Appellate Court says High Court must reword bond in CCCAS case to be fair
The Appellate Division of the High Court of American Samoa has denied the former Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa’s General Secretary, Rev. Amaama Tofaeono and his wife their motion of stay of writ of restitution and bond. However, to avoid an unfair burden on the appellants’ right to appeal, the matter is remanded to the trial court to reword the ‘supersedeas’ bond so it is not “an exorbitant admission ticket to the appeals process.”
The decision was issued on Friday, Jan 19, 2018, by Chief Justice Michael Kruse.
A supersedeas bond, also known as a defendant's appeal bond, is a type of surety bond that a court requires from an appellant who wants to delay payment of a judgment until the appeal is over, as defined by Wikipedia.
The case appellees are Rev. Elder Eveni Mamoe, Leatulagi Faalevao and Fiti Aofia are also listed with CCCAS; and the appellants are Rev. Tofaeono and his wife Joan Aleluia Tofaeono.
Gwen Tauiliili-Langkilde represents the plaintiffs, while Charles V. Alailima and Toetasi Tuiteleleapaga represent the Tofaeonos.
The appellant Rev. Tofaeono was removed from his employment as the General Secretary of the CCCAS in March 2017. At that time, the appellants were also informed that they had until March 31, 2017 to vacate the CCCAS house designated for the General Secretary and his family.
The appellants nonetheless chose to remain in the house and the appellees filed a complaint for summary eviction and repossession.
The trial court did not order relocation of the appellants. Instead, it ordered that a bond in the amount of $35,000 be posted by the appellants in order to stay the writ of restitution.
This amount was to be deposited with the Clerk of Courts, but CCCAS would be allowed to request the release of the bond to purchase a vehicle for use by the interim General Secretary so that he could fulfill his duties to CCCAS.
The trial court decision further stated that should the appellants prevail on appeal, then CCCAS was to redeposit the full $35,000 amount with the Clerk of Courts.
The order also seemed to suggest that the appellants could not recover any portion of the bond amount if they are unsuccessful on appeal.
APPELLATE COURT’S RULING
On December 11, 2017 the appellants filed their motion for stay of writ of restitution and bond. The appellees filed a memorandum in opposition and a hearing on the matter was held on January 12th, 2018.
The Appellate Division of the High Court has found that based on law the only question for it to decide was whether the $35,000 bond was satisfactory in light of the facts of this case.
According to the Court, a supersedeas bond should be sufficient to secure an appellee from a loss resulting from the stay of execution of the trial court’s order.
Given both the unique nature of this case and the different interests involved, the trial court cannot be said to have abused its discretion in requiring the $35,000 bond, the Appellate Court said.
However, it says, “Though the trial court’s determination of the bond amount was not an abuse of discretion, there is one potential problem to be seen with its order.” Mainly it says the order is seen to say, “the appellants will only recover the bond if they are successful on appeal.”
It points out that “though a supersedeas bond should protect the prevailing plaintiff from losses incurred while a matter is on appeal, it should not function as in effect an exorbitant admission ticket to the appeals process.”
The Appellate Court continued, “the trial court’s current order not only protects the appellees from future losses, but also awards the appellees a free car if they happen to prevail on appeal; this would work an unjust hardship on the appellants and give an unnecessary windfall to the appellees.”
In its ruling, the Court concludes that “the trial court should thus reword its order to make it clear that the bond amount will only be used to provide transportation for the interim General Secretary during the appeals process; if the appellants are unsuccessful on appeal, then they will be removed from the General Secretary’s house and the car or any money not spent on a rental vehicle for that time period should be returned to the appellants.”