KOSRAE STATE COURT TRIAL DIVISION

Cite as Heirs of Weilbacher v. Heirs of Luke, 14 FSM Intrm. 99 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2006)

[14 FSM Intrm. 99]

HEIRS OF FRITZ WEILBACHER,

Appellants,

vs.

HEIRS OF ALIK LUKE,

Appellees.

CIVIL ACTION NO. 61-05

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION; JUDGMENT; ORDER OF REMAND

Yosiwo P. George

Chief Justice

Hearing: February 14, 2006

Decided: February 20, 2006

APPEARANCES:

For the Appellants:   Chang B. William, trial counselor

                                     Kosrae State Legislature

                                      P.O. Box 187

                                      Tofol, Kosrae   FM   96944

For the Appellees:   Lyndon L. Cornelius

                                     Micronesian Legal Services Corporation

                                     P.O. Box 38

                                     Tofol, Kosrae   FM   96944

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HEADNOTES

Appellate Review ) Standard of Review ) Civil Cases

    On appeals from a decision entered by the Kosrae Land Court, the Kosrae State Court is required to apply the "substantial evidence rule," and if the court finds that the Land Court decision was not based upon substantial evidence or that the Land Court decision was contrary to law, the court must remand the case to the Land Court with instructions and guidance for re-hearing the matter. Heirs of Weilbacher v. Heirs of Luke, 14 FSM Intrm. 99, 100 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2006).

Property ) Registered Land

    When the complete absence of any map or sketch from the entire Land Court record raises grave concerns as to the correct identification of the subject parcel, area and boundaries at the hearing; as to the partiesí potential confusion; and regarding notice to the claimants of the area and boundaries of the subject parcel, and when the parties were not, as required, provided the map or sketch with the Land Courtís memorandum of decision, this failure resulted in inadequate notice of the decision to the parties, and was contrary to law. The memorandum of decision must thus be vacated and the matter

[14 FSM Intrm. 100]

remanded to the Land Court for further proceedings. Heirs of Weilbacher v. Heirs of Luke, 14 FSM Intrm. 99, 101 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2006).

Courts

    The Kosrae Land Court should ensure the distribution to one or more heirs of the General Court Orders that one (or more) persons represent a group of heirs if they are not represented by legal counsel, and that govern the questioning of claimants not represented by legal counsel, so that they may receive notice and comply with the requirements before the hearing date. Heirs of Weilbacher v. Heirs of Luke, 14 FSM Intrm. 99, 101 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2006).

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COURTíS OPINION

YOSIWO P. GEORGE, Chief Justice:

    This is an appeal from a Decision issued by the Kosrae Land Court on March 30, 2005 for parcel 028U05, also known as Isra in Utwe Municipality. Appellantsí brief was filed on December 2, 2005. Appelleesí brief was filed on December 28, 2005. This matter was set for hearing on February 14, 2006. Chang William appeared for the Appellants. Lyndon Cornelius, MLSC, appeared on behalf of the Appellees.

    Appellants dispute the finding of ownership made by the Kosrae Land Court in favor of the Appellees. Appellants claim that the Land Court failed to properly describe the subject parcel to the claimants, which resulted in a violation of due process. Appellants also argue that the Kosrae Land Court failed to comply with GCO 2003-06, regarding the questioning of unrepresented claimants. Finally, Appellants claim that the Land Courtís evidentiary findings were not based upon substantial evidence.

    Based upon the record in this matter, arguments made at the hearing and applicable law, I find in favor of the Appellants. This Memorandum of Decision explains the Courtís decision and reasoning, and remands this matter back to the Kosrae Land Court for further proceedings.

I.   Analysis and Conclusions.

    The provisions of Kosrae State Code, Section 11.614 are applicable to appeals made from a decision entered by the Kosrae Land Court. Pursuant to Section 11.614(5)(b), this Court is required to apply the "substantial evidence rule" to all Land Court decisions. If this Court finds that the Land Court decision was not based upon substantial evidence or that the Land Court decision was contrary to law, this Court must remand the case to the Land Court with instructions and guidance for re-hearing the matter. Kos. S.C. ß 11.614(5)(d).

