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Tuli'au v. Tuiasina

Cite as [IVAN TULI’AU, Plaintiff, v. SALAMANO LAUMOLI TUIASINA; AMERICAN SAMOA GOVERNMENT, jointly and severally, Defendants.]

IVAN TULI’AU, Plaintiff,

 

v.

 

SALAMANO LAUMOLI TUIASINA; AMERICAN SAMOA GOVERNMENT, jointly and severally, Defendants.

___________________________________

 

High Court of American Samoa

Trial Division

 

CA No. 22-12

 

July 26, 2012

 

 

[1] Complaints which fall short of the plausibility standard are subject to dismissal under T.C.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) unless the court lacks the subject matter jurisdiction to hear a complaint, in which case dismissal under T.C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) is appropriate.

 

[2] A former or current government employee who wishes to challenge his employment-termination must bring such a dispute before the Office of the Administrative Law Judge (“OALJ”) in the first instance; that office has primary jurisdiction over such disputes. From the OALJ, a disaffected party may then seek judicial review, not at the Trial Division level but before the Appellate Division. A.S.C.A. § 4.0604 (b) & (h).

 

[3] Any claim premised on the American Samoa Government’s failure to renew a professional license are matters beyond the scope of the Trial Division’s subject matter jurisdiction. A.S.C.A. § 31.1006 explicitly requires that “[a]ll proceedings respecting the...refusal, suspension, revocation, or modification of a [medical practitioner’s] license issued by the [Regulatory Health] Board, and judicial review thereof, must be in accordance with the provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act set forth in 4.1001 et seq.”

 

[4] If the substance of a plaintiff’s claims hinges on whether the government wrongfully terminated the plaintiff’s employment, a decision the Office of the Administrative Law Judge (“OALJ”) renders, the form of plaintiff’s complaint as one lying in tort under the Government Tort Liability Act, A.S.C.A. §§ 43.1201, et seq., will not stand. The proper venue for such a dispute lies with the OALJ.

 

 

Before: KRUSE, Chief Justice; LOGOAI, Chief Associate Judge; FA’AMAUSILI, Associate Judge.

 

Counsel:               For Plaintiff, Mark F. Ude.

                                For Defendant, ASG, Bensy Benjamin, Assistant Attorney General.

 

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT ASG’S MOTION TO DISMISS

 

BACKGROUND

We have a less-than-accurate understanding of the allegations in this action because Plaintiff’s pleadings leave much to be desired in the way of a tenable factual background. Regardless, on May 17, 2012, Plaintiff Ivan Tuli’au (Tuli’au) filed a Complaint listing Salamano Laumoli Tuiasina (“Tuiasina”) and the American Samoa Government (“ASG”) as Defendants. On June 26, 2012, ASG filed a Motion to Dismiss for lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction and alternatively a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief can be Granted — motions to dismiss pursuant to T.C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), respectively. On July 18, 2012, Tuli’au countered with an Opposition, which addressed the T.C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) argument. [**2**] Both of ASG’s motions came on for hearing on July 23, 2012, counsel for both parties appearing. However, immediately prior to the time set for hearing, Tuli’au also filed, without leave of court and therefore in violation of T.C.R.C.P. 15(a), an Amended Complaint, in a seeming effort to preserve his noticeably deficient Complaint.

 

From what we can glean, Tuli’au was a locally licensed medical doctor who lost a government job on-island. In his Complaint, Tuli’au alleges that ASG would not renew his professional license,[1] which, among other things, impacted him economically.

 

We ruled from the bench on July 23, 2012; this Order merely echoes in written form that prior ruling: we find ASG’s argument concerning T.C.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) persuasive, but dismiss this action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under T.C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1).

DISCUSSION

I. T.C.R.C.P. 12(b)(6)

[1] We have twice articulated the pleadings standard in this jurisdiction, that of plausibility, which relies on the U.S. Supreme Court precedents of Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. __, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009). Pac. Grading Corp. v. Constr. Servs. of Samoa, CA [**3**] No. 43-02, slip op at 12-16 (Trial Div. May 3, 2012) (order granting ASG’s mot. for sum. j.); Vergara v. Am. Samoa Gov’t, CA No. 86-11, slip op. at 5 (Trial Div. Feb. 9, 2012) (order on def.’s mot. to dismiss). Plaintiff’s pleadings (including an improperly filed Amended Complaint)[2] fall far short of the plausibility standard and are subject to dismissal under T.C.R.C.P. 12(b)(6). However, we are satisfied that T.C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) is the more appropriate ground for dismissal in this instance as we cannot make a ruling if we lack the subject matter jurisdiction to do so. Hall v. Am. Samoa Med. Cntr., CA 43-07, slip op. 3-4 (Trial Div. July 6, 2012) (order of dismissal without prejudice). We lack subject matter jurisdiction here.

