Court rules that Mwoalen Wahu Ileili has legal standing in sea cucumber harvest case

Partially denies defendants’ motion to dismiss

10 sea cucumber

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press
September 29, 2016
Pohnpei, FSM—In what may well be a landmark decision cited in future legal actions, the FSM Supreme Court ruled that the Conservation Society of Pohnpei lacks standing to bring a civil action against the plaintiffs in the sea cucumber case but co-plaintiffs, the Mwoalen Wahu Ileili do have legal standing to bring the action.
The decision, delivered yesterday by Specially Appointed Justice Mayceleen JD Anson came in response to a motion filed separately by Young Sun Corporation and by Pohnpei State defendants claiming that neither plaintiff in the case would be directly affected by a sea cucumber harvest and therefore the case should be dismissed. The decision essentially removed the Conservation Society of Pohnpei as plaintiffs in the case though they will remain as counter-defendants in the answer to the civil action filed by the defendants which also included a counter claim. The Mwoalen Wahu Ileili remains as a plaintiff so the hearings on issuance of a permanent injunction to permanently put a stop to the planned sea cucumber harvest will continue to move forward.

The potentially landmark portion of the decision came in a lengthy and technical legal discussion on the standing of custom and tradition which is uncodified and sometimes difficult to define but is recognized in the Pohnpei State Constitution. The Mwoalen Wahu Ileili, the traditional leaders of Pohnpei whose spokesperson in the case is Iso Nahnken of Nett Mr. Salvador Iriarte, argued in their initial filing that the sea cucumber harvest would directly affect their traditional right to take the first fruits of the harvest.
According to the court’s decision, the defendants argued in their motion that the custom of first fruits is no longer practiced and therefore not a basis that would provide the Mwoalen Wahu Ileili with legal standing to bring a civil action on the sea cucumber harvest.
The matter of the standing of custom and tradition in the legal environment was a huge issue that the court could not ignore in its ruling. Iso Nahnken of Nett Mr. Salvador Iriarte confirmed that this is the first time that the Mwoalen Wahu Ileili has jointly resorted to the courts on any issue in its history.
Mr. Iriarte said that he is pleased with the court’s decisions on the action so far.
The decision made yesterday essentially upheld the place of custom and tradition as compatible with the rule of law.
After the civil action was filed, on July 20 the FSM Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) barring the defendants from proceeding with the sea cucumber harvest. The TRO has been renewed several times as motions and arguments have been heard and was renewed again with yesterday’s ruling.
On August 3, 2016, the State defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of standing and subject matter jurisdiction.
The court set a hearing on the permanent injunction for August 23, 2016.
On August 11, Young Sun filed its Answer, Affirmative Defenses and counterclaims.
On August 23, 2016, during the scheduled hearing on plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, the court granted defendant Young Sun's motion to stay proceedings on the hearing for plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction pending the appellate division's ruling on the writs of prohibition regarding the presiding justice's denial of the defendants' motions for recusal in the matter. The appellate division upheld the Court’s denial of defendant’s motions for recusal which argued that Justice Anson should recuse herself from hearing the case due to a familial relationship with a traditional leader.
The court set a hearing on the state defendants' motion to dismiss for August 25, 2016. Shortly before that hearing, the plaintiffs filed a Motion for Relief from Order Granting TRO and Order Granting Evidentiary Hearing on Motion to Dismiss. On September 8, 2016, arguments were heard on that motion and the court denied it. Addressing that issue, the court noted that it found it appropriate to accelerate the hearing on the motion and hold a preliminary hearing on the issue of standing based on cited legal precedent.
The court then moved on to the hearing on the state defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of standing. This Order follows. As a preliminary note, defendant Young Sun filed its own Motion to Dismiss on September 7, 2016, one day before the hearing on the state defendants' motion to dismiss. The plaintiffs filed their opposition on September 19, 2016.
Because the arguments were substantially similar to those of their co-defendants, its argument was heard during the hearing, and the court does not feel the need to hold further hearings on the issue, yesterday’s order also discusses and applies to Young Sun's pending motion to dismiss.
Barring any unforeseen motions or legal actions by either side, the next hearing, which has not yet been scheduled will move on to the meat of the issue to decide whether or not the Court should issue a permanent injunction against the planned sea cucumber harvest.