Pohnpei Supreme Court
POHNPEI PUBLIC LANDS BOARD OF TRUSTEES
and the STATE OF POHNPEI,
NETT DISTRICT COURT, et al.,
PCA Nos. 48-94, 65-94
A Petition for an emergency writ of prohibition is before the Court. The petitioners, Pohnpei Public Lands Board of Trustees and the State of Pohnpei, filed the petition to prevent the Nett District Court from issuing any further orders or judgments against the Pohnpei State Government, its constituent parts or officials, and to refrain from any future attempts to exercise jurisdiction over the Government.
On or about March 1, 1994, the Iso Nahnken of Nett (hereinafter the "Nahnken") filed a Complaint for Declaratory Relief in the Nett District Court, purportedly on behalf of the people of Nett, against the Pohnpei Public Lands Board of Trustees seeking title to all public lands located in Nett. He also sought an accounting of all income and other benefits from the Board's administration and regulation of Nett public lands and payment of such income and benefits into a trust to be administered by the "paramount traditional leaders of Nett." The Board filed a Contest of District Court Jurisdiction in Nett District Court,- dated March 4, 1994. On March 11, 1994, Pohnpei filed a Petition for Removal of Nett District Court Proceedings, and Petition for Stay of Action, PCA No. 48-94, in this Court. The merits of the two petitions were never reached, however.1
While these matters were pending, the Nett District Court issued a judgment anyway, on March 9, 1994 ruling that it had jurisdiction-over the State of Pohnpei and that the case did not belong in the Pohnpei Supreme Court.2 The Nett Court also ordered the State and the Board of Trustees to convey all state owned property located in Nett District to the Nahnken and pay all, rents and profits collected in connection with such property to the Nahnken.3 Consequently, on April 13, 1994, the Government petitioned for the writ of prohibition that is now before the Court, PCA No. 65-94. 4
Almost simultaneously, the same cause of action involving the same lands was pending in the FSM Supreme Court, except that certain violations of the FSM Constitution were alleged. The FSM Supreme Court accepted the Government's affirmative defense of laches, finding that the Nahnken delayed inexcusably for almost fifteen years in commencing the action and that permitting the action to go forward would severely prejudice the State. See Nahnken of Nett v. Pohnpei, 7 FSM Tntrm. 171, 182 (Pon. 1994). The Nahnken's case was therefore dismissed. See id. On appeal, that Court affirmed the trial court decision. See Nahnken of Nett v. Pohnpei, 7 FSM Intrm. 481 (App. 1996)..
The ruling of the'FSM Supreme Court that the doctrine of laches bars the Nahnken from asserting his claims against the Pohnpei State Government is res judicata. Therefore, the Nahnken is collaterally estopped from bringing the same claims against the Government in any other court. See also Nahnken of Nett v. United States (III), 6 FSM Intrm. 508, 516 (Pon. 1994). It follows that even if Nett-District Court had jurisdiction of this matter, it could not take any further action with respect to Nahnken's claims against the Government. The controversy is now moot. PCA Nos. 48-94 and 65-94 are hereby dismissed with prejudice.
SO ORDERED this 7th day of July, 2000.
Judah C. Johnny
ENTERED this 7th day of July, 2000.
Chief Clerk of Court
1. On May 3, 1994, the Honorable Edwel H. Santos issued an order that stated, "apparently Nett District Court went ahead and rendered a decision in NCA No. 94-01, thus rendering petitioner's petition for removal moot as there was no case to remove." The premise upon which this conclusion was made is incorrect, as Nett District court lacked subject matter jurisdiction of the case. Any decision of that court in this matter was void and nonbinding. See n.2, infra.Back to Opinion
2. The opinion of Nett District Court is without precedential value, as that court is without subject matter jurisdiction over this matter. See Pon. Const. art. 10 § 1; S.L. No. 2L-192-91 § 2,19.Back to Opinion
3. In a separate action brought by a different plaintiff, Nett District Court issued a temporary restraining order against the Pohnpei State Government on April 12, 1994, Nett District Court Civil Action No. 03-94.Back to Opinion
4. At some point during the proceedings, PCA Nos. 48-94 and 65-94 were consolidatedBack to Opinion