 

II. T.C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1)

[2] Tuli’au argues that he seeks relief under the Government Tort Liability Act, A.S.C.A. §§ 43.1201, et seq., and that this Court has exclusive jurisdiction to hear all torts leveled against the government. A.S.C.A. § 43.1209(a). Tuli’au vaguely proffers negligence, defamation, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and constitutional violations as the claims for his present action. Notwithstanding these “claims,” the thrust of Tuli’au’s Complaint hinges on whether (1) he was terminated and (2) whether such termination was improper or wrongful. Indeed, it appears as if Tuli’au is attempting to circumvent the statutory process for wrongful termination [**4**] controversies against the government. However, a former or current government employee who wishes to challenge his employment-termination must bring such a dispute before the Office of the Administrative Law Judge (“OALJ”) in the first instance; that office has primary jurisdiction over such disputes. A.S.C.A. § 4.0604(b). From the OALJ, a disaffected party may then seek judicial review, not at the Trial Division level but before the Appellate Division. A.S.C.A. § 4.0604(h). That is the process due to Tuli’au in this instance.

 

[3] Moreover, Tuli’au’s cause(s) premised on ASG’s failure to renew his professional license are also matters beyond the scope of our subject matter jurisdiction. A.S.C.A. § 31.1006 explicitly requires that “[a]ll proceedings respecting the...refusal, suspension, revocation, or modification of a [medical practitioner’s] license issued by the [Regulatory Health] Board, and judicial review thereof, must be in accordance with the provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act set forth in 4.1001 et seq.” Id. (emphasis added).

 

[4] Indeed, it appears Tuli’au is attempting to guise his Complaint as one full of vaguely-stated torts against the government to seemingly circumvent the OALJ; however, the substance of his claims (though very vaguely stated) hinges on whether the ASG wrongfully terminated Tuli’au’s employment[3] (a decision the OALJ renders). Accordingly, we will not entertain this action; the [**5**] proper venue for this controversy lies with the OALJ.

 

ORDER

The present action is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

 

It is so ordered.

 

 



[1] Cf. A.S.C.A. §§ 30.1001-.1011, which vests in the Regulatory Health Board, not ASG, the licensing of medical practice and practitioners in the Territory.

[2] Cf. T.C.R.C.P. 15(a).

[3] Cf. A.S.C.A. §§ 31.001, et seq.

Complaints which fall short of the plausibility standard are subject to dismissal under T.C.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) unless the court lacks the subject matter jurisdiction to hear a complaint, in which case dismissal under T.C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) is appropriate

A former or current government employee who wishes to challenge his employment-termination must bring such a dispute before the Office of the Administrative Law Judge (“OALJ”) in the first instance; that office has primary jurisdiction over such disputes. From the OALJ, a disaffected party may then seek judicial review, not at the Trial Division level but before the Appellate Division. A.S.C.A. § 4.0604 (b) & (h).

Any claim premised on the American Samoa Government’s failure to renew a professional license are matters beyond the scope of the Trial Division’s subject matter jurisdiction. A.S.C.A. § 31.1006 explicitly requires that “[a]ll proceedings respecting the...refusal, suspension, revocation, or modification of a [medical practitioner’s] license issued by the [Regulatory Health] Board, and judicial review thereof, must be in accordance with the provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act set forth in 4.1001 et seq.”

If the substance of a plaintiff’s claims hinges on whether the government wrongfully terminated the plaintiff’s employment, a decision the Office of the Administrative Law Judge (“OALJ”) renders, the form of plaintiff’s complaint as one lying in tort under the Government Tort Liability Act, A.S.C.A. §§ 43.1201, et seq., will not stand. The proper venue for such a dispute lies with the OALJ.