CHUUK STATE SUPREME COURT APPELLATE DIVISION

Cite as Aten v. Chuuk State Election Comm'n, 16 FSM Intrm. 390 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 2009)

[16 FSM Intrm 390]

PETER L. ATEN,

Appellant/Petitioner

vs.

CHUUK STATE ELECTION COMMISSION,

Appellees/Respondents,

APPEAL CASE NO. 03-2009

OPINION

Hearing: April 1, 2009

Decided: April 1, 2009

Opinion Entered: April 2, 2009
 

BEFORE:

Hon. Camillo Noket, Chief Justice, Presiding

Hon. Salomon M. Saimon, Temporary Justice*

Hon. George Z. Isom, Temporary Justice**
 

*Attorney at Law, Micronesian Legal Services Corporation, Weno, Chuuk

**Attorney at Law, FSM Public Defender's Office, Weno, Chuuk
 

APPEARANCES:

For the Petitioner:                Gideon K. Doone

                                              P.O. Box 882

                                              Weno, Chuuk FM 96942
 

For the Respondent:             Charleston Bravo

  (Election Commín)               Assistant Attorney General

                                              Office of the Chuuk Attorney General

                                              P.O. Box 1050

                                              Weno, Chuuk FM 96942


 

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HEADNOTE

Elections ) Contests

    When the election statute appears to contemplate that the election commission will be open for filing election complaints during the five days following the election resultsí certification regardless of whether one of those day falls on a weekend or holiday; when the election commission had no written policies or regulations or other notice issued to the public that would reasonably inform a complainant that the election commission would be open at reasonable, specified times for filing election contests each of the five days following the resultsí certification; when the election contestant was not reasonably informed that he could file his verified complaint on Saturday, March 14, rather than filing

[16 FSM Intrm 391]

it on the following Monday, as he had done; when the contestant had sought to file his verified complaint on Saturday, but the election commission office was not open for filing; and when, even if there had been written policies or regulations or other reasonable public notice, the commission was not, in fact, open for filing when petitioner sought to file his complaint within the five-day deadline, the court will conclude that the verified election complaintís Monday filing was timely under the circumstances and remand the matter back to the election commission for an expedited ruling. Aten v. Chuuk State Election Commín, 16 FSM Intrm. 390, 391-92 (Chk. S. Ct. App. 2009).

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COURTíS OPINION

CAMILLO NOKET, Chief Justice, presiding:

I. Introduction

    This was an appeal from the Chuuk State Election Commissionís denial for untimeliness of petitioner Peter L. Atenís protest of the March 3, 2009 Chuuk state election results.

II. Background

    Mr. Aten was a candidate running for the Chuuk State Senate, representing the Faichuk region. On March 9, 2009, the election commission certified the results and Mr. Aten was not one of the winners. In his complaint filed with the election commission that was dated March 15, 2009 but received by the election commission on Monday, March 16, 2009, Mr. Aten alleged various improprieties in the conduct at polling places and in the tabulation of votes. On March 16, 2009, the election commission denied complaint as untimely based on Section 127 of the Chuuk State Election Code, which requires that a verified statement of contest be filed with the election commission within five days of the declaration of the results of the election. Chk. S.L. No. 3-95-26, ß 127. On March 25, 2009, Mr. Aten filed his notice of appeal of the denial. The court held a hearing on April 1, 2009 and orally delivered its ruling. This order memorializes that ruling.

III. Findings

    At the hearing, the court considered whether the five day period for filing a an appeal from the election commission's denial of Mr. Atenís complaint would include the weekend, since the last day for filing fell on a Saturday, or whether it was proper to have waited until Monday to file the complaint as petitioner had done. The court agreed with the election commission that the Chuuk State Election Code does not distinguish between weekdays, weekends, or holidays in setting the filing deadlines for filing an election contest complaint with the election commission. The court noted that the Chuuk State Civil Rules of Procedure are sometimes applied by analogy to election contests in the Appellate Division. The reason is that Sections 131 and 132 of the Election Code specify that the Appellate Division is to hold a trial of election contest, as in a civil case in the Trial Division. For the purpose of the timing deadline imposed by Section 127, however, the court did not conclude that the timing provisions in the Civil Rules of Procedure should be applied. The reason is that the Section 127 relates to proceedings brought before the election commission, and not the court, which matters are to be handled in the most expeditious manner possible within the statutory framework. Section 127, therefore, appears to contemplate that the election commission will be open for filing election complaints during the five days following the certification of the election results regardless of whether one of those day falls on a weekend or holiday.

[16 FSM Intrm 392]

    The court therefore concluded that election complaints must be filed within five days of the certification of results, as specified in Section 127. In this case, however, the court found that the election commission had no written policies or regulations or other notice issued to the public that would reasonably inform a complainant that the election commission would be open for filing election contests each of the five days following certification of the results at reasonable, specified times. The court concluded that Mr. Aten was not reasonably informed that he could file his verified complaint on Saturday, rather than filing it on the following Monday, as he had done. The court also found that Mr. Aten had sought to file his verified complaint on March 14, 2009, but the election commission office was not open for filing. The court also concluded, therefore, that even if there had been written policies or regulations or other reasonable notice to the public, the commission was not, in fact, open for filing when petitioner sought to file his complaint within the five day deadline set by Section 127.

IV. Conclusion

    Mr. Atenís verified election complaint was, therefore, timely under the circumstances. The court remands the matter back to the election commission for an expedited ruling on the merits of Mr. Aten's election complaint.

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