FSM court set to hear motions and oppositions on “First Lady” case filed by Janet Semes Panuelo

By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press


January 10, 2020

FSM—Supreme Court Justice Larry Wentworth to hear motions to dismissed filed by the defendants in the complaint that Janet Semes Panuelo filed against them related to the use of the term “First Lady” in reference to Patricia Edwin.  The hearing will be at the Supreme Court chambers in Palikir from 10:00 to 10:30 on January 16.

Attorney Salomon Saimon is representing President David W. Panuelo and Tricia Edwin.  FSM Attorney General Joses Gallen is representing the FSM Government, the FSM Public Information Office, FSM Department of Foreign Affairs, and the FSM Congress.  Both attorneys have filed motions to dismiss on behalf of their clients.

Attorney Marstella Jack has filed an opposition to those motions.

Secretary Gallen’s motion to dismiss the claims that relate to the government and its offices contains arguments supporting his claim that all claims against his government clients should be dismissed.  “…the causes of action alleged by the Plaintiff against (his government clients) all share a common and fatal flaw: they assume that branches of this government have a collective duty to police the statements of the executive when they concern his private life. No such duty exists, nor has one ever existed. It is not the job of Congress to choose the President's partner, no more than it is the Judiciary's.” 

Gallen’s motion says that the plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.  He argues that the claim of tortious interference with a marriage contract does not apply since marriage contracts are fundamentally non-economic in nature, and are therefore outside the scope of tortious interference.

He argues that the claim that his clients acted to cause intentional infliction of emotional distress by “validating…Patricia Edwin’s false representation as First Lady of the FSM cannot legally be supported.  “In

order for conduct to be actionable under this theory, it must be "so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community,” his brief says and sites legal precedence to support the argument.

On behalf of his clients President Panuelo and Patricia Edwin, Attorney Salomon Saimon filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.  In it he says that David Panuelo and Janet Semes Panuelo were married in 1989 but that four years ago the marriage was dissolved under recognized Pohnpei customary law.  He claims that he then met and married Patricia Edwin under customary law but only after his marriage had been dissolved under that same customary law.

Saimon says that with the filing of the present matter, the customary divorce from the plaintiff is formally being questioned for the first time. “Because of this questioning and as required by Pohnpei law, Defendant Panuelo has now begun the process to confirm the customary divorce of the marriage that took place in 1989 with the Plaintiff… The complaint fatally presupposes that the persons of Panuelo and the Plaintiff are still married pursuant to Pohnpei law…the resolution of that factual question (customary divorce that took place years ago) and legal question (the forthcoming confirmation thereof) can only be resolved when Pohnpei Supreme Court resolves (President Panuelo’s petition at the Pohnpei Supreme Court)” to confirm the divorce under customary law.

In her opposition to the government’s motion to dismiss said that while it may be true in a certain set of circumstances that there is no law requiring Congress to “police David Panuelo’s private life…it does not necessarily follow that Defendant FSM Congress is wholly without some kind of a duty or responsibility to ensure that the actions of its own members do not undermine the integrity of the Legislative branch and the FSM Government.” She reminded the Court of the Constitutional provision that allows Congress to discipline one of its members and by a 2/3 vote to suspend or expel the member.

On the applicability of tortious interference with the marriage contract Jack contends that the AG’s argument is incomplete in that his case reference quoted only part of the judge’s ruling that upheld the right of individuals to be secure against harm and interference from others. She argued that her client’s economic situation that she had prior to Defendants’ tortious actions changed drastically and she no longer has the access to her prior of economic support.

She says that the government also downplayed the seriousness of her client’s emotional damage or harm caused by their actions.

Jack’s opposition on behalf of her clients to Saimon’s motion to dismiss argues that under Pohnpei case law, only customary marriages can be dissolved through customary divorce.  She cites a Pohnpei Appellate case in which it was ruled that in order for a marriage union to be dissolved, it must be dissolved in accordance with the way it was acquired.  She claims that David Panuelo must go back to the Catholic Church to seek a dissolution of marriage to Janet Semes Panuelo and not the Pohnpei Supreme Court.  Semes Panuelo has filed a Motion to Dismiss “as an answer to David Panuelo’s attempt to legalize his alleged customary divorce (in the Pohnpei Supreme Court).”

She says that because of those factors, “it cannot be said that it appears to a certainty that Plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” as Saimon’s motion to dismiss claims.

Supreme Court Justice Wentworth will hear all of the motions on Thursday, January 16, 2020.

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