    The Court has carefully reviewed the Kosrae Land Court record for parcel 025-U-05, including the transcript for the hearing held on February 9, 2005. The record also includes documents issued by the former Kosrae State Land Commission and the record for Land Commission proceedings which took place prior to January 2002, including the preliminary inquiry and formal hearing. Both parties had appeared pro se at the Kosrae State Land Commission. Appellants appeared without legal counsel at the Kosrae Land Court proceedings.

    The Court has carefully considered the record in the matter and the arguments made by the parties. The Memorandum of Decision awarded ownership of parcel 028U05, in the area of 11,529

[14 FSM Intrm. 101]

square meters, to the Appellees. The Memorandum of Decision, entered on March 30, 2005, does not include a map or drawing of the parcel, as required by the KLCRP, Rule 8.H.4. The map or drawing is required in order to clearly show the boundaries determined in the action. There is no map or drawing of parcel 028U05 in the entire record. Appellants argue that the preliminary map used during the Land Court hearing described the subject parcel as containing only 907 square meters, and not 11,529 square meters. Appellants further argued that the preliminary sketch of the subject plat, Plat No 28, showed a different parcel, 028U08, as containing 11,529 square meters. Neither the preliminary map nor the preliminary sketch were included in the certified record of the Kosrae Land Court.

    The complete absence of any map or sketch from the entire Land Court record raises concerns as to the correct identification of the subject parcel, area and boundaries at the hearing and potential confusion of the parties. The further absence of a map or drawing of the parcel from the Memorandum of Decision raises grave concerns regarding notice of the area and boundaries of the subject parcel to the claimants, as required by the KLCRP. Accepting the argument of the Appellants, and based upon the absence of these documents from the record, this Court must conclude that the parties were not provided the map or sketch with the Memorandum of Decision, as required by the KLCRP, Rule 8.H.4. The failure to comply with Rule 8.H.4 resulted in inadequate notice of the decision to the parties, and was contrary to law. This Court finds that the Memorandum of Decision for parcel 028U05 must be vacated and the matter remanded to the Kosrae Land Court for further proceedings.

    This Court recognizes the special challenges posed by pro se claimants. It is evident in the record that such challenges were faced by the Kosrae Land Court in this matter, with respect to representation of the parties and questioning of the claimants. GCO 2003-6 requires that one (or more) persons represent a group of heirs, if they are not represented by legal counsel. GCO 2002-13 governs the questioning of claimants not represented by legal counsel. In order to provide advance notice to unrepresented heirs of the requirements of GCO 2003-6 and 2002-13, the Kosrae Land Court should ensure the distribution of these General Court Orders to one or more heirs, so that they may received notice and comply with the requirements before the hearing date.

II.   Judgment.

    Judgment is entered in favor of the Appellants and against the Appellees. The Land Court decision, entered on March 30, 2005 for parcel 028U05 is vacated and set aside as void.

III.   Order of Remand.

    This matter is now remanded to Kosrae Land Court for further proceedings on parcel 028U05. Kosrae Land Court shall hold hearings and issue written findings and a decision on parcel 028U05, consistent with the statutory and procedural requirements. The Kosrae Land Court shall issue the decision on parcel 028U05, to reflect the ownership of the subject parcel. All proceedings shall be conducted according to the following instructions:

1.  The Land Court shall provide notice and hold hearings, as required by Kosrae State Code, Title 11, Chapter 6, the KLCRP and General Court Orders.

2.  The Land Court shall hear the Appellants, Appellees, and their witnesses. The Land Court shall accept testimony and other evidence regarding the foundation, authenticity, relevance, and applicability of the written statement as it applies to the ownership claims of the claimants.

3.  The Land Court may consider any evidence, including testimony, which was received at the prior hearings, giving appropriate evidentiary weight to those testimonies which were based upon

[14 FSM Intrm. 102]

       hearsay or not subject to cross examination, and giving appropriate evidentiary weight to documentary evidence which were offered without foundation or authentication.

             

4.   This matter shall be assigned highest priority by the Land Court, and shall be assigned for hearing and further action by the first Land Court Justice who is available to hear and adjudicate this matter.

5.  The Kosrae Land Court shall complete all hearings within 120 days, and shall issue its written findings and decision within 120 days after the close of the hearings, as provided by law.

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