Saipan Air opposes separate trial for liability, damages

Saipan Air Inc. is opposed to Swift Air executives Jeffry Conry’s and Boris Van Lier’s motion that asks the federal court to separately try the issues of liability and damages in Saipan Air’s lawsuit against them.

In Saipan Air’s opposition filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the NMI, attorney Steven P. Pixley asserted that neither judicial economy nor the balance of prejudice supports the exceptional course of separating the trial of the two issues.

Pixley said bifurcation would deprive Saipan Air of the ability to present its claims, which derive from a common set of facts, in an organized, coherent fashion.

The lawyer said that, as detailed in its first amended complaint, Saipan Air’s fraud claims against Conry and Van Lier are grounded upon a common set of facts.

“Compelling Saipan Air to present its claims in a piecemeal fashion would waste the time and resources of the parties and the court, and result in a redundant presentation of identical or similar evidence thereby causing Saipan Air considerable prejudice,” he said.

Conry and Van Lier, through counsel Michael White, asked the court to bifurcate or separate the liability and damages phases of the trial scheduled for Feb. 2, 2015.

White argued, among other things, that the issue of liability for the alleged fraud is separate and distinct from the amount of damages Saipan Air claims it is entitled to.

Saipan Air is seeking $2,541,370.78 in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages.

In Saipan Air’s opposition to the motion, Pixley said this case is not complex and bifurcation is not required.

Pixley said allowing the introduction of all evidence to the jury in one proceeding is the most efficient way to proceed.

“Bifurcation will not contribute to judicial economy because it will result in two separate trials,” he pointed out.

Pixley said allowing liability and damage claims to proceed together ensures that the parties can engage in an efficient and streamlined trial.

Pixley said punitive damages are available in fraud claims to punish defendants who engage in fraudulent conduct proven at trial.

Last month, U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona ruled that Saipan Air’s fraud claim against Conry and Van Lier shall proceed, but not against Swift Air’s Donald A. Stukes.

Manglona also granted summary judgment in favor of Conry, Van Lier, and Stukes in Saipan Air’s claims for violations of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act and for unjust enrichment. This means that Saipan Air’s RICO and unjust enrichment claims in the lawsuit are dismissed.

The trial will be against the remaining defendants, Conry and Van Lier, relating to the fraud claims.

Conry and Van Lier are currently employed by Arizona-based Swift Air, which emerged from bankruptcy in 2013.

Saipan Air filed the racketeering lawsuit against Conry, Van Lier, and Stukes in July 2012.

Swift Air filed for bankruptcy protection in Arizona shortly after notifying Saipan Air that it would not deliver two 757 aircraft and one 737 aircraft for Saipan Air’s program. Saipan Air was unable to sue Swift Air directly because of the bankruptcy filing.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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