Citing lack of authority and other reasons, two plane crash survivors are opposing CNMI Department of Labor Secretary Edith DeLeon Guerrero’s request to intervene in their lawsuit in federal court.
Plaintiffs Tomoyuki Nagata and Dr. Jun Takimoto, through counsel Richard W. Pierce, asserted that their lawsuit is not a bankruptcy case.
Pierce said if DeLeon Guerrero has the legal authority, she should pursue the collection action within the CNMI Department of Labor’s administrative scheme, a path it originally chose to follow.
In her motion to intervene, DeLeon Guerrero is worried that the federal court’s recent order to the owner of Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino to refrain from selling or transferring any of its property or assets, except in the normal course of business, could impede Labor’s ability to collect the remaining $416,241.37 in judgment for liquidated damages against Tinian Dynasty for non-payment of wages to its employees.
DeLeon Guerrero has requested the court to allow Labor to intervene in the lawsuit for the limited purpose of ensuring that it can enforce Labor’s interest, and that of the unpaid Tinian Dynasty employees.
Assistant attorney general Michael Witry said Labor should be allowed to intervene for the limited purpose of modifying the court’s order to allow Hong Kong Entertainment (Overseas) Investment Ltd., owner of Tinian Dynasty, to pay liquidated damages to its employees.
Witry said Labor’s judgment required HKE to make payments to Tinian Dynasty’s employees $1,321,637.09 in back wages and $416,241.37 in liquidated damages, or for a total of $1,737,878.46.
Witry said HKE made timely payment of the first $619,734.18 in back wages, which was due on Feb. 23, 2016.
Witry said HKE paid the remaining $701,902.91 in back wages on March 15, 2016, but did not pay the liquidated damages.
Witry said the court’s order, which prevents HKE from making payments other than those in the ordinary course of business, stands in the way of Labor’s duty to ensure that the workers are paid for their work.
In plaintiffs’ opposition, Pierce said CNMI law does not provide Labor with the authority to file in a federal court a collection claim arising from an agreement between a private party and the Labor secretary, or for that matter arising from an order of an administrative law judge in a CNMI proceeding.
Pierce said the Labor secretary would turn this civil action for personal injury into a bankruptcy proceeding.
Pierce said there is no question that HKE has substantial creditors and assets less than its liabilities.
Presumably, he said, the Labor secretary will request this court to allow her to jump in line for collection ahead of plaintiffs Nagata and Takimoto.
“If not, the secretary is wasting our time,” Pierce said.
In her declaration in support of Labor’s motion to intervene, DeLeon Guerrero said Labor’s judgment on Feb. 23, 2016, arose because HKE failed to pay its employees for several months, but forced them to continue working.
Takimoto and Mr. Nagata moved the court to enforce terms of their settlement agreement and the court’s order.
The survivors claimed that HKE owes them at least $1.3 million for breaching their settlement agreements.
Takimoto and Nagata moved the court to issue an order prohibiting HKE from the sale or transfer of its personal property, except in the normal course of business, such as in sale of food items to customers.
U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona granted the survivors’ request last March 10. Takimoto and Nagata were among the seven passengers of a Piper Cherokee aircraft that crashed on a farm in Upper Dandan en route to Tinian on Aug. 11, 2006. HKE settled the lawsuits filed by the survivors, including one filed by Takimoto and his family and Nagata.