FSM SUPREME COURT TRIAL DIVISION

Cite as Jano v. Fujita, 15 FSM Intrm. 494 (Pon. 2008)

[15 FSM Intrm. 494]

MARTIN JANO d/b/a MARTIN JANO

LAW OFFICES,

Plaintiff,

vs.

KAZUHIRO FUJITA,

Defendant.

CIVIL ACTION NO. 2005-014

ORDER DENYING IN PART AND GRANTING IN PART

DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO RECONSIDER

Andon L. Amaraich

Chief Justice

Decided:  January 31, 2008

APPEARANCES:

For the Plaintiff:        Joseph S. Phillip, Esq.

                                 P.O. Box 464

                                 Kolonia, Pohnpei FM 96941
 

For the Defendant:   Marstella E. Jack, Esq.

                                 P.O. Box 2210

                                 Kolonia, Pohnpei FM 96941

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HEADNOTES

Civil Procedure

      It is appropriate for a court to modify or otherwise relieve a party from a prior order where there has been mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect. Jano v. Fujita, 15 FSM Intrm. 494, 496 (Pon. 2008).

Statutes of Limitation; Torts ) Defamation; Torts ) Interference with Prospective Business Opportunity

      State law, and not the national law, provides the controlling limitations period for the causes of action, such as libel and slander and the tort of interference with contract and prospective economic advantage, that arise under state law. Jano v. Fujita, 15 FSM Intrm. 494, 496 (Pon. 2008).

Civil Procedure ) Dismissal

      In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court must assume the truth of the allegations in the complaint, with the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be given to the plaintiff. Jano v. Fujita, 15 FSM Intrm. 494, 496 (Pon. 2008).

[15 FSM Intrm 495]

Statutes of Limitation; Torts ) Defamation

      The two-year statute of limitations applies to causes of action for libel. Jano v. Fujita, 15 FSM Intrm. 494, 497 (Pon. 2008).

Statutes of Limitation; Torts ) Interference with Prospective Business Opportunity

      A cause of action for interference with contract and prospective economic advantage must be commenced within six years after the cause of action accrues. Jano v. Fujita, 15 FSM Intrm. 494, 497 (Pon. 2008).

Statutes of Limitation ) Accrual of Action; Torts ) Defamation

      A cause of action for libel accrues, so as to start the running of limitations, at the time of publication, and not on the date of discovery of the wrong, or when the alleged injury occurred. Jano v. Fujita, 15 FSM Intrm. 494, 497 (Pon. 2008).

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COURT’S OPINION

ANDON L. AMARAICH, Chief Justice:

I.  Introduction

      Pending before the Court is defendant’s motion to reconsider the Court’s denial in part and granting in part of defendant’s September 7, 2007 motion to dismiss. The essence of defendant’s motion to reconsider is that in his prior motion to dismiss he cited the wrong legal authority for the applicable statute of limitations and that the correct limitations period provided by state law, rather than national law, bars each of plaintiff’s two remaining causes of action (libel and interference with contract and prospective economic advantage). For the reasons that follow, the Court denies defendant’s motion with respect to the cause of action for interference with contract and prospective economic advantage and grants defendant’s motion with respect to the cause of action for libel.

II.  Factual Background

      Plaintiff’s complaint, filed on June 2, 2005 in Kolonia Town Court ) Trial Division and subsequently removed to this Court, contains three causes of action: libel, slander, and interference with contract and prospective economic advantage. The complaint indicates that each of the causes of action stemmed from an October 29, 2002 letter written by defendant and filed with the Pohnpei Supreme Court Chief Justice. Plaintiff states in his opposition to the present motion that he did not learn of the October 29, 2002 letter until formal disciplinary proceedings were initiated in Pohnpei Supreme Court. Plaintiff’s opposition indicates that he did not receive notice of the disciplinary proceedings until 2005, when he was served with notice of disciplinary action No. 2-02. A March 2, 2005 order by the Pohnpei Supreme Court (which order is attached to plaintiff’s June 30, 2005 opposition to defendant’s June 27, 2005 motion to dismiss) indicates that Disciplinary Action No. 2-02 was assigned to Associate Justice Benjamin Rodriguez on January 10, 2005. Justice Rodriguez’ order indicates that a hearing was set for March 2, 2005 and that defendant was requested to attend the hearing. On March 1, 2005 defendant wrote another letter to Chief Justice Johnny, which retracted the allegations in defendant’s October 29, 2002 letter. Justice Rodriguez’s March 2, 2005 order dismissed the disciplinary proceedings against plaintiff.

      On June 2, 2005, plaintiff filed his complaint. On September 7, 2007, defendant filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that each of plaintiff’s causes of action was time-barred under 6 F.S.M.C.

[15 FSM Intrm 496]

803. Defendant’s motion to dismiss made no mention of Pohnpei state law. On October 26, 2007, the Court dismissed plaintiff’s cause of action for slander on the ground that it was time-barred under 6 F.S.M.C. 803. Defendant subsequently filed the present motion to reconsider.

