CHUUK STATE SUPREME COURT APPELLATE DIVISION

Cite as Samuel v. Chuuk State Election Commín, 14 FSM Intrm. 586 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 2007)

[14 FSM Intrm. 586]

OLIMPAS SAMUEL,

Petitioner,

vs.

CHUUK STATE ELECTION COMMISSION,

Respondent,

LEO JOHN,

Real Party in Interest-Respondent.

CIVIL APPEAL NO. 13-2007

ORDER DENYING REAL PARTY IN INTERESTíS MOTION TO DISMISS

Hearing:  April 11, 2007

Decided:  April 11, 2007

Memorandum Entered:  April 12, 2007

BEFORE:

Hon. Midasy O. Aisek, Associate Justice, Presiding

Hon. Dennis K. Yamase, Temporary Justice*

Hon. Repeat Samuel, Temporary Justice**

 

*Associate Justice, FSM Supreme Court, Chuuk

**Attorney at Law, Weno, Chuuk

 

APPEARANCES:

For the Petitioner:                     Gideon K. Doone

                                                  P.O. Box 882

                                                  Weno, Chuuk   FM   96942

 

For the Respondent:                 Charleston L. Bravo

                                                  Assistant Attorney General

                                                  Office of the Chuuk Attorney General

                                                  P.O. Box 189

                                                  Weno, Chuuk   FM   96942

 

For the Real Party in Interest:   Keichiro G. Dawe

                                                  P.O. Box 481

                                                  Weno, Chuuk   FM   96942

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[14 FSM Intrm. 587]

HEADNOTES

Statutes ) Construction

     If the current law is unconstitutional, the previous law generally applies. Samuel v. Chuuk State Election Commín, 14 FSM Intrm. 586, 588 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 2007).

Courts

     The Chuuk State Supreme Court trial division has jurisdiction to review the actions of any state administrative agency, board, or Commission, as may be provided by law and the appellate division has jurisdiction to review all decisions of the trial division, of inferior state courts, and of the municipal courts. Samuel v. Chuuk State Election Commín, 14 FSM Intrm. 586, 589 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 2007).

Constitutional Law ) Chuuk; Elections

     The relevant Chuuk constitutional provisions do not bar the Legislature from providing by statute for an appeal directly from the Chuuk State Election Commission to the Chuuk State Supreme Court appellate division. The Constitution does provide for appeals from administrative agencies to the Chuuk State Supreme Court trial division, but the Constitution does not make the trial divisionís jurisdiction exclusive, and the trial divisionís jurisdiction is further qualified with the proviso "as may be provided by law." Samuel v. Chuuk State Election Commín, 14 FSM Intrm. 586, 589 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 2007).

Constitutional Law ) Chuuk; Elections

     The Legislature, under its power to prescribe by statute for the regulation of the certification of elections and under its power to provide by law for review of administrative agency decisions, has the power to place the jurisdiction to review Election Commission decisions in the Chuuk State Supreme Court appellate division rather than in the trial division with an appeal to the appellate division and a further possible appeal to the FSM Supreme Court appellate division. Samuel v. Chuuk State Election Commín, 14 FSM Intrm. 586, 589 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 2007).

Constitutional Law ) Chuuk; Elections

     The courtís only authority in election matters is to hear appeals from Chuuk State Election Commission decisions regarding the conduct of elections. Only a house of the Legislature can decide who is to be seated as a member. Samuel v. Chuuk State Election Commín, 14 FSM Intrm. 586, 590 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 2007).

Administrative Law; Elections

    Chuuk Election Code, section 55 involves complaints in general by any citizen involving any misconduct and a candidate, when the candidate is contesting the election of another, is required, not to follow section 55, but to follow the administrative process specifically set forth in sections 123 through 130 for election contests. The completion of the administrative process outlined in section 55 is delegated to the Election Commission, not to the complainant since it is the Commission that makes the referrals to the other agencies, not the complainant. Samuel v. Chuuk State Election Commín, 14 FSM Intrm. 586, 590 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 2007).

Statutes ) Construction

     A specific statutory provision prevails over a general provision. Samuel v. Chuuk State Election Commín, 14 FSM Intrm. 586, 590 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 2007).

Elections

     Election Code, sections 126 and 127, involving what must be included in an election complaint and the requirement that it be verified, apply to complaints filed before the Election Commission, not to the papers required to be filed in the Chuuk State Supreme Court appellate division for it to obtain

[14 FSM Intrm. 588]

jurisdiction over the case. When the Election Commission did not render its decision rejecting Samuelís petition on the ground that his complaint was not properly verified or did not satisfy certain formalities. Any technical defects in the original complaint are not before the court. Furthermore, the proceedings are not to be dismissed by the Commission or any court for the want of form if the contest grounds are alleged with enough certainty as will advise the defendant of the particular ground or cause for which the election is contested. Samuel v. Chuuk State Election Commín, 14 FSM Intrm. 586, 590 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 2007).

