High Court affirms award of more attorney fees


The CNMI Supreme Court has affirmed a ruling of the Superior Court awarding $49,649.55 to a group of Saipan homeowners who brought suit against the builders of the Tottotville housing project in 2006.

In the original lawsuit, the Northern Marianas Housing Corp., along with two separately represented groups of Tottotville residents, claimed that the Tottoville builders—SSFM International, Inc., Telesource CNMI, Inc., and Telebond Insurance Corp.—had been negligent throughout the construction process and were responsible for defective conditions at the development. The case went to arbitration, and the Superior Court awarded nearly $5 million in damages.

This arbitration award also gave “reasonable” attorney fees to the homeowners, but the court did not determine the exact amount of those fees until several months later. Telesource made payments for more than seven years but ceased in February of 2020, claiming it had met its obligations.

The homeowners disagreed, arguing that the amount of interest on the fees should be calculated from the date of the initial arbitration award and that Telesource was liable for an additional $49,649.55. Relying on a very similar 2006 case from the Supreme Court, Northern Marianas Housing Corporation v. Flores, the Superior Court determined that the homeowners were correct and that the additional fees were owed.

The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling, noting that the Flores opinion was rightly decided and should be followed. “We decline to overrule Flores,” wrote the high court, noting that “[u]nder the doctrine of stare decisis, we afford a presumption that previous decisions should be followed.” Awarding interest from the date that a party earns the right to fees, the Supreme Court added, constitutes sound financial practice because interest is not a penalty but rather a time differential adjustment to the value of the fee award.

The full opinion is available at https://cnmilaw.org/spm22.php#gsc.tab=0 (PR)

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