Recent Supreme Court Decisions

2015

  1. Niedenthal v. Chief Electoral Officer, SCT Civil 15-01 (01/08/15): In its Order Denying “Motion for Stay” pending appeal, the Supreme denied the motion by Appellant Chief Electoral Officer (“CEO”) to stay the High Court’s decision that Appellee Niedenthal was qualified to run for a seat in the Nitijela. The Court’s decision was based on several findings. First, the Court determined that the Appellant CEO had not shown that the Government would suffer irreparable harm if the motion for a stay were denied. Second, the Court emphasized that if the stay were denied and Niedenthal was elected, and later the Court found that he was not qualified to run, the Court could still vacate his election, providing a remedy. Third, in contrast, if the Court granted the stay and later determined that Niedenthal was indeed qualified to run, he and those who would vote for him would suffer irreparable harm because there would be no mechanism for a re-do election. Fourth, the Court also weighed the harm to the Government against the harm to Appellee Niedenthal and found that any potential harm to the Government did not outweigh the harm to Niedenthal. Fifth, the Court determined that the public interest did not favor either party in this matter. Finally, the Court found that the Appellant CEO had not demonstrated a substantial likelihood or probability of success on the issues raised in its underlying appeal.
  2. Jorlang, CEO, v. Simeon, et al., SCT Civil 11-01 (10/12/15): In its Opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”) does not apply to the Chief Electoral Officer’s new definition of the “date of election”; therefore, the the High Court’s decision is AFFIRMED.  Prior to the 2007 general election, the CEO had accepted postal ballots postmarked in the United States on the “date of the election” — a day after the election in the Marshall Islands, given that the United States is on the other side of the dateline. For the 2007 general election, the CEO rejected postal ballots postmarked in the United States on the “date of the election,” having re-defined “date of the election” for postal ballots as the day of election in the Marshall Islands. Appellants did not argue that the CEO’s interpretation was not reasonable, but instead they argued that in adopting the new interpretation, the CEO violated the APA’s requirements (notice-and-comment period, Cabinet approval, and publication of effective rules, all of which the CEO did not do), so their ballots should be counted. The Supreme Court, citing Bien v. MI Chief Electoral Officer, 1 MILR 94 (S. Ct. Civil 90-01), held that where the Elections and Referenda Act sets forth a specific and distinct procedure that the CEO must follow for the decision at issue, the CEO must follow the Elections and Referenda Act, not the APA. As appellants did not argue whether the CEO complied the requirements of the Election and Referenda Act, the Supreme Court rejected the appellants’ limited argument made on appeal that the CEO did not comply of the APA.
  3. In Re: the Citizenship of Sampang, SCT Civil 14-02 (10/27/15): In its Opinion the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s judgment that Sampang is qualified to register as a citizen of the Marshall Islands for the following reasons: (a) Sampang met the three year residency required by the Constitution; (b) there is no ten-year requirement for citizenship by registration, as argued by the Republic; and (c) Republic waived its argument that the “R-1” visa is required to commence the three-year residency period by not raising the issue at trial.
  4. Zedkaia and Toring v. Marshalls Energy Co., Inc., et al., SCT Civil 12-01 (11/18/15): In its Opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s summary judgment that the Government, not the traditional owners of Lotola Weto, Utuwe Weto, and Lobotin Weto, Delap Island, Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands, owned the land reclaimed by the Government, upon which the Government erected structures include a fuel farm. The High Court held that (a) to the extent the disputed land was created by the Government on submerged areas below the high water mark, the Government owns that land, and (b) to the extent the disputed land was not below the high water mark when the Government entered the land, Plaintiffs’ claims are time-barred by the statute of limitations.

2017

  1. Chubb Ins. v. Eleni, et al. (1), SCT Civil 16-02 (06/06/17):  The Republic is, and at all relevant times was, a signatory to both the Convention on the Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims, 1976 (“1976 Convention”), and the 1996 Protocol of the Convention on the Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims, 1976 (“1976 Protocol”).  The 1996 Protocol incorporates higher liability limitations than the 1976 Convention.  At the time this suit was commenced, Hong Kong had only acceded to the 1976 Convention, with its lower liability limitations.  Given Hong Kong’s lower liability limitations, the defendants filed a limitation suit and established a limitation fund in Hong Kong under the 1976 Convention. The defendants argued that under Article 9(4) of the 1996 Protocol, the Republic must defer to the Hong Kong limitation suit and fund. However, while legislating some of the provisions of the 1996 Protocol into the domestic law, the Nitijela did not enact Article 9(4). Consequently, the Supreme Court ruled that Article 9(4) did not have legal effect within the Republic, which operates as a “dualist jurisdiction.” Therefore, the High Court was not obliged to defer to the Hong Kong limitation suit and the limitation fund established under the 1976 Convention. Furthermore, the Supreme Court affirmed that the Defendants had the option to avail themselves of the procedures outlined in the Marshall Islands Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims Act, found in the Marshall Islands Revised Code Title 47, Sections 501 and onward, which incorporates the provisions of the 1996 Protocol. This allowed the Defendants to limit their liability in the High Court proceedings within the Republic.
  2. Hitto and Emil v. Toka and Caleb, SCT Civil 15-03, and Hitto and Emil v Bejang, et al., SCT Civil 15-04 (07/28/17): The Supreme Court has upheld the rulings made by the High Court in three specific cases. First, concerning Aibwij Weto, it was determined that Bernie Hitto holds the alap interest, and Hand Emil holds the senior dri jerbal interest. Second, in the case of Monke Weto, Alden Bejang holds the alab interest, while Aun James holds the senior dri jerbal interest. Third, regarding Lojonen Weto, Amon Jebrejrej holds the alab interest, and Calorina Kinere holds the senior dri jerbal interest. In affirming these decisions made by the High Court, the Supreme Court clarified that the High Court was not bound by the “law of the case doctrine,” meaning it was not obligated to follow prior High Court decisions related to Traditional Rights Court opinions and answers. Instead, the High Court’s findings were considered reasonable and supported by credible evidence, and they were not found to be clearly erroneous.
  3. Samuel v. Almen, SCT Civil 17-02 (09/20/17): In its Order Denying Writ of Mandamus, the Supreme Court determined that the mere act of a judicial officer administering an oath to the declared winner of an election under protest, without additional circumstances, does not create any inference of bias or conflict of interest. The underlying purpose of disqualifying judges who have previously “played a role in the case,” as outlined in Article VI, Section 1(6) of the Constitution and the Judiciary Act 1983 (as amended) within 27 MIRC, Chapter 2, Section 267, is to prevent situations where conflicts of interest or bias could potentially impact impartial decision-making. In this case, the petitioner failed to present clear and compelling evidence of actual bias or conflict of interest on the part of the trial judge that would warrant the issuance of a writ of mandamus.
  4. Sammons v. Economou and Dryships, Inc., SCT Civil 17-04 (11/15/17):  The Supreme Court denied the petitioner’s application for writ of mandamus to allow telephonic appearance. The Court determined that the trial judge did not have a “non-discretionary” duty under either the Constitution (Cont. Art. II, Sec. 4(1) and Sec. 14(1)) or under the MIRCP, Rule 1, to allow telephonic appearance and therefore to support a writ of mandamus.

