Suit by three faipule vs ASEDA dismissed

The Trial Division of the High Court has granted a motion by the American Samoa Economic Development Authority to dismiss the suit by three House Representatives who believed that ASEDA violated the budget law when it spent $50 million of the Series 2018 bond proceeds without Fono approval.

The complaint, filed by Representatives Larry Sanitoa, Andra Samoa and Vesiai Samuelu Poyer, asked the court to declare that ASEDA must first comply with the Budget Procedures Act and submit an agency program and financial plan to the Fono for approcal before it could expend the bond funds.

They contended that ASEDA does not have the authority to appropriate the bond proceeds and that its failure to seek Fono approval before spending these funds has effectively nullified their respective votes as legislators.

ASEDA, moved to dismiss the suit on the grounds that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and that the complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted.

The court granted defendant ASEDA’s motion for dismissal.

It found that the Fono had approved use of the bond funds through legislation stating that ASEDA “may issue its bonds from time to time without further authorization from the Legislature subject to the procedures and restrictions in this chapter.”

In addition the Fono subsequently adopted legislation which reads in part: “The American Samoa Government will not alter, impair or limit the revenues pledged toward the repayment of the bonds until the bonds, together with applicable interest, are fully paid and discharged.

“ASEDA may refer this pledge and undertaking by the American Samoa Government in its bonds.”

The court said these enactments clearly place the funding and repayment measures contemplated outside the vagaries of further political processes. And the reason for this is self evident…investor confidence and security without which the viability of the Act as a vehicle for economic development would not be rendered quite impotent.

The court also said, “We cannot accept plaintiffs’ contentions that the entire House of Representatives has been injured by the actions of ASEDA. Notwithstanding these unnamed legislators, supposed reluctance to join in the instant matter, we decline to adjudicate claims involving legislators rights not properly before the court.

“Because plaintiffs have not demonstrated an injury in fact either in their personal or official capacities, we need not address the other elements of standing and conclude therefore that plaintiffs lack standing.”

The three lawmakers had asked the court to define ASEDA’s role with regard to bond issuances going forward. But the court said it is barred from issuing advisory opinions.

According to the ruling, defining ASEDA’s role going forward is not a present case or controversy, Any conclusion therefore to be drawn by the court on actions ASEDA may undertake at a future time would be merely advisory.

The court said the that  three branches of government, executive, legislative and judicial, “function only through a series of checks and balances designed to prevent American Samoans from being alienated from  the democratic decision making process.  The court can only exercise power over matters and parties subject to its jurisdiction that have been properly brought before it. Plaintiffs as legislators, retain the capacity to review ASEDA’s actions through the exercise of legislative oversight or through the legislative process.

“Such capacity however is reposed in the Fono as a whole, and not in the Judiciary at the instance of individual legislators. In other words, the proper venue to address any concerns plaintiffs may have with regard to ASEDA’s implementation of the law, lies with the Fono, not the court.

The ruling was signed by Chief Justice Michael Kruse and Associate Judge Muasau Tofili.

The plaintiffs were represented by Thomas Jones while Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale represented ASEDA.