On Sept. 16, 2015, Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman granted the Tinian Mayor’s Office’s motion to dismiss the Tinian Casino Gaming and Control Commission’s lawsuit against Tinian Mayor Joey P. San Nicolas and Tinian municipal treasurer Charlene M. Lizama, in their individual capacities, finding that the mayor and the municipal treasurer are entitled to the qualified immunity defense.
TCGCC sued the Mayor’s Office for refusing to pay executive director Lucy Blanco-Maritita and employees of the TCGCC beyond what was budgeted for under the Tinian & Aguiguan Municipal Legislative Delegation Budget Act for fiscal year 2015. Blanco-Maratita and TCGCC employees were paid only the salary amount as allocated under the Tinian Budget Act.
The judge stated that “for the limited purpose of ruling on this 12(b)(6) motion and in consideration of its procedural posture, the court finds that the salary increases in question were a constitutionally-protected property interest at this time.” However, the judge dismissed TCGCC’s complaint, agreeing with the mayor’s argument that the constitutionally protected rights were not “clearly established.” The Mayor’s Office argued that the Casino Act and Tinian Local Ordinance 18-3 are “two irreconcilable sets of laws” as one allows the commission to set its own salaries and the other prevents the commission from increasing the salaries beyond what is budgeted.
San Nicolas is pleased with the dismissal and notes that contrary to TCGCC’s statement that this is a “clear victory for the commission,” the only matter that was resolved by the order was the issue of whether he can be held personally liable for following the law.
“This dismissal only answers whether I can be held personally liable for halting payments of salary beyond what is provided for under the Budget Act. It doesn’t resolve the question of whether the Gaming Act or the Budget Act is controlling, with respect to the ability of the commission, without going through the budgeting process, to give raises to employees.”
The mayor further points out that the court’s finding of a constitutional violation was only for the limited purposes of ruling on the motion to dismiss. “In dismissing the commission’s claim, the court stated that the commission’s right to receive a higher salary was not a ‘clearly established’ right. How the commission can claim a clear victory is premature and misleading at this point.” (Tinian Mayor’s Office)