2018

  1. Asignacion v. Rickmers Genoa Schiffahrgesellschaft MbH & Cie Kg, SCT Civil 16-03 (06/20/18): On October 27, 2010, Plaintiff-Appellant Asignacion sustained serious injuries while working aboard the M/V Rickmers Dalian.  Five years after the injury, and a lawsuit in Louisiana and arbitration in the Philippines, Asignacion filed suit against the defendants in the High Court.  The High Court dismissed the suit, siting, among other reasons, that the Asignacion’s claims were barred by the Republic’s two-year statute of limitation under 47 MIRC § 862 (2)(c).  On appeal, Asignacion’s sole argument was that the statute is equitably tolled based on his prosecution of the suit in Louisiana.  He argued that equitable tolling applies when the plaintiff is prevented from asserting a claim by wrongful conduct on the part of the defendant, or when extraordinary circumstances beyond the plaintiff’s control made it impossible to file a claim on time.  The Supreme Court denied the appeal determining that Asignacion had not satisfied either prong of the two-part test.  There was not wrongful conduct by the defendants, nor were there any extraordinary circumstances beyond his control that made it impossible to file on time.
  2. Chubb, et al., v. Eleni Maritime Ltd and Empire Bulkers Ltd. (2),SCT Civil 18-05 (07/18/18): In its Order Denying Request to Vacate and/or Modify “Order Dismissing Interlocutory Appeal,” the Supreme Court, through a single judge procedural order, made the follow determinations. First, the High Court’s partial summary judgment order is not a “final decision” from which an appeal lies as of right, it is an interlocutory order. Marshall Islands precedent has held the Supreme Court is without power to entertain an interlocutory appeal absent certification by the High Court pursuant to MIRCP Rule 54(b).  In this case, certification was not sought or obtained. Second, in accordance with established case law, an interlocutory order or judgment may be appealable if it places the defendant “effectively out of court.” However, such is not the case here.  Third, unlike in the United States, the RMI has not adopted any statute recognizing this traditional admiralty practice of separate trial and appeal on the issue of liability, with subsequent trial of the damage issue before a commissioner. Fourth, in the instant case, a substantive maritime right of defendants/appellants is not being modified or displaced by following long established RMI procedures which allow appeal only from final judgments or which allow interlocutory appeal only upon certification of the trial court. For these reasons, the Supreme Court, through a single-judge procedural order, dismissed the interlocutory appeal without prejudice to appeal upon entry of a final judgment.
  3. MYJAC Fdtn, Panama v. Arce and Alfaro, SCT Civil 17-06 (07/30/18): In its Opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s order denying two Costa Rican defendants’ motion to set aside a default judgment. The Supreme Court’s ruling was based on the following. First, the Supreme Court held that the complaint’s explicit allegations of fraud against a Polish lawyer were sufficient to support a reasonable inference that the two Costa Rican defendants had also engaged in fraudulent or deceitful behavior. This conduct was found to have an impact on two RMI corporations, thus bringing them within the reach of the RMI’s long-arm jurisdiction statute, 27 MIRC 251(1)(n). Second, the Supreme Court determined that the Costa Rican defendants failed to show that they did not understand the language of the summons and complaint, both of which were written in English. Third, The Supreme Court found that neither the method of service nor the use of the English language in the summons and complaint violated Costa Rican laws.
  4. Mongaya v. AET MCV BETA LLC, et al. (1), SCT Civil 17-03 (8/10/18): In its Opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s Order Granting Defendants’ Motions to Stay Action Pending Arbitration. This case involves a Filipino sailor who, before commencing employment on a vessel registered in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (“RMI”), entered into a Philippine Overseas Employment Administration Contract (POEA). This contract stipulated that, in the event of injury, the sailor must engage in arbitration in the Philippines. Notably, the vessel owner and vessel operator were not signatories on the POEA contract. Following the sailor’s injury, the defendants sought to enforce the arbitration provisions outlined in the POEA contract. At the time of the High Court decision, the RMI had acceded to but had not yet enacted the Convention of the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. The Supreme Court held that non-signatories can indeed enforce a contractual arbitration provision under the doctrine of equitable estoppel. This is contingent upon three factors: (1) a close relationship between the parties involved; (2) a connection between the alleged wrong and the non-signatories’ obligations and duties; and (3) claims are intertwined with the underlying contractual obligations. Additionally, the Supreme Court also upheld that the choice of law provision in the POEA contract.
  5. Chubb, et al., v. Eleni Maritime Ltd and Empire Bulkers Ltd. (3), SCT Civil 18-05 (09/05/18):   In an unanimous en banc decision, the Supreme Court denied the motion by defendants-appellants to vacate a procedural order by a single supreme Court justice. The procedural order had dismissed an interlocutory appeal from the High Court due to the absence of certification as required by MIRCP Rule 54(b). Furthermore, the Supreme Court clarified that while the common admiralty practice permits appeals of liability determinations before assessing damages (as codified under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(3)in the United States), it considers this practice as procedural rather than substantive. As such, Supreme Court asserted that it is not obligated to allow the present interlocutory appeal under the general maritime law.
  6. Samsung v. Focus and Karamehmet, SCT Civil 18-02 (09/06/18): In an Amended Opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s order dismissing Samsung’s action for enforcement of a foreign judgment. The High Court rejected the enforcement request for two reasons: (i) it lacked personal jurisdiction over the debtor, Karamehmet, and (ii) Karamehmet’s property, namely shares of stock in Focus, was not located in the Republic. Mere ownership of shares in a Marshall Islands corporation does not constitute ownership of property in the Marshall Islands. In this context, the Supreme Court determined that the High Court did not err by incorporating Section 8-112 of the Uniform Commercial Code into the common law of the Republic. Section 8-112, in relevant part, provides that the “interest of a debtor in a certificated security may be reached by a creditor only by actual seizure of the security certificate by the officer making the attachment or levy.” This underscores that the situs of certificated shares or stock is where the certificated shares are located.