Elections

      When an election contestantís appeal to the court included what he called a Refutation of Decision of Election Commission in which he contends that the Commissionís decision was contrary to law, the contestant has alleged abuse of discretion because one way in which an adjudicatory body may abuse its discretion is when its decision is based on an erroneous conclusion of law. Samuel v. Chuuk State Election Commín, 14 FSM Intrm. 586, 590 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 2007).

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COURTíS OPINION

PER CURIAM:

      On April 10, 2007, this came before the court for hearing on real party in interest Leo Johnís Motion to Dismiss Appeal, filed April 10, 2007, petitioner Olimpas Samuelís opposition thereto, filed April 11, 2007, and Johnís Supplemental Points and Authorities, filed April 11, 2007. We denied the motion from the bench. This order memorializes our reasons for doing so.

      Johnís respondentís motion to dismiss was based on four grounds: 1) failure to exhaust administrative remedies; 2) complaint failed to comply with statutory requirements; 3) the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Article V, section 7(c) of the Chuuk Constitution and section 131 of State Law No. 3-95-26; and 4) the petitioner failed to allege that the respondent Chuuk State Election Commission had abused its discretion. The supplemental points and authorities added a fifth ground ) that since Chuuk Constitution Article VII, section 3(c) vests jurisdiction over appeals from the election commission solely in the Chuuk State Supreme Court trial division and not in the appellate division we must hold section 130 of the Chuuk Election law, which permits appeals from the election commission directly to the appellate division, unconstitutional and therefore since this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this appeal we must dismiss it.

I.   Subject Matter Jurisdiction

     John sought dismissal of this appeal on the ground section 130 was unconstitutional, but if we had held section 130 unconstitutional we would not have dismissed the case. We would instead have transferred it to the trial division for it to proceed on the matter since if the current law is unconstitutional, the previous law generally applies. Cholymay v. Chuuk State Election Commín, 10 FSM Intrm. 145, 154 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 2001). Samuel should not be penalized for following the statute. We address this claim of lack of subject matter jurisdiction first and the other claim of lack of subject matter jurisdiction second, since if we lack subject matter jurisdiction, any ruling on the other grounds would be mere dicta.

      This court has previously considered and rejected the contention that the enactment of section 130 was unconstitutional. Cholymay, 10 FSM Intrm. at 155. We repeat here the Cholymay courtís well-reasoned ruling:

[14 FSM Intrm. 589]

     The Constitution provides that "[t]he trial division of the State Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review the actions of any state administrative agency, board, or commission, as may be provided by law." Chk. Const. art. VII, ß 3(c). The Constitution also provides that "[t]he appellate division of the State Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review all decisions of the trial division, of inferior state courts, and of the municipal courts. . . ." Chk. Const. art. VII, ß 4. The appellees contended that these provisions mean that an appeal from the Election Commission must go only to the Chuuk State Supreme Court trial division. In opposition, Cholymay relied in part on article XII which provides in part that "[t]he Legislature shall prescribe by statute . . . for the protection of voting in the State of Chuuk." Chk. Const. art. XII, ß 3. Article XII also provides that "[t]here shall be an independent Election Commission vested with powers, duties, and responsibilities, as prescribed by statute for the administration of elections in the State of Chuuk, including voter registration and the conduct and certification of elections." Chk. Const. art. XII, ß 4.

     We conclude that the relevant constitutional provisions do not bar the Legislature from providing by statute for an appeal directly from the Chuuk State Election Commission to the Chuuk State Supreme Court appellate division. Article XII requires that the Legislature create an Election Commission and allows the Legislature to prescribe by statute for the protection of voting rights and the regulation of elections in Chuuk. It has done so, and in doing so has statutorily provided for an appeal from the Election Commission to the Chuuk State Supreme Court appellate division. The Constitution does provide for appeals from administrative agencies to the Chuuk State Supreme Court trial division in article VII, section 3(c). Unlike those cases enumerated in article VII, section 3(a), the Constitution does not make the trial divisionís jurisdiction exclusive, although it easily could have.

