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Former DOH medical director sues ASG and Tuiasina for $5Million

reporters@samoanews.com

Former Medical Director for the Department of Health Dr. Ivan Tuliau who was terminated from employment in 2010 has filed a five million dollar lawsuit against the American Samoa Government and former Director of Public Health, Tuiasina Dr. Salamo Laumoli.

The lawsuit, filed on May 17, 2012 claims negligence, defamation, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of the plaintiff’s rights under the Constitution. The lawsuit was filed by Dr. Tuliau’s lawyer, Mark Ude.

Dr. Tuliau is asking for general damages in the amount of $5 million; punitive damages; the costs and legal fees incurred by filing the lawsuit and “such other and further relief as may be appropriate”.

The American Samoa government is a part of the lawsuit because Dr. Tuliau says he was an employee of ASG when he was fired.

According to court filings, Dr. Tuliau wrote an Administrative Claim Letter to the American Samoa government on Feb. 18, 2010, of which receipt was acknowledged on March 17, 2010, but “three months has passed with no reply” and “thus the claim has been deemed denied” — resulting in the lawsuit filed.

NEGLIGENCE

The centerpiece of the lawsuit is the allegation that then Director of DOH Tuiasina moved to terminate Dr. Tuliau upon receiving a garnishment request from the US Court in Hawai’i for the plaintiff.

Plaintiff claims that federal law under 15 United States Code 1674, forbids ANY employer from terminating employees because their wages are being garnished, and requires the employer to fill out forms.

The defendants breached their dutytoplaintiff by such illegal termination; andcaused direct and proximate harm to Dr. Tuliau — to wit, employment and loss of income.

DEFAMATION

The second cause of action is alleged to be defamation of character of plaintiff by Tuiasina and engaging in slander per se.

The former DOH Director did so in a letter to Dr. Tuliau,where he referred to the plaintiff as being disloyal and demanded that he “must surrender immediately” all DOH office keys, vehicle, equipment and material and must not enter any DOH building or premises without escort and advanced authorization from the director’s office.

Dr. Tuliau believes that former DOH Director Tuiasina improperly insinuated events, accusing the plaintiff of committing a crime.  

According to the lawsuit, former DOH Director Tuiasina should have known that Dr. Tuliau would adversely be affected by such comments which would force him to look elsewhere for work in the medical field.

It further claims that Tuiasina also engaged in acts of slander with the intent to cause harm, embarrassment, and other unsettling consequences upon the plaintiff, including “lowering him in the estimation of the community”.

Tuiasina “failed to restrain himself from making defamatory comments about Dr Tuliau, intentionally stating allegations as facts which in reality were untrue,” the plaintiff alleges.

Dr. Tuliau in his lawsuit noted that Tuiasina knew his statements were made without established facts at the time they were made, and without substantiation.

According to the lawsuit, due to Tuiasina’s comments the plaintiff has suffered significant damage to his reputation and his health as well as subsequent economic harm.

RETALIATION

The lawsuit claims that ASG and former DOH Director Tuiasina did not renew Dr. Tuliau’s medical license because he had retained a lawyer. This interfered with the plaintiff’s ability to earn a living as a practicing physician, including the inability of plaintiff to enter into private practice in American Samoa.

The plaintiff alleges that defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff to suffer harm as a result.

INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS

Dr Tuliau claims that his termination was without a valid basis and was done  in an effort to frighten him, however it was the defendant’s duty to protect the plaintiff from needless fear of harm. “As a result, the plaintiff experienced pain and suffering as a result of the government’s actions.”

VIOLATION OF PLAINTIFF’S RIGHTS UNDER REVISED CONSTITUTION OF AMERICAN SAMOA

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff is protected under the revised constitution of American Samoa and former DOH Director Tuiasina had the duty to uphold the revised constitution, and claims that his failure to uphold that duty was a breach of duty, which caused injury and damage to the plaintiff who was unable to practice medicine in the territory.

“The plaintiff’s failure to practice his trade led to his incurring additional debt and lost income”.

BACKGROUND

In September, 2009 former Health Director Tuiasina said that it was for a delinquent debt owed by Tuliau to the federal government that he had placed the medical director on annual leave “effective immediately”.

Tuiasina’s letter was written after the Health director received an Answer of the Garnishee Form from a US court in Hawaii, concerning Tuliau.

He says he executed the garnishment form, “to avoid exposure of myself, the Department of Health ... ASG to court judgment and legal expenses.”

Tuiasina added that the form was executed after the federal government did not receive payment from Tuliau after the same form had been sent to Tuliau in May 2009.

“Although this concerns restitution to be settled with the federal government, your involvement as an American Samoa Government employee greatly concerns me,” Tuiasina said at the time.

He drew upon American Samoa Administrative Code (ASAC) 4.0707 which he said requires that government employees “cultivate those personal qualities which characterize a good employee’s loyalty to the United States Government and the ASG ...” and ASAC 4.0713 which says “employees of this government are expected to satisfy their financial commitments. Failure to meet one’s obligations reflects adversely on one’s standing as a government employee.”

Tuiasina writes that in his (Dr. Tuiliau’s) failure to make his payments which resulted in a garnishment order, he “violated ASAC 4.0702 and this is cause for termination of your service.”

“Effective immediately, you are placed on annual leave, because as the director of the Department of Health, I do not consider it advisable from an official standpoint to retain you in an active duty status during the advance notice period,” wrote Tuiasina.

He further informed Tuliau to surrender his DOH office keys, vehicle, equipment and materials, and that he must not enter any DOH building or premise without escort and advance authorization from the Director’s office.



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