KOSRAE STATE COURT TRIAL DIVISION

Cite as Heirs of Livaie v. Palik, 14 FSM Intrm. 512 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2006)

[14 FSM Intrm. 512]

HEIRS OF NENA LIVAIE,

Appellants,

vs.

RICHARD PALIK,

Appellee.

HEIRS OF GIDEON PALOKOA,

Appellants,

vs.

RICHARD PALIK,

Appellee.

CIVIL ACTION NOS. 161-04 and 3-05

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION; JUDGMENT;

AND ORDER TO LAND COURT

Aliksa B. Aliksa

Chief Justice

Hearings: September 21, 27, 2006

Decided: December 27, 2006

APPEARANCES:

For the Appellants:   Robinson Timothy

  (Heirs of Livaie)      P.O. Box 261

                                 Tofol, Kosrae   FM   96944

 

For the Appellants:   Snyder H. Simon, Esq.

(Heirs of Palokoa)    P.O. Box 1017

                                 Tofol, Kosrae   FM   96944

 

For the Appellee:   Albert T. Welly

(in No. 161-04)       j Kosrae State Legislature

                                P.O. Box 187

                                Tofol, Kosrae   FM   96944

 

  (in No. 3-05)          Lyndon Cornelius

                                Micronesian Legal Services Corporation

                                P.O. Box 38

                                Tofol, Kosrae   FM   96944

[14 FSM Intrm. 513]

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HEADNOTES

Civil Procedure ) Res Judicata; Property ) Registered Land

     The need for finality in litigation is particularly important for claims to land. The process can take years; the wearisome disputes lead to uncertainty and discord among relatives and neighbors; land may not be used efficiently or for its best purpose; and the parties are not free to exercise their rights. The statute covering designation of registration areas recognizes this need and provides that a justice cannot adjudicate a matter previously decided by a court between the same parties or those under whom the parties claim which dispute involves the same parcel and that the Land Court must accept prior judgments as res judicata and determine those issues without receiving evidence. Heirs of Livaie v. Palik, 14 FSM Intrm. 512, 515 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2006).

Civil Procedure ) Res Judicata

     The doctrine of res judicata bars repetitious litigation. Under res judicata, a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action. Heirs of Livaie v. Palik, 14 FSM Intrm. 512, 515 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2006).

Civil Procedure ) Res Judicata; Property ) Registered Land

     Trust Territory Court decisions are valid and binding, consistent with the Kosrae constitutional provisions on transition of government. The doctrine of res judicata applies and Trust Territory Court decisions must be upheld. Therefore, the Land Court lacked jurisdiction to receive additional evidence and issue a new decision in a case where the Trust Territory Court, in three previous cases, had established the ownership and boundaries of the land in question. Heirs of Livaie v. Palik, 14 FSM Intrm. 512, 516 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2006).

Property

     Japanese survey maps, alone, contain no assurance of who should be shown as owners as they were primarily concerned with boundaries but when the Trust Territory Court cases relied on them, along with the other evidence, in reaching their decisions, the Japanese survey maps, along with the sketches and boundary descriptions, may be used to give effect to those decisions. Heirs of Livaie v. Palik, 14 FSM Intrm. 512, 516 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2006).

Property ) Registered Land

     A Land Court decision is contrary to law when it failed to give effect to the decisions in previous Trust Territory Court cases, and will therefore be remanded to the Kosrae Land Court with instructions and guidance to re-survey the parcels, if needed to issue a memorandum of decision consistent with the Trust Territory Court decisions. Heirs of Livaie v. Palik, 14 FSM Intrm. 512, 516 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2006).

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COURTíS OPINION

ALIKSA B. ALIKSA, Chief Justice:

     The Court heard argument on the appeals in the above cases on September 21 and 27, 2006. Robinson H. Timothy represented Appellants, Heirs of Nena Livaie (HO Livaie), at argument. Snyder Simon represented Appellants, Heirs of Gideon Palokoa (HO Palokoa), at argument. Appellee, Richard

[14 FSM Intrm. 514]

Palik, was represented by Albert Welly in Case No. 161-04 and by Lyndon Cornelius in Case No. 3-05.

     The cases were consolidated in an Order dated January 17, 2006 in the interest of judicial economy because they involved the same parcels of land.

I.   Procedural and Factual Background

     The Trust Territory Court of the Pacific Islands heard disputes about ownership of this land, located in the part of Malem known as Yesen or Yeseng, on November 20, 21, and 27, 1953 in Civil Action No. 43 (TTHC 43). The judgment, dated December 11, 1953, divided ownership of Yeseng between Emiso (predecessor in interest to HO Palokoa) and Semeon, Albert & Alokoa (predecessors in interest to HO Livaie and Appellee). The boundaries are described with reference to a compromise accepted by Emiso and the mother of Albert and Alokoa, and the Japanese land survey of 1932. A map showing ownership of land in the area is part of the file.