2019

  1. Hitto v. Bejang, SCT Civil 17-05 (09/05/19): In its Opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s decision denying the Appellants’ request for an award of post-judgment interest on their portion of money distributed from a trust account. Section 102 of the Enforcement of Judgments Act, 30 MIRC Ch. 1, provides “[a] judgment for the payment of money shall be a lien upon the personal property of the judgment debtor and shall bear interest at the rate of nine percent (9%) a year from the date it is filed.” In this case, the money in question was held by a third party to be paid to the appropriate landowners. The Appellants were determined to be the appropriate landowners and, as such, received moneys held in trust. However, the Appellees were not required to pay any money to the Appellants. Therefore, the Appellees could not be classified as“judgment debtors,” nor could the money disbursed to the Appellants be considered a “money judgment” for purposes of Section 102. For these reasons, the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s decision.
  2. Highland Floating Rate Opportunities Fund, et al. v. Dryships Inc., et al., SCT Civil 18-10 (09/09/19):  In its Opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s decision dismissing the plaintiffs’ complaint for lack of standing to sue.  The High Court, in turn, granted comity to and recognized a Cayman Islands insolvency order restructuring of Ocean Rig UDW, Inc., a subsidiary of defendant Dryships.  As part of the restructuring, the plaintiffs’ claims against UDW were extinguished, leading to their cessation as UDW creditors.  In their capacity as UDW creditors, the plaintiffs could have pursued legal action against Dryships and others for fraudulent conveyances from UDW.  However, following the extinguishing of their creditor status, the plaintiffs lost their lost their ability to assert fraudulent conveyance claims against Dryships and others.  Consequently, they no longer had standing to sue Dryships and its co-defendants.  Furthermore, the High Court rejected the plaintiffs’ assertion that Section 128(5) of the the Business Corporations Act preserved their creditor rights as UDW creditors indefinitely after UDW re-domiciled from the Marshall Islands to the Caymen Islands.  The High Court ruled that although the mere re-domiciling did not extinguish the plaintiffs’ creditor rights in UDW, corporate actions taken by UDW 18 months later under the Cayman Islands insolvency laws could, and did, extinguish their creditor rights as part of a restructuring.  The Supreme Court did not address the other grounds upon which the High Court dismissed the case, as it affirmed the High Court dismissal of the case for lack of standing.
  3. Ishiguro v. Imam Joyia & Ahamadiyya Muslim Jama’at (2), SCT Civil 17-01 (09/10/19): In its Opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s decision, which granted summary judgment in favor of Imam Joyia and the Ahamadiyya Muslim Jama’at.  The primary issue on appeal was whether the Marshallese custom of Drien Bujirok required the consent of Ishiguro, as the Senior Dri Jerbal, for a ground lease modification reducing the annual lease payment of $1,000.00 to the significantly lower amount of $1.00.  The original ground lease and it subsequent amendment were signed by Ishiguro’s predecessor, Nena, who held the titles of both Alap and Senior Dri Jerbal.  Nena held the  Senior Dri Jerbal rights by virtue of a 1989 agreement between Nena and Ishiguro.  The High Court determined that Ishiguro failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as his being the Senior Dri Jerbal at the time the lease and amendment were executed, as well as whether the custom of Drien Bujirok was applicable to the case.  Specifically, he did not provide sufficient evidence to establish a genuine issue of material fact concerning the application of the Drien Bujirok custom to the facts of this case.  Given these factual disputes surrounding custom, the High Court did not err in (i) upholding the parties’ obligation under the “clear and unambiguous” language of the 1989 “Agreement” and subsequent 2013 “ground lease modification,” (ii) declining to refer this case to the Traditional Rights Court, or (iii) dismissing Ishiguro’s claims.
  4. Samuel v. Chief Electoral Officer, et al., SCT Civil 18-01 (09/26/19):  In its Opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s decision in HCT CA 2016-121 on other grounds. Appellant Samuel was a candidate in the November 2015 election for mayor of the Majuro Atoll Local Government (“MALGOV”). However, he received fewer votes than one of his opponents, appellee Laddie Jack. Samuel petitioned appellee Chief Electoral Officer (“CEO”) for a recount. Without ruling the recount petition, the CEO certified that Jack had won the race. According to the MALGOV Constitution, Section 8(1), the term of office of mayor commences on the day after the day on which his election or appointment is certified. After the certification, Jack assumed office as the mayor of MALGOV. Samuel sued the CEO for certifying the results before his recount petition was resolved. Samuel argued that he should be considered the holdover mayor of Majuro until his recount petition was resolved, and that allowing Jack to serve as mayor on a “premature certification” would be an absurd result.  He asked the Court to interpret Section 8(1) to avoid such a result. Although the High Court Associate Justice found that the CEO’s certification was premature, he ruled that under a superior rule of statutory construction, known as the “preeminent” rule, the court should not interpret the law when it is unambiguous.  