argument any preliminary issues related to the evidentiary hearing.
Elameto and Pua are suing the CNMI government and two former Commonwealth Health Center doctors Rajee Iyer and Gary Ramsey for medical malpractice, bad faith, and emotional distress and loss of consortium.
Elameto claimed that a surgical team at CHC left a 15-centimeter long surgical clamp in her abdomen during a surgery to address her irregular periods and ovarian cysts in August 2000.
Elameto disclosed that it was almost 14 years later—in June 2014—when the surgical clamp was discovered and removed at Guam Memorial Hospital.
Timmons is counsel for the CNMI government and co-defendants. He discussed Carolinian marriages in the government’s opposition to Elameto and Pua’s brief pertaining to the legal validity of Carolinian customary marriage.
Elameto and Pua have asked the court to allow them to present expert witnesses on Carolinian customary marriage.
Timmons said that should include a certification whether the witness intends to produce expert testimony under the Rules of Civil Procedure, the subject matter on which the witness is expected to testify, and a summary of the facts and opinions to which the witness is expected to testify.
Timmons said the court cannot look to evidence beyond the pleadings without converting the Rule 12 motion to dismiss filed by the government into a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment.
He said Elameto and Pua did not plead a theory of Carolinian customary marriage in their complaint, so it would be improper to hear evidence on this unasserted theory.
Timmons said plaintiffs have refused to identify the experts they intend to call at the hearing and no discovery has been conducted in this case.
He said the upcoming hearing is akin to an oral presentation of a legal treatise, and will provide the court with the information necessary to clearly articulate the legal rules concerning Carolinian customary marriage.
Kelleher-Smith said there is no “unfair surprise” as the government knows that customary Carolinian marriage is widely practiced and recognized here.
“Now, it is simply a matter of putting this information on the record for the court,” she said, adding that the government’s request for last-minute depositions serves no purpose other than to delay the case and further burden the plaintiffs.
The lawyer said the court should deny the government’s motion in full and allow the hearing on customary Carolinian marriage to proceed.
Carolinian customary relationships that are not solemnized are not marriages, according to Timmons. He stated that, on the other hand, Carolinian customary relationships that are solemnized are marriages.
Timmons said the court should dismiss Pua’s complaint for loss of consortium.
Loss of consortium refers to a cause of action in a civil lawsuit that is available to family members of a person injured or killed by the wrongful acts of another.