Pangelinan intentionally interfered into a probate of a $3.2M estate to get majority of the money
The Superior Court has found that John Sablan Pangelinan, who has already been declared a vexatious litigant by the federal court, has abused the legal process by interfering in the probate of the $3.2 million estate of his deceased cousin.
In an order Thursday, Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho ruled that Secundina Untalan Pangelinan (Secundina) and her daughter, Selina Marie Pangelinan (Selina), have proven by evidence that John Sablan Pangelinan (John) committed the tort of abuse of process in an estate.
Camacho said that Secundina and Selina have proven that John also committed the tort of intentional interference with another’s performance of their own contract by tortuously interfering in the contractual relations between plaintiffs and Peak Development (CNMI) LLC.
The judge will issue a separate order setting a deadline for Secundina and Selina to file their request for damages and/or other remedies against John.
Secundina and Selina are suing John for allegedly abusing the legal system to extort money from them by interfering in the probate of the estate of Secundina’s deceased husband, Norberto Pangelinan (Norberto), despite not being a creditor.
Secundina and Selina, through counsel Janet H. King, are suing John for abuse of process and interference with contract. Secundina asked the court to hold John liable to pay them damages, interest, and court costs.
In his order last Thursday, Camacho found that, based on the testimonies and exhibits, there was nothing in John’s relationship with plaintiffs that justified his interference. Camacho found that John’s interference in the confirmation deed of lands in Tanapag and the final contract was “improper.”
Because John “intentionally” and “improperly” interfered with the performance of the contracts between plaintiffs and Norberto’s estate in their dealings with Peak Development, John is subject to liability to plaintiffs for the loss that plaintiffs’ experienced as a result of his interference, the judge said, and that John’s interference caused plaintiffs’ performance of the contracts to be more expensive and burdensome.
Also, because of that interference, plaintiffs are unable to perform their part of the final contract while John’s meritless claim in the probate action remains unsolved with finality, Camacho said, adding that John’s act of interfering in the probate action did not advance any interest of social value.
In fact, the judge said, John knowingly filed a meritless claim and testified that he wants all the benefits to himself because he was the only one that filed a claim in the probate case, thus excluding all of Norberto’s many cousins and other blood relatives.
The bench trial in the plaintiffs’ lawsuit against John was held last Dec. 2 to 12. King appeared as counsel for the plaintiffs. John represented himself. Secondina and Selina, as well as John, testified at the trial.
Secundina is the administratrix of the estate of Norberto E. Pangelinan, who owned several properties, including lots in Tanapag. He was Secondina’s husband and Selina’s Pangelinan’s biological father.
According to Camacho’s findings, Norberto agreed in 2015 to lease the Tanapag properties to Peak Development (CNMI) LLC for 55 years for a sum of $3.2 million. On Aug. 14, 2015, three weeks after Norberto signed the lease, he died. One month after Norberto’s death, plaintiffs and Peak Development entered into a confirmation deed.
The deed stated that the Tanapag properties “shall be sold to [Peak Development] by [plaintiffs in fee simple] on the same terms and for the same conditions as Norbert agreed to sell the property to [Peak Development].” In October 2015, Secondina initiated the probate action to finalize the pending land transactions.
After the initiation of the probate action, John, one of Norberto’s many cousins, challenged Norberto’s title to the properties on the basis that Norberto was allegedly not a person of Northern Marianas descent.
John claimed that he and he alone should receive sole ownership of the Tanapag properties, despite the fact that Norberto has other cousins who would be entitled to a share of the properties if the title of Norberto’s properties were to hypothetically revert to Norberto’s ancestors.
Camacho said John is very familiar with court proceedings and is knowledgeable about how to clog up the court’s docket, and would dodge service in a blatant attempt to run out the clock or cause a deadline to expire. The judge said John also stalled the settlement talks by requesting almost the full amount of the confirmation deed between plaintiffs and Peak Development to satisfy his claim. Camacho said John made this request despite the fact that the confirmation deed was between plaintiffs and Peak Development.
On Dec. 19, 2016, the Superior Court issued an order determining heirs and approving the lease and sale of real property. The court approved the lease and sale of the Tanapag properties between Norberto estate and Peak Development for $3.2 million. The court also issued its decree of final distribution in which the court noted that plaintiffs are the only heirs to the Norberto estate.
Camacho said John filed a total of almost 500 pages of frivolous motions, declarations, objections, petitions, and claims throughout the probate action. In January 2017, John appealed several Superior Court’s rulings in the probate action. Per his modus operandi to cause a delay, John also filed hundreds of pages of motions, declarations, objections, petitions, and counterclaims in this case, Camacho said. His appeal is currently pending. Because of the appeal, Camacho said, the final contract between plaintiffs and Peak Development has not been performed.
In March 2017, plaintiffs sued John.
In his order Thursday, Camacho said he finds the testimony of the 80-year-old Secundina and Selina during the December 2019 trial to be credible. Camacho on the other hand, finds John’s testimony not credible.
Secundina testified that the money from the Tanapag properties would greatly benefit her daughter Selina and granddaughter, who is currently residing in California.
She testified that John’s interference in the probate prevented an expeditious conclusion of the contract with Peak Development and that the interference cause her emotional distress.
Camacho observed that Secundina was visibly distressed at the trial.
Selina testified that the stress caused her mother to lose weight and experience sleep deprivation.
Selina openly cried in court when describing the hardship that she and her mother have gone through due to John’s actions.
Camacho said an uncontested probate action can generally be initiated and concluded in about 80 days. He noted that the probate action in the Norberto estate commenced in 2015 and, because of Pangelinan’s interference, took over two years to reach final distribution.
As of the time of this order, Camacho said, because of John’s appeal pending before the CNMI Supreme Court, plaintiffs have not been able to fully conclude Norberto’s estate and distribute the money.
With respect to John’s testimony, Camacho said his answers to the questions asked of him were evasive, circular in reasoning, and a rehash of the probate action claims that Norberto and Selina are not people of NMI descent, which the court denied in a previous order.
John testified that all of the Tanapag properties should revert to him and him alone, and not to any of his other blood relatives, because he was the only one who initiated the challenge in this probate action. John testified that he was willing to keep the majority of the $3.2 million in escrow and to give Secundina and Selina small amount, perhaps $100,000, if Secundina and Selina agree to settle the matter. John testified that Secundina and Selina should accept his offer before Peak Development tires of waiting and reneges on the whole land lease agreement.
Camacho said John filed his claim in the probate action to challenge Norberto’s title to the Tanapag properties. At first glance, Camacho said, this seems to be a legitimate use of the legal process because a person in the Commonwealth has the right to use the legal process to prove their ownership of a particular piece of land. However, the judge pointed out that after examining the exhibits and taking into account the testimonies at trial, he finds that John interfered in the probate action primarily to harass plaintiffs and cause them to spend excessive legal fees.
Camacho said he finds that, though John may have been acting with the intention to obtain the Tanapag properties when he first wrote a letter to Secundina, his intentions changed after plaintiffs denied the demands in the letter. Camacho said John became spiteful and used the judicial proceeding as a means to get back at plaintiffs.
Camacho said John also showed his primary desire to cause plaintiffs to spend legal fees by filing almost 500 pages of frivolous filings, all of which the court denied. The judge said the filings often contained rehashed arguments of claims that the court had already denied in a previous motion.
In June 2008, U.S. District Court for the NMI designated judge Frances M. Tydingco-Gatewood declared John a vexatious litigant and prohibited him from filing any lawsuit or documents in federal court that is related to a 1997 civil lawsuit filed against him.