Since Section 8(1) was clear and unambiguous, he refused to interpret or rewrite it as Samuel had requested. Therefore, he denied Samuel’s motion for a summary judgment and granted the CEO’s motion to dismiss, holding that Jack became the mayor of Majuro the day after the certification. The Supreme Court rejected the High Court Associate Justice’s decision in HCT CA 2016-121. The Supreme Court determined that the CEO’s certification of the election prior to resolving the recount petition was invalid. However, this finding did not conclude the matter. In February 2017, on remand from the Chief Justice of the High Court, the CEO rejected Samuel’s petition for a recount in writing. In a subsequent High Court case, HCT CA 2017-037, Samuel challenged the CEO’s rejection. In that case, the Chief Justice found that the CEO had not made an error in rejecting Samuel’s petition for recount. After this ruling, the CEO did not re-certify Jack’s election. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court concluded that since Jack was unquestionably elected mayor, there was no basis whatsoever for removing Jack from office and reinstating Samuel. As such, Samuel had no possible relief available.  Based on these ground, the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s decision in HCT CA 2016-121 on other grounds.
  5. Bien and MJCC v. Milli Atoll Local Government, et al., SCT Civil 18-06 (10/09/19):  In its Opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s decision. Defendants-Appellants Kejjo Bien (“Bien”) and Marshalls Japan Construction Co. (“MJCC”) (collectively, Defendants”) appealed the High Court’s denial of Defendants’ Republic of the Marshall Islands Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) Motion for Relief from Judgment and an associated order denying a motion to strike the opposition to that Rule 60(b) Motion. However, the Rule 60(b) Motion was filed over a year after the underlying judgment awarding $40,000 to Plaintiffs and almost a year after an order amending that judgment to add an award of $120,000 in statutory punitive damages. Defendants did not appeal either the underlying judgment or the order awarding punitive damages. All the issues Defendants raised in the Rule 60(b) Motion could have been raised on a direct appeal. Given this posture, the High Court properly denied the Rule 60(b) Motion under well-accepted waiver principles: (i) an appeal from denial of Rule 60(b) relief does not bring up the underlying judgment for review; (ii) in no circumstances may a party use a Rule 60(b) motion as a substitute for an appeal that it failed to timely file; (iii) failing to present an argument in opposition to summary judgment below, fails to preserve the argument for appeal; (iv) arguments raised for the first time on appeal are deemed waived; (v) if a party fails to raise an objection to an issue before judgment, he or she waives the right to challenge the issue on appeal (citations omitted). Furthermore, the High Court did not abuse its discretion in denying the Rule 60(b) motion on the merits as to jurisdiction or in refusing to strike the opposition.
  6. Lekka v. Kiluwe (as CEO), HCT CA 2019-046, and Konou and Lehman v. Kiluwe (as CEO) and Kawakami (as AAG), HCT CA 2019-069, SCT Civil 2019-002(10/09/19):  In its Opinion on the Removed Question from the High Court, the Supreme Court held that P.L. 2016-28, which denied the right of Marshallese residing outside of the Marshall Islands to vote in national and local elections, is unconstitutional. Chief Justice Daniel Cadra, in agreement with Associate Justice Seeborg, and Associate Justice Seabright, who expressed concurrence through a separate opinion, concluded that a qualified Marshallese voter residing outside the Marshall Islands possesses the constitutional right to participate in Marshall Islands national or local elections. However, this right does not extend to voting by postal ballot or any other specific method unless authorized by Act or regulation. Since P.L. 2016-028 effectively eliminates all practical means for plaintiffs and others in a similar situation to exercise their constitutionally protected right to vote without providing a reasonable alternative method, it imposes an unreasonable burden on plaintiffs’ voting rights and is therefore unconstitutional. However, the Supreme Court acknowledges the challenge posed by the timing of the filing of plaintiffs’ claims, which occurred in close proximity to the November 2019 elections. This timing imposes an undue burden on the government to either make postal ballots available on short notice or provide an alternative method of voting to qualified non-resident Marshallese voters like the plaintiffs. Therefore, the Supreme Court has decided that its ruling will apply prospectively only after the November 2019 elections and has returned the case to the High Court for any necessary further proceedings to resolve the matter.”
  7. Iroij Kabua, et al. v M/V Mell Springwood, et al., SCT No. 2016-001, SCT Civil 2016-001(10/22/19):  In its Opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s decision.  The plaintiffs (“Kabua Plaintiffs”) filed this action in rem against the vessel, the M/V Mell Springwood (“Vessel”), and in personam against the Vessel’s owner, Tammo Shipping Company Limited, and others (“Defendants”), claiming damages resulting from the Vessel running around off shore in Kwajalein Lagoon. The High Court dismissed the in personam claim with prejudice and the in rem claim without prejudice.  Regarding the former, the High Court found the Kabua Plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue their claims for two reasons: (1) the purported delegation of authority from the Environmental Protection Authority (“EPA”) to the Kabua Plaintiffs was not proper because the EPA Act does not provide the EPA with authority to bring a lawsuit for civil damages; and (2) the Kabua Plaintiffs have not shown that they have a legal interest in the reef that was damaged by the Vessel’s grounding.  Additionally, the High Court found the Kabua Plaintiffs failed to state a claim for two reasons: (1) failure to assert a property interest in the damaged reef; and (2) failure to allege a valid delegation by the EPA to pursue a derivative action on its behalf.  Regarding the in rem claim, the High Court found the Vessel had not been arrested within the RMI’s territorial waters, and so there was no in rem jurisdiction.

