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Judge mulls not hearing IPI suit

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U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona is considering whether it would be appropriate for the federal court to opt not to hear the lawsuit filed by the Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC against the Commonwealth Casino Commission.

Manglona noted Friday that, in her review of the materials from the Superior Court, where the case originated, she is considering whether abstention from the state-law questions in this case may be appropriate under the Pullman Doctrine.

That means a federal court may abstain or choose not to hear a case until the state law question can be resolved in state court.

Alternatively, Manglona said, the federal court may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction because the claim in IPI’s lawsuit raises a novel or complex issue of Commonwealth law and the Commonwealth law claim predominates over the claim over which the District Court has original jurisdiction.

Manglona said the parties may file supplemental briefs by yesterday, Monday, if they wish to be heard on these issues.

IPI and its subsidiaries—Grand Marianas (CNMI) LLC and Imperial Pacific Properties LLC—would rather just return the case to the Superior Court—a move opposed by CCC and CCC executive director Edward C. Deleon Guerrero.

IPI applied for a temporary restraining order against CCC last month with the Superior Court to prevent the CCC from publicly disclosing IPI’s audited financial information in response to an Open Government Act request of Rep. Edwin Propst’s (Ind-Saipan). Superior Court Associate Judge Kenneth L. Govendo granted IPI’s TRO request.

Last week, CCC moved to transfer IPI’s complaint to the district court, which then extended the TRO until this Friday.

In IPI’s reply to Manglona’s invitation to file a brief, IPI’s counsel Viola Alepuyo and Phillip J. Tydingco asserted that the District Court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction in this case under the Pullman Doctrine.

Alternatively, Alepuyo and Tydingco said the District Court, at a minimum, should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over IPI’s claims and remand IPI’s claims back to the Superior Court.

Alepuyo and Tydingco said that abstaining and remanding the matter back to the Superior Court for resolution can void or otherwise obviate the need to address a federal due process violation.

CCC and CCC executive director Deleon Guerrero, through respective counsel assistant attorneys general Benjamin Peterburg and Michael I. Ernest, argued that the District Court has jurisdiction over the federal questions presented in this case and supplemental jurisdiction over any other state law claims.

Intervenors Grand Marianas (CNMI) LLC and Imperial Pacific Properties LLC, through counsel Matthew T. Gregory and Braddock J. Huesman, asked the district court to invoke the Pullman Doctrine and remand all claims back to the CNMI Superior Court.

Gregory and Huesman said this is a procedurally odd case that requires the interpretation of CNMI law before getting to issues of federal civil rights violations.

Generally, the lawyers said, this case involves determining the meaning of the law regulating casino oversight and establishing the CCC and that law’s interplay with the CNMI’s Open Government Act.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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