     The 1953 decision in TTHC 43 allowed the parties to apply to the Court for further order if there is disagreement about the location of the described boundaries.

      The judgment in TTHC 112, dated February 21, 1962, refers to the boundary on the easterly side of Emisoís part of the land determined in TTHC 43; the boundary between Emiso and Nena Livaie. It established the boundary as:

Commencing at a point on the Sronfoul River by the path near foot of the hill, thence running along the dividing line between the solid land and the swamp as it was at the time of the Japanese land survey of 1932 to the northerly boundary of land formerly worked by Soloman, resuming again at the southerly boundary of said land formerly worked by Soloman, the line continues along the dividing linen between the solid land and the swamp as it was at the time of said survey to land now or formerly of Mares (sometimes written Marus).

     The judgment in TTHC 114, also dated February 21, 1962, dismisses an action between Emiso and Jack M.M. It states that TTHC 112 decided the matter and Jack M.M.ís claims are all based on permissive use of land on Nena Livaieís side of the established boundary.

     This land was included in a designation of registration area by the now defunct Land Commission in 1989. The Land Commission accepted preliminary inquiry testimony and signed applications from Richard Palik for this land, now identified as Parcels 057M01 and 057M03, in 1990. Nena Livaie appeared at the preliminary inquiry in one case and Rolince Weilbacher appeared on behalf of HO Palokoa at the preliminary inquiry in the other. There was no further action in either case until the Land Court issued formal hearing notices on August 12, 2004 in both cases. The hearings for both cases were held together on August 15 and 24, 2004. A joint site visit was conducted on November 4, 2004.

      A Memorandums of Decision for both parcels were issued on November 11, 2004 and amended on November 23, 2004. The first Memorandum of Decision reviewed the boundaries set in the judgment entered in TTHC 112; neither one mentions TTHC 43 or TTHC 114.

     The Land Court recognized that the claims presented by the parties in this case were previously determined in TTHC 112. However, it allowed the parties to re-litigate boundaries and ownership and issued decisions in conflict with the previous determination.

[14 FSM Intrm. 515]

     Appellants HO Palokoa raise three issues in their appeal of the Land Courtís decisions:

1.   The doctrine of res judicata prevents the parties from relitigating land and boundary claims previously decided by the Territorial Court;

2.   The Land Court did not base its decisions on substantial evidence; and

3.   The Land Courtís decision was contrary to law.

     Appellants HO Livaie raise similar arguments in their appeal.

     Appellee argues that the boundaries were not clear in the prior judgment and that the judgment in TTHC 43 permitted the parties to return to court indefinitely if there is a disagreement about the boundaries. Appellee also argues that substantial evidence supports the decisions of the Land Court and that they are not contrary to the law.

II.   Analysis

     The litigation among the parties and their predecessors in interests reaches back in time over fifty years and three generations. It is time to put an end to this unceasing dispute.

     The need for finality in litigation is particularly important for claims to land. The process can take years; the wearisome disputes lead to uncertainty and discord among relatives and neighbors; land may not be used efficiently or for its best purpose; and the parties are not free to exercise their rights. The statute covering designation of registration areas, Kos. S.C. ß11.612, recognizes this need and provides: "A Justice shall not adjudicate a matter previously decided by a court between the same parties or those under whom the parties claim which dispute involves the same parcel. The Land Court shall accept prior judgments as res judicata and determine those issues without receiving evidence."

     The doctrine of res judicata bars repetitious litigation. "Under res judicata, a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action." Ittu v. Charley, 3 FSM Intrm. 188, 191 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 1987) (citing Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94, 101 S. Ct. 411, 414, 66 L. Ed.2d 308 (1980)).

     In Ittu, this Court considered a claim to land where the Trust Territory Court had previously issued an order concerning ownership of the land. The Court dismissed Plaintiffís second claim based on res judicata. Plaintiff then filed a motion requesting a new hearing. In refusing to grant a new hearing, the Court discussed the policies supporting the doctrine of res judicata and concluded that it should and does apply in Kosrae.