2020

  1. Kabua v. Malolo, SCT Civil 2018-008 (03/15/20): The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, acting as a single judge to address a procedural order, determined that counsel’s busy schedule does not constitute “excusable neglect” for purposes of granting a request for the enlargement of time to file an opening brief. Instead, the Court held that “excusable neglect”’ and “good cause”’ for granting an enlargement of time depend on the following factors: (i) potential harm to the non-moving party; (ii) duration of the delay and its impact on proceedings; (iii) reasons for the delay, including control by the moving party; and (iv) the moving party’s good faith. In the present case, the Court granted the motion for enlargement, finding “good cause” existed under the circumstances. First, the non-moving party did not object or claim prejudice. Second, the length of the delay was short and did not impact the proceedings. Third, the reasons for the delay were under the control of the moving party. However, fourth, there was no evidence that the moving party acted in bad faith or sought a tactical advantage. Moreover, there is a general policy that cases be decided on their merits rather than upon technicalities.
  2. Molik and Hisiah v. Tibon and Eskaia DeBrum, SCT 20-566 (07/07/20):  The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, acting as a single judge to address a procedural issue, rendered an Opinion Dismissing Appeal for Lack of Jurisdiction. The Appellants failed to file their notice of appeal within 30 days from the date of the judgment or order, as mandated by Supreme Court Rule 4(a)(1)(A). Additionally, they did not petition the High Court for an extension of time to file a notice of appeal within 30 days after the due date, as required by Supreme Court Rule 4(a)(5). In dismissing the untimely notice of appeal, the Court affirmed that the “timely filing of a Notice of Appeal is both mandatory and jurisdictional.”
  3. Republic v. Antolok, SCT 18-11 (11/18/20):  In its Opinion, the Supreme Court reversed the High Court’s conviction at trial of the defendant for sexual assault of a mentally-disabled woman. This reversal was issued because the Republic failed to introduce evidence sufficient to show “sexual penetration,” an essential element of second-degree sexual assault. The facts, however, did support a conviction of the lesser-included offense of sexual assault in the third-degree. Additionally, the trier of fact, the High Court, was aware of the lesser-included offense. Consequently, the Supreme Court instructed the High Court to enter a judgment against the defendant on the lesser-included offense of third-degree sexual assault, and to re-sentence the defendant accordingly.