     Furthermore, section 3(c) qualifies the trial divisionís jurisdiction with the proviso "as may be provided by law." The election law, as enacted by the Legislature, does not provide the trial division with jurisdiction. It provides the appellate division with jurisdiction. The Constitution could have placed jurisdiction to decide election appeals in the trial division, whose decisions could then be appealed to the appellate division, Chk. Const. art. VII, ß 4, but it did not. One previous decision of the appellate division has considered whether the trial division can hear election appeals and concluded that it does not. In David v. Uman Election Commír, 8 FSM Intrm. 300d, 300h (Chk. S. Ct. App. 1998), the court concluded that there was no provision of law that authorized election appeals to the trial division. The Legislature has decided, under its power to prescribe by statute for the regulation of the certification of elections and under its power to provide by law for review of administrative agency decisions, to place the jurisdiction to review Election Commission decisions in the Chuuk State Supreme Court appellate division rather than in the trial division with an appeal to the appellate division and a further possible appeal to the FSM Supreme Court appellate division. We conclude that it has the power to do so. We therefore have jurisdiction to hear this appeal pursuant to section 130. Chk. S.L. No. 3-95-26, ß 130.

Cholymay, 10 FSM Intrm. at 154-55. Since John has not raised any new points or arguments in support of his contention that the Cholymay court did not previously fully explore and reject, we will not come to a different conclusion. We therefore rejected this ground.

      The second claim of lack of subject matter jurisdiction is based on a constitutional, Chk. Const. art. V, ß 7(c), and a statutory provisions, Chk. S.L. No. 3-95-26, ß 131, that make each house

[14 FSM Intrm. 590]

of the Chuuk Legislature, the sole judge of the election of that houseís members. As indicated above, our jurisdiction to hear this election contest appeal derives from a statute enacted by the Legislature. Thus, our only authority in election matters is to hear appeals from Chuuk State Election Commission decisions regarding the conduct of elections. Only a house of the Legislature can decide who is to be seated as a member. Cf. Aten v. National Election Commír (III), 6 FSM Intrm. 143, 145 & n.1 (App. 1993) (only Congress can decide who can be seated as a member). We therefore rejected this other challenge to this courtís subject matter jurisdiction.

II.   Other Grounds for Dismissal

      John also sought dismissal on the ground that Samuel had not first exhausted all of his administrative remedies. In particular, John asserted that Samuel had not complied with section 55 of the Chuuk Election Code, Chk. S.L. No. 3-95-26, which governs the procedure for complaints to the Election Commission and the Commissionís subsequent referral to the state attorney general or an independent prosecutor of complaints of violations of the Election Code for further legal action.

      We rejected this ground because section 55 involves complaints in general by any citizen involving any misconduct and Samuel, since he is contesting the election of Leo John, was required, not to follow section 55, but to follow the administrative process specifically set forth in sections 123 through 130 for election contests. A specific statutory provision prevails over a general provision. Olter v. National Election Commír, 3 FSM Intrm. 123, 129 (App. 1987); In re Engichy, 12 FSM Intrm. 58, 69 (Chk. 2003). John does not dispute that Samuel has complied with that administrative procedure before he appealed, pursuant to section 130, to this court. Furthermore, completion of the administrative process outlined in section 55 is delegated to the Election Commission, not to the complainant since it is the Commission that makes the referrals to the other agencies, not the complainant.

      John also asserted that Samuel failed to comply with certain formal requirements set forth in sections 126 and 127, involving what must be included in an election complaint and the requirement that it be verified. Those sections apply to complaints filed before the Election Commission, not to the papers required to be filed in the Chuuk State Supreme Court appellate division for it to obtain jurisdiction over the case. The case before us is an appeal from the Election Commissionís decision. The Election Commission did not render its decision rejecting Samuelís petition on the ground that his complaint was not properly verified or did not satisfy certain formalities. Since it is the Commissionís decision that is before us on appeal, any technical defects in Samuelís original complaint are not before us. Furthermore, Johnís contention also overlooks section 129, which provides that the proceedings shall not be "dismissed by the Commission or any court, for the want of form" if the contest grounds are alleged with enough certainty "as will advise the defendant of the particular ground or cause for which the election is contested." Thus, we rejected this ground.

      John also asserted that Samuelís appeal must be dismissed because Samuel did not allege that the Election Commission abused its discretion when it denied his election petition. Samuelís election contest appeal to this court included what he called a Refutation of Decision of Election Commission in which he contends that the Commissionís decision was contrary to law. One way in which an adjudicatory body may abuse its discretion is when its "decision is based on an erroneous conclusion of law." Kama v. Chuuk, 10 FSM Intrm. 593, 598 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 2002); Jano v. King, 5 FSM Intrm. 326, 330 (App. 1992). Thus, even if, in order for Samuel to maintain his election contest appeal in this court, he was required to formally allege that the Election Commission abused its discretion, an issue which we do not decide, he has met that requirement. We therefore rejected this ground as well.

[14 FSM Intrm. 591]

III.   Conclusion

     Accordingly, we denied Leo Johnís motion to dismiss and continued with trial.

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