IN THE LAWSUIT FILED BY SEVEN WORKERS

Plaintiffs want IPI CEO jailed

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In the lawsuit filed by seven construction workers, the plaintiffs, through Aaron Halegua, have asked the court to order Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC to explain why its chief executive officer, Donald Browne, should not be jailed for failing to satisfy the judgment against the company.

According to Halegua, the U.S. District Court for the NMI should treat IPI’s failure to comply with court orders as contempt of court and, given that previous penalties against IPI have been ineffective, should impose stronger sanctions against IPI, like putting its CEO in jail.

Halegua argued that Browne, specifically, should be held in contempt because he knew about the order[s], he controls IPI, and he failed to ensure IPI’s compliance.

“In the present case, there is no dispute that Browne was aware of the fee award because he submitted the sole declaration in support of IPI’s motion for an extension of time to pay the sanction [on Sept. 18]. Browne also exercises control over IPI and has the authority to direct that IPI pay. Or to direct the sale of certain assets to make [the] payment,” he said.

Halegua referenced Browne’s testimony before the Gaming Committee of the House of Representatives where he stated that he “oversees the entire operation,” “assists in capital funding,” and that he’s “very familiar with the financial position of IPI and the availability of funds.”

“Because Browne knew about the order[s] and deadline for payment, [and as] he has been the top executive of IPI since July 2020, and he did not act to ensure the compliance with the order[s], the court should hold him in contempt,” he said.

Helegua said given the ineffectiveness of the sanctions imposed on IPI to date, it is necessary to impose sanctions on individuals who “failed to take appropriate action within their power.”

“The court should hold IPI in contempt and impose sanctions because it disobeyed a specific and definite court order by failure to take all reasonable steps within the party’s power to comply,” Halegua said.

Aside from noncompliance, IPI and its executives have also grown “comfortable” in ignoring the court’s orders, Halegua said.

On top of the incarceration of its CEO, other sanctions that Halegua suggested is for IPI to be held in contempt of court, plus additional contempt sanctions be imposed if IPI fails to comply, again, if the court issues an order to show cause.

In all, Halegua asked the court to issue an order to show cause—ask IPI for an explanation—stating why an order should not be entered that holds IPI and its CEO in contempt for failing to comply with the order[s]; direct marshals to hold Browne in custody; require that IPI provide plaintiffs with information related to its assets and efforts to liquidate them, command IPI to file with the court a detailed plan for liquidating its gaming equipment, vehicles, or other sufficient assets to pay the fee award; notify IPI personnel that future noncompliance will result in holding the responsible individuals in contempt and the imposition of sanctions, including fines and incarceration; and award the plaintiffs attorney’s fees.

Back in December 2019, the court granted the plaintiffs’ first motion to compel and ordered IPI to pay attorney’s fees and costs that totaled $29,459.

Because IPI did not comply, the court granted a motion for sanctions against IPI on April 16, held IPI in contempt, made a second award of attorneys’ fees, and ordered that continued noncompliance would result in a $2,000 daily fine.

IPI did not comply with that order so the sanctions were imposed and later entered a default judgment against IPI. The court also made a third award of attorneys’ fees. To date, the daily $2,000 sanction continues to accrue.

As of Aug. 25, IPI was ordered to pay $93,834.25 in attorneys’ fees by Sept. 24.

On Sept. 18, IPI filed an extension to pay, which the court granted. The court then ordered IPI to pay off the full amount by Oct. 24, or interim payments as soon as funding was available. If funding was not available, the court ordered IPI to liquidate assets to satisfy the judgement.

Halegua said IPI did not make any payments toward the judgment and did not file any notice or explanation with the court.

On Oct. 27, the plaintiffs filed a notice of noncompliance and to date, Helgua said IPI has yet to file any response or explanation.

Kimberly Bautista | Reporter
Kimberly Albiso Bautista has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at kimberly_bautista@saipantribune.com.
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