III.  Legal Analysis

A. Motions to Reconsider.

Civil Rule 60(b) states:

On motion and upon such terms as are just, the court may relieve a party or a party’s legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons: (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence which by due diligence could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b); (3) fraud (whether heretofore denominated intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party; (4) the judgment is void; (5) the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged, or a prior judgment upon which it is based has been reversed or otherwise vacated, or it is no longer equitable that the judgment should have prospective application; or (6) any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment.  The motion shall be made within a reasonable time, and for reasons (1), (2), and (3) not more than one year after the judgment, order, or proceeding was entered or taken. . . .

      Thus, it is appropriate for a court to modify or otherwise relieve a party from a prior order where there has been mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.

B. State Statute of Limitations.

      Defendant asks the Court to reconsider its refusal to dismiss plaintiff’s claims for libel and interference with contract and prospective economic advantage on the ground that state law, specifically 58 Pon. S.C. § 3-106, and not the national law defendant relied on in his motion to dismiss, provides the controlling limitations period for the causes of action at issue.

      The Court agrees with defendant. Defendant correctly refers to the Court’s December 14, 2006 order in which it indicated that it would treat plaintiff’s claims for libel and slander as arising under state law. Similarly, the tort of interference with contract and prospective economic advantage is a matter of state law. See Federated Shipping Co. v. Ponape Transfer & Storage Co., 4 FSM Intrm. 3, 14 (Pon. 1989). Accordingly, the statute of limitations set forth by state law, and not national law as previously argued by defendant, applies to defendant’s cause of action for libel and interference with contract and prospective economic advantage.

      Having concluded that the state statute of limitations should be applied to plaintiff’s remaining causes of actions, the Court must determine whether the application of that statute of limitations rendered plaintiff’s claims time-barred.

C. Motion to Dismiss Standard.

      "In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court must assume the truth of the allegations in the complaint, with the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be given to the plaintiff. Jano v. King, 5 FSM Intrm. 388, 390 (Pon. 1992)." AHPW, Inc. v. FSM, 9 FSM Intrm. 301, 303 (Pon. 2000).

[15 FSM Intrm 497]

D. Only Plaintiff’s Claim for Libel is Time-Barred.

      Defendant bases his motion on the ground that each of plaintiff’s claims is time-barred. Defendant cites 58 Pon. S.C. § 3-106 in support of his argument. Defendant’s present motion relies on the limitations period set forth in 58 Pon. S.C. § 3-106, which states in pertinent part:

The following actions shall be commenced only within two years after the cause of action accrues:

(1)  Actions for assault, battery, false imprisonment, libel or slander;

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(4)  Actions for injuries to or for the death of one caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another, except as otherwise provided in Chapter 6;

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      Thus, the two-year statute of limitations applies to causes of action for libel.

      With respect to plaintiff’s cause of action for interference with contract and prospective economic advantage, 58 Pon. S.C. § 3-107 states, "All actions other than those covered in §§3-105 and 3-106 shall be commenced within six years after the cause of action accrues." Because the cause of action for interference with contract and prospective economic advantage is not covered in sections 3-105 or 3-106, the six-year limitation period set forth in section 3-107 applies to that cause of action. Therefore, the earliest plaintiff’s cause of action for interference with contract and prospective economic advantage could have accrued was October 29, 2002)the day defendant filed his letter with the Pohnpei Supreme Court. Even if that cause of action accrued on October 29, 2002, it still would not be time-barred under the six-year limitation period.

       Defendant urges the Court to give a "liberal reading" to section 3-106(4) so that it covers "all other tort actions not covered in the preceding sections" including any "action for injury," economic or physical, "caused by the wrongful act of another." (emphasis added.) The Court declines to adopt defendant’s "liberal reading" of section 3-106(4). Section 3-106(4) by its own terms applies only to "injuries to" or "the death of one." Rather than applying to any injury, economic or physical, section 3-106(4) applies only to personal injury or wrongful death actions. It does not cover the type of business tort at issue here.

      Turning to plaintiff’s cause of action for libel, whether that cause of action is time-barred depends on when that cause of action accrued. The Court’s October 26, 2007 order contained a discussion regarding when a cause of action for slander accrued. [Jano v. Fujita, 15 FSM Intrm. 405, 408-09 (Pon. 2007).] For the same reasons set forth in that order, the Court concludes that "a cause of action for libel . . . accrues, so as to start the running of limitations, at the time of publication, and not on the date of discovery of the wrong, or when the alleged injury occurred." 54 C.J.S. Limitations of Actions § 168 (1987).

      Plaintiff’s complaint states that publication of the allegedly libelous statements took place "on or about October 29, 2002." Complaint ¶¶ 5, 21. Thus, under the rule adopted above, plaintiff’s cause of action for libel accrued on October 29, 2002, the date of publication. The two-year limitations period, as set forth in 58 Pon. S.C. § 3-106, expired on October 29, 2004. Plaintiff did not file his complaint until June 2, 2005. Therefore, plaintiff’s cause of action for libel is time-barred, and the

[15 FSM Intrm 498]

Court hereby dismisses that cause of action with prejudice.

IV.  Conclusion

      For the foregoing reasons, the Court denies defendant’s motion with respect to the cause of action for interference with contract and prospective economic advantage and grants defendant’s motion to dismiss with respect to the cause of action for libel. Accordingly, plaintiff’s cause of action for libel is hereby dismissed with prejudice.

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