2021

  1. Republic v. A.P., SCT 18-03 (01/06/21): At trial, A.P., a juvenile, was convicted of murdering Robert Marquez, sexually assaulting his three-year-old daughter, and the burglary of the Marquez family store. The defense sought to suppress A.P.’s confession and to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence. With respect to the suppression motion, the Supreme Court adopted the United States standard of review: the trial court’s “finding that waiver of Miranda rights was knowing and intelligent is reviewed for clear error, and a finding that the waiver was voluntary is reviewed de novo.” With respect to the sufficiency of evidence, the Supreme Court followed the United Standard of review it adopted in Republic v. Antolok, SCT 18-11 (11/18/20).  Under the above standards, the Supreme Court found that, although a juvenile, A.P. knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda Rights and his subsequent confession was voluntary.  Further, the Court found that the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction for murder and for burglary. However, because the evidence showed that the three-year-old’s body was sexually assault after her death, the evidence did not support conviction for sexually assault a person.  Instead, the evidence would have supported a conviction for necrophilia.  Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction for murder and burglar, reversed the conviction for sexual assault, and remanded the case to the High Court for sentencing consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision, not to exceed 35 years’ imprisonment.
  2. Akhmedova v. Straight Establishment, et al., SCT 19-03 (01/20/21): The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court issued a procedural order as a single judge, granting the respondent-appellant’s request to stay the enforcement of the judgment while the appeal is pending. The stay was conditioned upon the posting of a bond. In making this decision, the court applied the “sliding scale” or “alternative” approach for granting a stay. Under this alternative approach, the party requesting the stay can satisfy their burden by demonstrating either of the following: (1) a likelihood of success on the merits and the possibility of suffering irreparable harm; or (2) the existence of substantial legal issues and a clear advantage in their favor regarding the balance of hardships.
  3. Dieron v. Star Trident XII, LLC, and Star Bulk Shipmanagement Company (Cyprus) Limited, SCT 2018-015 (06/04/21): The Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s decision (i) allowing defendant-appellee Star Bulk Shipmanagement Company (Cyprus) Limited (“SBSC”) to intervene as a defendant and (ii) concluding that plaintiff-appellant Virgilio T. Dieron, Jr. (“Dieron”) must arbitrate his claims against defendants-appellees Star Trident XII, LLC (“Trident”) and SBSC. This appeal involves a maritime personal injury action brought by a seafarer, Dieron against Trident, the owner of the MN Star Markella (“Vessel”) registered in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (“RMI”). While working aboard the Vessel, Dieron suffered catastrophic physical injuries. Dieron, a citizen of the Republic of the Philippines, was employed pursuant to a standard Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (“POEA”) contract with Intervening Defendant SBSC, an affiliate company of Trident and manager of the Vessel. The POEA contract contained an arbitration clause, a Philippine choice of law clause, and an elaborate no-fault compensation scheme for personal injury. Dieron executed this employment contract with SBSC only; Trident was not a signatory to the contract. Following the accident, Dieron filed suit in the High Court against only Trident, bringing claims for negligence, unseaworthiness, and failure to pay maintenance and cure. The High Court granted signatory SBSC’s motion to intervene and subsequently granted both non-signatory Trident’s and signatory SBSC’s motions to compel arbitration under Philippine law in accordance with the terms of Dieron’s employment contract with SBSC. In granting SBSC’s motion to intervene under Section 24(a) of the MIRCP, the High Court, following the four-part test for intervention of right under the Section 24(a) of the FRCP, upon which Section 24(a) of the MIRCP is patterned on the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Southwest Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Berg, 268 F.3d 810, 817-18 (9th Cir. 2001). That is, the High Court concluded (1) that SBSC’s application to intervene was timely, (2) that SBSC had a “significantly protectable” interest, (3) that SBSC was so situated that the disposition of the matter may as a practical matter impede SBSC’s ability to protest its interest, and (4) that SBSC’s interest, as a signatory to the POEA contract, had an interest that could not be represented by the existing parties, including its affiliate defendant Trident. In concluding that POEA contract applied to Trident as well as SBSC, the High Court followed the Supreme Court’s ruling in Mongaya v. AET MCV BETA LLC, S. Ct. No. 2017-003 (Aug. 10, 2018), reconsideration denied (Sept. 5, 2018). In Mongaya, the Supreme Court held that under the doctrine of a POEA contract’s arbitration clause even for claims brought by an injured seafarer against a non-signatory to the contract under an equitable estoppel theory.
  4. Edmund, et al., v. MIMRA, et al. (1), SCT 2021-00406 (08/09/21): The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in a single-judge procedural order, granted plaintiffs-appellees’ unopposed motion to dismiss the appeal for defendant-appellant MIMRA’s repeated violations of the Supreme Court Rules of Procedure (“SCRP”).  The violations numbered three and included MIMRA’s two previous failures to serve documents and certificates of service and MIMRA’s more recent filing of an 11-page reply brief, exceeding the 10-page limit impose by SCRP, Rule 28.  The Supreme Court did not, however, grant the motion to dismiss merely because MIMRA failed to seek leave to exceed the 10-page limit for a reply and failed to oppose the plaintiffs-appellees’ motion to dismiss, but due to MIMRA’s series of failures to comply with the SCRP, despite monetary sanctions and extensions of time.  As the Court noted: “[w]hile the Supreme Court will interpret its appellate rules, when possible, to further resolution of appeals on the merits, litigants should not view relaxation of rules in a particular case as endorsing noncompliance, and litigants who ignore the rules do so at the risk of forfeiting appellate review.”  Further, as the Supreme Court held “[s]anctions short of dismissal are likely inadequate to secure [MIMRA]’s future compliance with the Rules and are inadequate to send the message to the bar and other litigants that the Rules of Procedure are, indeed, mandatory, not ‘voluntary’ and that there are consequences for repeated violations of those Rules.”
  5. Edmund, et al., v. MIMRA, et al. (2), SCT 21-40 (08/27/21): Upon full panel consideration of Appellant’s August 18, 2021 “Motion to Vacate Order Dismissing Appeal,” the Supreme Court vacated the August 9, 2021 single-Justice Order dismissing this appeal and reinstate the appeal conditioned upon Appellant’s payment of a sanction of $1,000 to Appellee’s counsel. While the Court found a troubling pattern of repeated rμle violations, the justices concluded that dismissal of the appeal was not warranted. Appellee had not been prejudiced by Appellant’s disregard of the rules, and the Court’s institutional interest in ensuring compliance with Supreme Court Rules of Procedure could be accomplished by imposition of a monetary sanction.
  6. Republic of the Marshall Islands v. Barmoj Naisher, SCT 20-1608 (11/30/21): The Supreme Court upheld the High Court’s conviction of defendant-appellant Naisher for first-degree sexual assault and second-degree kidnapping. In its ruling, the Supreme Court held that there was sufficient evidence indicating Naisher’s use of physical force “to overcome” the victim, including chasing her down, pulling her into the cook’s restroom, and removing her clothing, to substantiate his conviction for first-degree sexual assault by strong compulsion. Further, there was sufficient evidence of Naisher’s use of a separate act of physical force to move the victim a “substantial distance,” that is pulling the victim from the kitchen into the storage room, to substantiate his conviction of kidnapping the victim.
  7. Kabua v. Malolo, SCT 18-08 (12/10/21): The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the High Court adopting the Traditional Rights Court (“TRC”) opinion. The TRC found the applicable custom is that, in the absence of an agreement otherwise, the alab title to morjinkot lands descends through the male bloodline (bototok) until the birth of a female which then establishes a bwij. Upon establishment of a bwij, marjinkot lands become bwij lands. As bwij lands, the succession of the alab title changes from that of through the botoktok (paternal bloodline) to that of through the bwij (matrilineally). Applying the custom to the facts of this case, the Traditional Rights Court found two bwijs were established by the births of two females in the same generation who descended from Lokomoram, the parties’ common ancestor and original recipient of the wetos awarded as marjinkot. The older bwij being that of Libonlok and her children and the younger bwij being that of Litawe and her children. “Custom changes custom” and as bwij land “the children of the females will become alabs and the children of the males will become dri jerbals.” Because Appellee Mwejen Malolo is a “child of the female” and is in the same generation as the last recognized alab, Laji Taft, the Traditional Rights Court concluded that Mwejen Malolo is the proper person to presently hold the alab title to the wetos at issue. The Traditional Rights Court opined that Cecilie Kabua is entitled to inherit the dri jerbal title as she is a child of the male.