      Where parties knew the boundaries, or dimensions, of land in dispute from previous litigation, res judicata prevents an attack on the judgment claiming the description of the land was vague. Nahnken of Nett v. United States (III), 6 FSM Intrm. 508 (Pon. 1994). This case addressed a suit where the Iso Nahnken of Nett sued for loss of land and damages. The land had been the subject of leases, forced sales, and exchanges under the authority of several administering foreign nations. The Trust Territory High Court previously issued a decision determining ownership of the land in question. The FSM Supreme Court took judicial notice of the order in the Trust Territory case. It held that the sketch and description of boundaries was enough to identify the property and that the Iso Nahnken of Nett had sufficient notice. He therefore could not attack the Trust Territory Court judgment. The FSM Supreme Court relied on the doctrine of res judicata to uphold that judgment and stated that Trust Territory Court judgments "are to be given res judicata effect barring extreme circumstances such as

[14 FSM Intrm. 516]

fraud or complete lack of jurisdiction." Nahnken of Nett (III), 6 FSM Intrm. at 520.

      Trust Territory Court decisions are valid and binding, consistent with the Kosrae constitutional provisions on transition of government. Sigrah v. Kosrae State Land Commín, 11 FSM Intrm. 169, 173 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 2002). Here, the Trust Territory Court, in three previous cases, established ownership and boundaries of the land in question. The predecessors in interest to the current parties participated in those cases and either raised or had the opportunity to raise issues about ownership and boundaries. The Trust Territory Court recognized the dispute should be at an end in TTHC 114 when it dismissed that case saying the issues had been resolved. We hold that the doctrine of res judicata applies and the decisions of the Trust Territory Court must be upheld. Therefore, the Land Court lacked jurisdiction to receive additional evidence and issue a new decision.

       Appelleeís brief, in the HO Palokoa case, notes that the 1953 Order allowed the parties to apply to the court for a further order if they disagree as to the location of a boundary. He argues that this means the parties can dispute the boundaries indefinitely. However, the doctrine of res judicata was commonly applied and accepted during Trust Territory times. There was a need for finality of orders for the policy reasons previously stated in this Decision. The only meaning that gives effect to this need for finality is that the 1953 Order allowed the parties to apply to the Court if there was a disagreement before the judgment became final. Because the parties did not apply to the Court for a further order before it was final, the parties in the TTHC cases became subject to the Order as written.

       As noted above, when there is sufficient description to identify property in previous litigation, parties have sufficient notice and cannot re-litigate the ownership and boundaries. Here, the records in the three previous Trust Territory Court cases contain sufficient description of the boundaries to establish ownership and location. They contain Japanese survey maps, boundary descriptions, and sketches from the parties. The Japanese survey maps, alone, contain no assurance of who should be shown as owners as they were primarily concerned with boundaries. Elaija v. Edmond, 9 FSM Intrm. 175 (Kos. S. Ct. Tr. 1999) (citing Jesse v. Ebream, 1 TTR 77, 78-79 (Pon. 1953)). However, here, the TTHC cases relied on them, along with the other evidence, in reaching their decisions. Accordingly, the Japanese survey maps, along with the sketches and boundary descriptions, may be used to give effect to those decisions.

        Based upon the record and the above analysis, I conclude that the Land Courtís decision in Land Court Case No. 51-04, pertaining to Parcels 057M01 and 057M02 was contrary to law because it failed to give effect to the decisions in TTHC 43, 112, and 114. Therefore, this matter is remanded to the Kosrae Land Court with instructions and guidance to re-survey the parcels, if needed to issue a memorandum of decision consistent with the TTHC decisions.

II.   Judgment.

     Judgment is entered in favor of the Appellants and against the Appellees. The Land Court decision and amended decision, entered on November 11 and November 23, 2004, for Parcels 057M01 and 057M02, also known as Lung Fwinfokoa, are vacated and set aside as void.

III.   Order of Remand.

       This matter is now remanded to Kosrae Land Court for further proceedings on Parcels 057M01 and 057M02. Kosrae Land Court shall issue written findings and a decision consistent with the statutory and procedural requirements. The Kosrae Land Court shall issue a decision on Parcels 057M01 and 057M02, to reflect the ownership and boundaries of the subject parcel consistent with the prior TTHC cases, and on the Japanese survey maps, sketches and boundary descriptions contained

[14 FSM Intrm. 517]

therein.

      All proceedings shall be conducted according to the following instructions:

1.   The Land Court may re-survey the parcels based on the existing maps, sketches and boundary descriptions.

2.   The Kosrae Land Court shall issue the decision on Parcels 057M01 and 057M02, to reflect the ownership and boundaries of the subject parcel consistent with the prior TTHC cases, relying on the existing
      maps, sketches and boundary descriptions contained therein.

3.   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, and
      who is not disqualified due to prior service as a Land Commissioner, or other grounds.

4.   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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