Doing It on “Island Time” in Saipan

We love a dispatch from the Saipan Times, dated June 29, 2012, entitled NMI Supreme Court Hands Out Ruling in Eminent Domain Case. It may or may not set a record of sorts, but even if not, it is certainly up there in championship territory of baronial leisure in litigation.

In 1993 — that almost 20 years ago — the Marianas Commonwealth took the owners’ land to improve a road. But it overlooked one little detail: it failed to pay just compensation. It took 10 years of negotiation but patience seemingly paid off when in 2008 — that’s 15 years after the taking — the parties agreed on compensation of $4,196,524. But when the owners tried to enforce the settlement agreement by seeking a writ of execution, the trial court refused to issue one on the grounds that the legislature had not appropriated funds for this taking and a local statute states that any final judgment of a court [against the government]  shall be paid only pursuant to an item of [legislative] appropriation. So his trial Lordship concluded that he had no authority to issue the writ. But he awarded title to the condemnor in spite of this blatant violation of the Just Compensation Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and to add insult to injury, he refused to award post-judgment interest.

Like us, we hope you will be relieved to learn that the local supreme court reversed. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the supreme court also held that enforcing the judgment without a legislative appropriation would violate the separation-of-powers doctrine.  The other item of good news, however, is that in the absence of payment of just compensation, it was illegal to convey title to the condemnor, so title would remain with the owners until the condemnor paid just compensation. And post-judgment interest on the judgment would continue accruing. Let’s see now — that’s interest on $4,196,524 for 19 years and counting. Hoo boy! Since we don’t know what the Saipan judgment interest rate is, we can’t calculate the amount due by now. But we are mindful of the “the rule of 72” whereby if you take 72 and divide it by the interest rate expressed as an integral number (rather than a decimal fraction), you get the number of years in which the amount due doubles. You can take it from there.

To read the news story on this case, click here. We are not clear how they do it over there, but if you go to the site you’ll get the Marianas Variety newspaper, but if you print out the article, the source is identified as the Saipan Tribune. Go figure. The article also contains a link to the Marianas Supreme Court home site.

Afterthought. So what now? Since the owners continue to own the land on which the commonwealth built a road, they should be able to put up a barricade and charge tolls to the passing traffic. That would get the condemnor’s attention, wouldn’t it?