2022

  1. Latdrik v. Laik, SCT 18-13 (06/06/22): The Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s and the Traditional Rights’ decisions finding that Batle Latrik is the alap over Mwejelok Weto, Delap Island, Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands and that there is no iroijedrik for Mwejelok. In concluding that Batle Latdrik is alap on Mwejelok, the Traditional Rights Court found that Mwejelok was ninnin land from the parties’ common ancestor Lekejon to his descendants, Anjo (male), Libollan (female), and Laninbit (male). Lekejon died without a will, agreement in writing, or oral directive regarding disposition of Mwejelok. The Traditional Rights Court found the custom in such situation is that the alap title to ninnin lands descends through the male bloodline (bototok) until the birth of a female. The birth of a female establishes a bwij. Upon establishment of a bwij, “custom changes custom” and ninnin lands become bwij lands. As bwij lands, the succession of the alap title changes from that of through the paternal bloodline (botoktok) to that of through the bwij (matrilineally). The custom as applied to the facts of this case is that the children of Libollan (female) established a new bwij. Therefore, Mwejelok, formerly a ninnin land, became bwij land. As bwij land, the descendants of Libollan become alaps (the alap title descending matrilineally through the bwij). The parties’ memenbwij indicate Libollan had a child named Toeme (female). Toeme had sons, Raymond (the eider, who is now deceased) and Batle (the younger). The Traditional Rights Court concluded that Batle Latdrik, a descendant of Libollan (through Toeme), is the current alap under the custom. The Traditional Rights Court further opined that the children of males are considered dri jerbal, concluding that the children of Anjo will exercise the rights of senior dri jerbal and the children of Laninbit are dri jerbal with the right to remain and live on Mwejelok. The Traditional Rights Court determined there is no iroijedrik on Mwejelok.
  2. Lorak, Lorak, and Kabua v. Philippo, Mea, and March, SCT 19-04 (07/07/22): The Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s and the Traditional Rights Court’s decisions holding that the Ain Kabua is the alap and Bojeang Lorak is the senior dri jerbal over To Weto, Ajeltake Island, Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands. In reaching its decision, the Court determined that the questions of custom before the Traditional Rights Court (“TRC”) had not previously been resolved by statue or Supreme Court decision. Therefore, the questions were classified as “questions of fact” and not “questions of law.” As questions of fact, the High Court’s and the Supreme Court’s review of the TRC’s decisions were governed by the “clearly erroneous” standard and not the “de novo” standard. A finding of fact is considered “clearly erroneous” when review of the entire record produces a definite and firm conviction that the court below made a mistake. In the present case, the Supreme Court did not find that the TRC or the High Court had made a mistake regarding their findings of facts. Additionally, regarding the admission of evidence, the Supreme Court determined that the lower courts had not abused their discretion regarding the admission of relevant evidence. Furthermore, they had not violated the “plain error rule,” by failing to exclude evidence that would have impaired a substantial right — in this case, the due process right to notice.
  3. Zedhkeia v. Leit and Kedi, SCT 19-01 (09/16/22): The Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s and the Traditional Rights “finding that Leit is the proper alap and senior dri jerbal of Monloklap Weto, Ajeltake Island, Majuro Atoll], and because there is no challenge to the authority of the iroij who signed the ground lease of a portion of Monloklap weto with Kedi, we also AFFIRM the High Court’s conclusion that the lease with Kedi is signed by the appropriate parties as required by the Constitution and is therefore valid.” The Supreme Court also affirmed the High Court denial of attorney’s fee for delay by the opposing party.

