The House of Representatives’ Committee on Judiciary & Governmental Operations asked the CNMI Superior Court yesterday to dismiss the lawsuit filed against it by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres.
Brendan Layde and Joseph Taijeron Jr., counsels to the JGO committee, filed yesterday with the Superior Court the motion to dismiss the lawsuit, their main argument being that the JGO is protected under the CNMI’ Constitution’s speech or debate clause, which provides them immunity from such proceedings.
“The CNMI speech or debate clause is intended to protect legislators from harassment by the Executive Branch, including the burden of defending meritless lawsuits.
The speech or debate clause protects the JGO committee from harassment such as this lawsuit as it exercises legislative oversight. It has absolute immunity for acts, such as the subpoena for the governor to testify, that fall within the sphere of legitimate legislative activity. There is therefore no legal theory that could sustain recovery and no set of possible facts to be proven at trial on which the complaint states a claim for which relief could be granted. The suit must therefore be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6),” Layde and Taijeron state.
The two lawyers argued that under this clause, a legislative investigatory committee has absolute immunity from suits for acts within the sphere of legitimate legislative activity.
“Legislative immunity is an affirmative defense [that] provides absolute, comprehensive protection from suits challenging actions taken in the performance of official legislative functions. Where the complaint itself establishes legislative immunity, a[n] action should be dismissed under [NMI] R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” the motion said
With that, the lawyers explained that the subpoena at issue here is just a written statement made to advance a legitimate legislative activity.
“The subpoena was issued pursuant to a valid legislative purpose and therefore constitutes legitimate legislative activity for purposes of speech or debate clause immunity,” they argued.
They further explain that the valid legislative purpose of the subpoena against Torres was to aid the JGO in creating a legislation to reform a law that specifically names the governor as an official entitled to housing at taxpayer expense.
“The subpoena called for testimony regarding payment and use of utilities for the benefit of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Mrs. Diann Tudela Torres. Similarly, numerous receipts demonstrating unlawful first-class travel by Gov. Torres have informed the Legislature’s judgment in crafting a remedial bill. The subpoena was narrowly tailored to facilitate remedial legislation on this matter as well: first/premium class travel performed on behalf of Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands government. The governor’s testimony is precisely the information the Legislature needs in light of its particular legislative objective,” the lawyers explained.
In addition, the JGO committee moves to dismiss the lawsuit for failure to join a required party, the CNMI Attorney General.
The JGO argues that complete relief cannot be accorded between Torres and the JGO committee without joinder of the attorney general.