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High Court dismisses lawsuit against National Park superintendent

reporters@samoanews.com

The Trial Division of the High Court has issued an order dismissing a lawsuit filed by former National Park employee, Epifania Suafo’a Taua’i against National Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds, finding that there is a lack of sufficient facts and law to support her allegations, as well as lack of jurisdiction.

The 11 page order was signed by Associate Justice Lyle L Richmond and Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr.

The plaintiff is represented by Mark Ude while the defendant is represented by Marshal Ashley, Andrew W. McCarthy and Virginia G. Lago.

According to the order, the plaintiff Taua’i in her claim has it that Reynolds accused her of stealing artifacts from the National Park Service. The plaintiff specifically alleges defamation; tortious interference, violation of her civil rights under the U.S. constitution, and violation of her rights under the revised constitution of American Samoa. The claim was filed on August 29, 2011.

The order says that three months later, the defendant Reynolds moved to dismiss this lawsuit through a motion he filed. The hearing into this matter was held on December 19 last year.

In discussion, the judges claim that a civil action may be dismissed if, upon the facts and the law, a plaintiff has shown no right to relief, and notes that a plaintiff must allege enough facts to sustain a claim; additionally the plaintiff’s complaint must be plausible.

Also, the judges state “at issue is whether the Summons and Complaint for a suit against a federal employee in his individual capacity is properly served when it is specifically mailed to the United States Attorney General at Washington DC via registered or certified mail.”

The order says they saw “no reason as to how the additional requirement of sending a copy of the summons and complaint to the civil-process clerk at the United States Attorney’s office imposes a burden so heavy as to render it impracticable.”

The court ruled that “in failing to provide the civil-process clerk at the US Attorney’s office with copies of the Summons and the Complaint” the plaintiff has not properly served process on the United States.

COUNTS ONE, TWO AND FOUR

According to the order, Reynolds argues that defamation, tortious interference and violation of rights must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The court concurs, in that the plaintiff Taua’i has not met her burden to disprove the US Attorney’s certification that Reynolds was acting within the scope of his federal employment when he allegedly engaged in conduct that gave rise to the common law tort claims and the American Samoa constitution claims against him.

The court says “consequently we are obligated to dismiss” the claims of defamation; tortious interference and violation of the plaintiff’s rights under the revised constitution of American Samoa as we have no subject matter jurisdiction.”

According to the order, the complaint states Reynolds wrongly accused the plaintiff of stealing artifacts, harmed her reputation and impeded her ability to receive gainful employment in the archeological community.

The order says, however, the complaint does little to explain how the conduct upon which these allegations are based falls outside the scope of Reynold’s duties as a federal employee.

“Indeed, the conduct alleged in the complaint appears work- related” in that all of it pertains to the plaintiff’s trustworthiness as an employee and Reynolds work relationship with the plaintiff.

The order says the complaint implies Reynolds was acting in his role as a Superintendent of the National Park when he allegedly engaged in wrongful conduct.

The fact that Reynolds told third parties that he deemed the plaintiff untrustworthy as an employee does little to convince the court that such conduct necessarily falls outside the scope of Reynolds’ duties as a superintendent.

According to the order the plaintiff’s affidavit “adds little to support her claim that Reynolds was acting outside the scope of his employment” . The affidavit merely provided that third parties not employed with the federal government told the plaintiff that Reynolds “spoke falsely” about her and that these third parties approached Reynolds to talk about the plaintiff, not to discuss National Park Service business.

The generalized and vague statement shows little that Reynolds had engaged in tortious conduct which exceeded the scope of his supervisory position as the park superintendent.

COUNT THREE

Regarding Count Three of the complaint, “Violation of plaintiff’s civil rights”, the court states that Taua’i asserted that Reynolds violated her rights protected under the Fourth, Fifth and Eighth Amendments of the United States Constitution.

However, it finds that Taua’i “failed to allege facts sufficient” to show the court that Reynolds had violated her rights under the Fourth, Fifth, or Eight Amendments,” and therefore dismissed Count Three of the complaint “for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.”



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