2023

  1. Kramers v. Bings, SCT 2021-01786 (01/17/23): The Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s decision granting the Kramers’ motion for summary judgment, concluding that “there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the Kramers are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” The Kramers purchased the Alap, Senior Dri Jerbal, and Dri Jerbal rights to the entirety of Bukien Weto, Ajeltake Islands, Majuro Atoll. They initially recorded their deeds in 2009 under the Real and Property Act, 24 MIRC Ch. 1 (repealed in 2003). Subsequently, the Kramers recorded their deeds in 2003 under the Land Recording and Registration Act 2003, 24 MIRC Ch. 4 (“LRA”). In 2020, the Bings filed a 1999 deed they had obtained for a portion of Bukien Weto. However, the Supreme Court concluded that “[i]t is abundantly clear that the Kramers’ deeds have priority over the “Bing deed” under the Real and Personal Property Act because they were (i) purchasers (ii) for valuable consideration who (iii) recorded first (iv) without notice of the Bing’s unrecorded oral agreement regarding Bukien weto.” The Bings’ 2020 LRA recording of their 1999 deed does not overcome the Kramers’ claim.
  2. Samuels v. Langrines, SCT 2020-00960 (02/15/23): The Supreme Court dismissed Appellants’ appeal due to their failure to file a timely opening brief.  Despite having obtained a stipulated order allowing an extension of time, the Appellants filed their opening brief six days late. Furthermore, Appellants’ brief was not accompanied by a motion allowing late filing and was not preceded by a second motion for enlargement of time. Based on the Appellants’ late filing, Appellee requested that the Supreme Court dismiss the appeal for non-compliance with Supreme Court Rule of Procedure (“SCRP”) 26(b). SCRP 26(b) requires a showing of “good cause” to excuse the late filing of a brief.  Finding the Appellants failed to comply with Rule 26(b), the Supreme Court dismissed their appeal.  Although the Supreme Court dismissed the Appellants’ appeal, it still addressed their claims regarding the lower courts’ admission of evidence from the Appellee. In this regard, the Supreme Court found that the Appellants had waived their objections by not raising them before the lower courts.  Additionally, the Court found that the Appellants’ objections were not supported by the law, including the rules of evidence.   Consequently, the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s and the Traditional Rights Court’s rulings. These rulings concluded that, among the parties, Appellee Adelma Libao Samuel is the holder of the Iroij Edrik and Alap rights and titles over Monkut Weto, Djarret Island, Majuro Atoll, and that Appellant Aldia Langrine Langinbelik is the holder of the Senior Dri Jerbal rights and title over Monkut Weto.
  3. Edmund, et al. v. MIMRA, et al. (3), SCT 2021-00406 (02/17/23): The Supreme Court upheld the High Court’s Judgment that the defendant Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (“MIMRA”) was liable to the plaintiffs for the wrongful death of Diavon Edmond. A nighttime maritime collision between a boat owned by MIMRA and a second boat owned by defendant Wotje Atoll Local Government (“WALGOV”) resulted in the death of a passenger, Diavon Edmond. Edmond’s surviving personal representatives brought a wrongful death action before the High Court, arguing that Edmond’s death was caused by the negligence of the boats’ pilots and owners. The High Court agreed, finding both MIMRA and WALGOV liable for damages. This was despite the defendants’ objection that they were exempt from liability due to the Government Liability Act of 1980 (“GLA”), 3 MIRC Ch. 10. On appeal, MIMRA challenged the High Court’s two key determinations: firstly, that MIMRA is not part of the ‘Government’ as defined in the GLA and thus not entitled to the liability limitations contained therein; secondly, that the GLA’s liability limitation is an affirmative defense which MIMRA waived. The Supreme Court held that MIMRA had waived the GLA’s liability limitation as an affirmative defense. Accordingly, it deemed it unnecessary to address the statutory interpretation of whether MIMRA was entitled to the GLA’s liability protections. For these reasons, the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s decision.
  4. Secretary of Finance v. Iosia v deBrum, SCT 2022-00814 (03/22/23): The Supreme Court dismissed this appeal because Appellant  deBrum’s opening brief failed to substantially comply with Supreme Court Rules of Procedure (“SCRP”) 28.  Appellant deBrum’s opening brief failed to clearly present the Supreme Court with the questions and points intended to be raised in this appeal; did not advise the court of the applicable standard of review; did not provide the court with a coherent argument as to why the lower courts erred; and provided the court with no authority supporting its contentions. Therefore, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal for Appellant deBrum’s failure to comply with the appellate rules,  SCRP 28.
  5. Social Security Administration v. Jorbon, dba Philippo and Jorbon, LLC, SCT 2022-02240 (05/04/23): The Supreme Court, sitting as a single justice, dismissed the Defendant-Appellant’s appeal for the following reasons. Firstly, the Defendant-Appellant did not comply with Supreme Court Rules of Procedure, Rule 28(b), which requires that the filing of an opening brief within 40 days of the record on appeal being filed. In this case, the Defendant-Appellant filed his opening brief eight days late. Secondly, the Defendant-Appellant failed to show“good cause” to justify the late filing, as required by Rule 26(b). Lastly, the Defendant-Appellant did not object to the Appellee’s motion to dismiss for noncompliance with Rule 28(b).
  6. Sonya Tonyokwe & Rozena Tonyokwe for herself and on by have of Tybyn Samuel v. Erakdrik Samuel & Mudge Samuel, SCT 2022-00889 (06/21/23): Upon full-panel review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Supreme Court’s single justice order dated June 12, 2023. The Supreme Court dismissed Appellant Samuel and Samuel’s appeal for failing to file their Opening Brief within 40 days of service of the Clerk of the Courts’ Notice of Filing the Record on Appeal as required by Supreme Court Rule of Procedure 28(b) and for failing to demonstrate “good cause” for their failure to timely file.
  7. Republic of the Marshall Islands v. Lanes Muller, SCT 2022-01027 (07/11/23): On appeal, the Supreme Court in its July 11, 2023 Opinion affirmed the conviction of defendant Muller on both Count 1, Criminal Attempt to Commit Sexual Assault in the First Degree, and Count 2, Continuous Sexual Assault of a Minor. However, the Supreme Court reversed the conviction of Muller on Count 3, Showing a Pornographic Movie to a Child, for insufficient evidence, i.e., evidence of “threat to the development” of GL. Further, the Supreme Court vacated Muller’s sentence and remanded the case to the Court for re-sentencing anew on Counts 1 and 2.
  8. Symphony Shipholding SA v Sea Justice Ltd, SCT 2022-01292 (08/02/23): On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s dismissal on the basis of forum non conveniens.  This case concerns a 2021 allision between two ships off the coast of the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”).  Plaintiff-Appellant Symphony Shipholding SA (“Symphony”), the owner of the damaged vessel, brought suit in the RMI High Court .  Shortly thereafter, Defendant-Appellee Sea Justice Ltd. (“Sea Justice”), which is incorporated in the RMI, moved to dismiss on the basis of forum non conveniens.  The High Court granted the motion, reasoning that the case would be more appropriately resolved before a  maritime court in the PRC, and then denied Symphony’s subsequent motion for reconsideration.  The Supreme Court affirmed.  Further, the High Court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the case unconditionally, refusing to stay the case pending the outcome of the PRC litigation, or denying the motion for reconsideration.  Precedent does not compel a different result.

2024

  1. Deo Jeffrey Gold v. Republic of the Marshal Islands, SCT 2021-01023 (06/04/24): The Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s decision convicting the defendant Gold of Sexual Assault in the First Degree. Gold argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict him, emphasizing the lack of medical evidence and eyewitnesses to the assault. He claimed the trial was a “he said, she said” scenario and that the jury was irrationally swayed by emotional testimony. The Court rejected these arguments, noting that the law does not require corroboration of the testimony victem, Anmontha. The evidence presented, including Anmontha’s testimony and eyewitness accounts of her distress, supported the conviction. The Court also found that the jury’s credibility determinations were not to be second-guessed. The Court reviews sufficiency of evidence by considering if any rational trier of fact could find the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, viewing evidence in favor of the prosecution.