IPI, USAO in talks over workers’ suit

The federal court placed under advisement yesterday a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by seven construction workers against Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC and IPI’s two former contractors for its casino/resort project in Garapan.

U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona said that a written decision would be issued.

The seven are suing IPI and its former contractors, Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI) LLC (GMCD) and MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co., for the injuries they allegedly suffered during accidents at IPI’s casino-resort project in Garapan.

The seven Chinese nationals are suing IPI and its two former contractors for alleged forced labor in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Re-authorization Act, forced labor in violation of the CNMI Anti-Trafficking Act, negligence, and liability for employees.

The workers alleged, among other things, that they were forced to work long hours for below minimum wage under extremely dangerous conditions at the casino-resort worksite.

According to the minutes of yesterday’s motion hearing, Manglona denied IPI’s motion to suspend proceedings in this lawsuit.

IPI had sought to have proceedings in the lawsuit suspended for now, with IPI lawyer Phillip Tydingco saying that they are in talks with the U.S. Attorney’s Office on matters related to the case.

Aaron Halegua, who is from New York and co-counsel of Bruce Berline for the seven workers, opposed the motion to stay.

After hearing the arguments, Manglona denied IPI’s motion to stay at this time.

In support of IPI’s motion to stay, Tydingco argued that, although no criminal action has been filed against IPI, it is public knowledge that the federal government has engaged in criminal prosecutions based on contractors and subcontractors working on IPI’s construction project using unlawful labor.

In opposing the motion to stay, Halegua argued that IPI has not provided any evidence of a criminal trafficking investigation.

Halegua said IPI provides only speculation, but no evidence, that it is being investigated for violations of the Trafficking Victims Prosecution Reauthorization Act.

Halegua said TVPRA “does provide for a stay of civil litigation during the pendency of a criminal action, including either an investigation or prosecution, arising out of the same occurrence in which the claimant is a victim.’

Halegua said even if an investigation had been commenced, issuing a stay requires the court to find that the subject matter arises “out of the same occurrence” as the civil case.

“This would require speculation upon speculation,” Halegua said.

Robert T. Torres, counsel for MCC, argued MCC’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and a motion for a more definite statement.
Tydingco argued IPI’s support of the motion to dismiss. Tiberius Mocanu, counsel for GMCD, joined with MCC’s arguments.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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