KOSRAE STATE COURT TRIAL DIVISION
Cite as Heirs of Palik v. Heirs of Henry
12 FSM Intrm. 625 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2004)

[12 FSM Intrm. 625]

HEIRS OF BINGHAM PALIK,
Appellants,
 
vs.
 
HEIRS OF MOSES HENRY,
Appellees.
 
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3-04
 
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION; ORDER TO KOSRAE LAND COURT
 
Yosiwo P. George
Chief Justice
 
Argued: August 5, 2004
Decided: September 6, 2004

APPEARANCES:

For the Appellants:           Albert Welly, trial counselor
                      j Kosrae State Legislature
                                        P.O. Box 187
                                        Tofol, Kosrae FM 96944
 
For the Appellees:            Sasaki George, Esq.
                                        Micronesian Legal Services Corporation
                                        P.O. Box 38
                                        Tofol, Kosrae FM 96944

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HEADNOTES

Appellate Review ) Standard of Review
     The Kosrae State Court must review the Land Court decision on the record, transcripts, and exhibits received at the Land Court hearing. The court's review must determine whether the Land Court's decision was based upon substantial evidence or whether the decision was contrary to law, and if the court finds that the Land Court's decision was based upon substantial evidence and was not contrary to law, the Land Court's decision must be affirmed. Heirs of Palik v. Heirs of Henry, 12 FSM Intrm. 625, 627 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2004).

[12 FSM Intrm. 626]

Evidence
     The Kosrae State Court Rules of Evidence do not apply to Land Court proceedings. Evidence which is relevant and material to the claim or the issues may be presented at the Land Court hearing and the presiding justice will determine the relevancy and credibility of all evidence offered at the hearing, and will determine whether the evidence is admissible in the hearing. This allows the presiding Land Court justice to hear all offered evidence and determine whether the evidence is relevant and credible. The evidentiary standard for Land Court proceedings is very broad and allows the admission and consideration of hearsay and other evidence that would normally be excluded under the Kosrae Rules of Evidence, in Kosrae State Court proceedings. This broad evidentiary standard is applied to allow all relevant evidence of claims and statements to be presented without the limitations imposed by the Kosrae Rules of Evidence. Heirs of Palik v. Heirs of Henry, 12 FSM Intrm. 625, 627 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2004).
 
Appellate Review ) Briefs and Record
     The court reviewing a Land Court decision must have before it the full and complete record upon which the Land Court's final decision was based. Heirs of Palik v. Heirs of Henry, 12 FSM Intrm. 625, 627 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2004).
 
Appellate Review ) Standard of Review
     When the full and complete record of prior Land Commission proceedings was admitted into evidence at a Land Court hearing and that record contained documentary and testimonial evidence of an oral will, it was proper for the Land Court to consider and rely upon the Land Commission record, including the evidence pertaining to the oral will. Accordingly, the Land Court's consideration of the Land Commission record, including evidence of the oral will, was not contrary to law. Heirs of Palik v. Heirs of Henry, 12 FSM Intrm. 625, 627-28 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2004).
 
Appellate Review ) Standard of Review
     It is primarily the task of the Land Court, and not the reviewing court, to assess the credibility of the witnesses, consider the admissibility of evidence and to resolve factual disputes. This is because it is the Land Court who is present during the testimony and offer of evidence. On appeal, the reviewing court should not substitute its judgment for well-founded findings of the lower court. Heirs of Palik v. Heirs of Henry, 12 FSM Intrm. 625, 628 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2004).
 
Appellate Review ) Standard of Review
     When a careful review of the record, analysis, and consideration of the parties’ arguments shows that the Land Court decision was based upon substantial evidence and was not contrary to law, the Kosrae Land Court decision will be affirmed. Heirs of Palik v. Heirs of Henry, 12 FSM Intrm. 625, 628 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2004).

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COURT’S OPINION

YOSIWO P. GEORGE, Chief Justice:

     This matter is an appeal from the decision of the Kosrae Land Court, entered on November 10, 2003, which awarded parcel 040K03 to the Appellees, Heirs of Moses Henry. Appellants' brief was filed on May 14, 2004. Appellees' brief was filed on July 12, 2004. Oral arguments were heard on August 5, 2004. Albert Welly appeared for the Appellants. Appellees were represented by Sasaki George, MLSC. After hearing from the parties, I took the matter under advisement. This Memorandum of Decision sets forth my decision and reasoning.

[12 FSM Intrm. 627]

     This Court must review the Land Court decision on the record, transcripts and exhibits received at the Land Court hearing. This Court's review must determine whether the Land Court's decision was based upon substantial evidence or whether the decision was contrary to law. Kos. S.C. § 11.614(5)(d). If this Court finds that the Land Court's decision was based upon substantial evidence and was not contrary to law, the Land Court's decision must be affirmed.

