Defense: A “profusion of redundant claims” in lawsuit against C.J.
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A lawsuit against the Chief Justice, F. Michael Kruse, “is a gigantic waste of judicial resource” and is a “text book example of frivolity and vexation,” according to the defense’s detailed response to Steven Jay Pincus Hueter’s complaint against the Chief Justice.
Hueter’s lawsuit was filed early last month with the Trial Division of the High Court and last week, the Chief Justice, represented by the court’s legal counsel, Jon A.G. Clemens filed a detailed response and requested that the complaint be dismissed.
According to the defense, practically all of the claims the plaintiff asserts are centered on allegations of violations to plaintiff’s constitutional and statutory rights stemming from orders the Chief Justice issued in Hueter’s lawsuit against the governor and ASG relating to the governor’s COVID-19 declarations.
“Plaintiff now brings this frivolous and vexatious suit against the Chief Justice alleging the same violations to his constitutional rights — including due process violations — and the same legal and factual grounds as those that plaintiff” brought against the governor and ASG, the defense asserts.
Furthermore, the plaintiff has rebranded them against the Chief Justice with allegations of conspiring with the Governor and ASG to violate plaintiff's rights and claims that the Chief Justice misused CARES Act funds.
The defense describes the plaintiff’s 258-page complaint a “dissertation of confusion that, as far as can be reasonably deciphered, appears to allege a profusion of redundant claims of misconduct and constitutional violations apparently perpetrated by the court’s denial of plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief” in plaintiff’s case against the governor and ASG.
According to the defense, the complaint against the Chief Justice is a “copy-and-paste job” of the plaintiff’s complaint against the governor and ASG.
In addition to constitutional tort claims alleged — pursuant to provisions of federal law — the defense contends that the plaintiff “also appears” to allege equal rights violations, and accuses the Chief Justice of treason, being “at war against the constitution,” misusing taxpayer money and seeks an award of compensatory and punitive damages “equaling” $5 million.
LACK OF STANDING
The defense argued that plaintiff’s allegation involves actions that were taken in the performance of the Chief Justice’s duties as the presiding justice in the plaintiff’s case against the governor and ASG — a lawsuit filed in the Trial Division of the High Court — i.e., “a court of general jurisdiction whose jurisdiction over the subject matter is proper and not contested by plaintiff.”
The defense explained that plaintiff filed a series of motions including an application of injunctive relief that the Chief Justice reviewed and denied in accordance with his duties as a judicial officer.
“Plaintiff now attempts to derail judicial progress by lodging his personal attack on the Chief Justice claiming that the orders somehow violated plaintiff’s constitutional and statutory rights without offering a scintilla of evidence that would otherwise suggest that any of the Chief Justice’s conduct relates to actions taken in the clear absence of all jurisdiction,” the defense points out.
The defense asked that the plaintiff’s claims be “dismissed with prejudice on jurisdictional grounds”. Additionally the Chief Justice’s “absolute immunity” also extends to plaintiff’s “equal rights under the law” claims as it is a statutory claim for which plaintiffs seeks monetary judgment.
Furthermore, plaintiff’s constitutional and statutory claims for declaratory and injunctive relief are barred by absolute immunity. Both claims “must” be dismissed with prejudice.
The defense also contends that plaintiff lacks standing to allege the Chief Justice abused his discretion and failed to avoid appearances of impropriety in misusing CARES Act funds.
In his complaint, Hueter alleges abuse of discretion, abuse of power, and misconduct in violation of the code of Judicial Conduct against the Chief Justice claiming that he “flagrantly” failed to “avoid the appearance of impropriety and improperly benefited from the personal misuse of $500,000” and $2 million “in-part plaintiff’s tax payer funds.”
The defense notes that these allegations are presented in multiple locations on the 258-page complaint.
Plaintiff justifies his standing to these claims by alleging that he “is entitled to a taxpayer suit as a remedy available to a taxpayer when taxes are used for improper or illegal activities or when the public funds are used by the government for projects which are not intended for a public purpose,” according to the defense citing quotes from Hueter’s complaint.
The defense argued that plaintiff lacks standing to advance these against the Chief Justice and consequently must be denied with prejudice.
FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM
Plaintiff argued in his complaint that the Chief Justice violated his constitutional and civil liberties because the Chief Justice denied him injunctive relief and ordered him to comply with the governor’s COVID-19 declarations, which plaintiff also claims are unconstitutional.
(In particular, plaintiff argued that he was prevented from attending church from 9p.m to 5a.m the next day — which, Samoa News points out is among the restrictions in the declarations. This time-frame of restrictions also applies to businesses, with an exemption for StarKist and its business affiliates.)
The defense said plaintiff “grounds these claims on allegations that there is no proof or evidence showing anyone including himself” is infected with the virus and there are no reported COVID-19 cases in the territory, which is protected from the pandemic because the border is “substantially closed.”
The defense argued that the plaintiff was “careful to cherry-pick only the key passages from the Declarations — namely, the restriction on travel and public assembly — that bolster his contrived narrative while artfully dismissing all other parts of the Declarations that give context and purpose” to their promulgations.
For example, the world is facing a global pandemic for which no cure or vaccine is available and that an outbreak in the territory would be catastrophic in light of the vulnerabilities of the local population, the virulence of the virus and the limitation of local health care, according to the defense, citing provisions from the Declarations.
“Clearly, plaintiff realizes context, or lack thereof, is supremely important and so manipulates the reported facts to his advantage,” the defense argued.
Responding to plaintiff’s allegations regarding the lack of proof or evidence of COVID-19 infection in the territory, the defense said such allegations “are tantamount to a diabetic person who refuses medical examination and then claims to have no diabetes on grounds that there is no proof or evidence that he has the disease.”
The defense dismissed plaintiff’s allegation of local borders being “substantially closed” — which defense argued is still an open border, evident from the fact that stores remain stocked, mail still is being delivered.
“In the face of a virulent pandemic, there remains the very real possibility of a local outbreak” in spite of “substantially closed” border, according to the defense, which also argued that plaintiff’s claims of discrimination are legally and factually unsupported and must be dismissed on the merits.
The defense also argued that plaintiff lacks standing to allege the Chief Justice abused his discretion and failed to avoid appearance of impropriety in misusing CARES Act funds. According to defense such claims must be denied with prejudice.
On the plaintiff’s claims of fraud and misuse of CARES Act funds against the Chief Justice, the defense argued that these claims must also be denied with prejudice.
The defense asserts that the plaintiff does not plead facts supporting his allegations of CARES Act misuse.
And the closest the plaintiff comes to pleading facts are news reports — from the online stories of Samoa News and KHJ News — that Hueter submitted as evidence as well as the complaints he apparently lodged against the Chief Justice with the FBI, and the inspectors general for the US Treasury and US Interior Department.
“It is beyond understanding how any of this can even be considered facts that plausibly support plaintiff’s claim that the Chief Justice misused CARES Act funds, much more, conspired with the Governor and ASG to violate plaintiff’s rights,” the defense points out.
And plaintiff’s reliance of news reports of Fono members required to return their CARES Act awards is “misplaced”.
According to the defense, the plaintiff’s complaint is “frivolous and vexatious” and should be dismissed with prejudice. It argues that the complaint “is a gigantic waste of judicial resources that plaintiff obviously has initiated in an effort to force” disqualification of the Chief Justice from presiding over the plaintiff’s lawsuit against the governor and ASG, “presumably, to improve his chances at winning the pot of gold.”
It’s unclear as to when the Trial Division will issue a decision on the lawsuit against the Chief Justice, as plaintiff has filed more motions with the court.