I. Oral Will of Soarku.

     The Appellants argue that the Land Court improperly considered the oral will of Soarku (Henry Jacob) in reaching its decision. Appellants argue that the oral will was not introduced at the most recent Land Court hearing by one of the parties to this appeal. Evidence of the oral will of Soarku had been introduced at a previous Kosrae State Land Commission hearing by John P. Sigrah, who is not a party to this appeal.

     Appellees argue that the Land Court did properly consider the oral will of Soarku, as it was part of the entire Land Commission record in this case. Furthermore, Appellees argue that other supporting evidence, beyond the oral will of Soarku, was presented at the Land Court hearing, which supports the Land Court's decision in favor of the Appellees.

     There is not disputed that Soarku was the original owner of parcel 040K03. It is further undisputed that Soarku passed the parcel to his son Otis. Appellants claimed that the father of Otis, Ifalok, gained authority over the parcel, but did not give any basis for his authority. Even without consideration of the oral will of Soarku, the Appellants did not provide any basis for authority and control of the parcel by Ifalok.

     Based upon the record, I conclude that the Kosrae Land Court did have substantial evidence to support its findings pertaining to the oral will of Soarku.

II. Consideration of Evidence.

     Kosrae Land Court, General Court Order 2002-10 establishes the procedure for consideration of evidence. GCO 2002-10, Paragraph 2 states that:

Evidence. The Kosrae State Court Rules of Evidence do not apply. Evidence which is relevant and material to the claim or the issues may be presented at the hearing. The presiding Land Court Justice shall determine the relevancy and credibility of all evidence offered at the hearing, and shall determine whether the evidence is admissible in the hearing. . . .

     This provision allows the presiding Land Court Justice to hear all offered evidence and determine whether the evidence is relevant and credible. The evidentiary standard for Land Court proceedings is very broad and allows the admission and consideration of hearsay and other evidence that would normally be excluded under the Kosrae Rules of Evidence, in Kosrae State Court proceedings. This broad evidentiary standard is applied to allow all relevant evidence of claims and statements to be presented without the limitations imposed by the Kosrae Rules of Evidence. Taulung v. Jack, 11 FSM Intrm. 345 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2003).

     The court reviewing a Land Court decision must have before it the full and complete record upon which the Land Court's final decision was based. In re Lot No. 014-A-21, 9 FSM Intrm. 484 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 1999). The full and complete record of prior Land Commission proceedings was admitted into evidence at the July 2003 hearing held by the Land Court. The record contained documentary and

[12 FSM Intrm. 628]

testimonial evidence of Soarku's oral will. As the record of the Land Commission proceedings were admitted into evidence, it was proper for the Land Court to consider and rely upon the Land Commission record, including the evidence pertaining to Soarku's oral will. Waguk v. Kosrae Island Credit Union, 6 FSM Intrm. 14 (App. 1993). Accordingly, the Land Court's consideration of the Land Commission record, including evidence of Soarku's will, was not contrary to law.

     Appellants also argue that the Land Court gave too much weight to the evidence pertaining to Soarku's oral will. It is the Land Court which serves as the fact finder and original decision maker in determining ownership. In its mandated role of conducting proceedings to determine ownership, the Land Court holds hearings, receives the testimony of witnesses and other evidence.

     It is primarily the task of the Land Court, and not the reviewing court, to assess the credibility of the witnesses, consider the admissibility of evidence and to resolve factual disputes. This is because it is the Land Court who is present during the testimony and offer of evidence. Anton v. Heirs of Shrew, 10 FSM Intrm. 162 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2001). On appeal, the reviewing court should not substitute its judgment for well-founded findings of the lower court. Heirs of Mongkeya v. Heirs of Mackwelung, 8 FSM Intrm. 31 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 1997).

     After careful review of the record, I find that the findings of the Land Court pertaining to the oral will of Soarku were supported by substantial evidence. I also find that even without consideration of the oral will of Soarku, the findings of Land Court were supported through the testimony of several witnesses. This Court will not substitute its judgment for the assessment of credibility of witnesses, admissibility of evidence, and well-founded findings of the Land Court. Accordingly, I conclude that the findings of the Land Court, as set forth in its decision entered on November 10, 2003, were supported by substantial evidence.

III. Conclusion and Order to Land Court.

     Based upon careful review of the record and analysis, consideration of the arguments made by the parties, I conclude that the findings of the Kosrae Land Court, on parcel 040K03, entered on November 10, 2003, were based upon substantial evidence. I further conclude that the decision of the Kosrae Land Court was not contrary to law. In accordance with Kosrae State Code, Section 11.614, the decision of the Kosrae Land Court, on parcel 040K03, awarding the parcel to the Appellees, the Heirs of Moses Henry, is affirmed.

     The Kosrae Land Court is ordered to issue the Certificate of Title for parcel 040K03 to the Heirs of Moses Henry, sixty (60) days after service of this Memorandum of Decision, or as soon thereafter as practicable.

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