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Motion for a new trial denied in Pago Pago Yacht Club vs. ASG ruling

In a Feb. 21st decision, the Trial Division of the HIgh Court denied a motion for a new trial by Pago Pago Yacht Club Inc., over its lease with the American Samoa Government at Utulei Beach. The 5-page decision is signed by Chief Justice Michael Kruse and Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr.

According to the judges, motions for new trial or reconsideration require the moving party to show that an error of the court affected substantial rights, or that recently uncovered facts would change the court’s ruling.  Additionally, such a motion “requires to be particularized.”

“The particularity requirement ‘is particularly important in the case of a motion for new trial, one of whose purposes is to avoid unnecessary appeals by alerting the trial court to possible errors or omissions in its opinion’,” said the judges, who cited a local court case.

“We agreed with ASG’s submission that plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration or new trial does not meet the particularity standard” of local regulations, the judges said, and restated the plaintiff’s motion, which states in part that basis for the motion for new trial/reconsideration “is the error by the court in introducing evidence after the trial without plaintiff having benefit to address.”

Additionally, the “court introduced evidence of a disproval [sic], without the exhibit being provided by the defendant, whose burden it fell upon to disprove the lease.”

“Secondly, the court had previously bifurcated this matter and it committed clear error to deny plaintiff damages because no evidence was forthcoming with the court’s own order precluded the testimony of damages until the issue of the existence of a lease was first decided,” the plaintiff contends.

(To bifurcate is to divide into branches or parts)

However, the judges said plaintiff’s motion “noticeably lacks citations to legal authority or to a transcript indicating an oral trial-bifurcation” or a verified affidavit and the “court is not about to go scouring the record in order to confirm or deny plaintiff’s bifurcation allegation as a ground for a new trial.”

In any event, said the judges, plaintiff not only alluded in its pre-trial brief to issues for trial going to “good faith improvement”, as well as compensation for “unjust enrichment”, but plaintiff additionally presented evidence at trial as to claimed improvement, “albeit in very cursory fashion.” The judges also noted that in the original decision in this case, “we found and concluded”... “no unjust enrichment”.

According to the judges the court is satisfied that plaintiff received access to the land for the stipulated term of the Amendment, which was ten years minus one day — and more —  an additional seven years hold over occupation — for a nominal rent.

Additionally, plaintiff “not only got exactly what they had bargained for, but a whole lot more; and there is absolutely no merit to the argument, in hindsight, that they would not have made improvements had they known that the lease would not be for thirty years.”

According to the judges, “if anyone was enriched, it was plaintiff who got seven extra years of holdover occupation...” They also argued that the court’s denial of plaintiff’s claim to ASG being unjustly enriched was passed over by plaintiff’s motion for a new trial.

The judges also made clear that the court’s rejection of plaintiff’s claim “of unjust enrichment is final and not subject to appeal.”

The site and building PPYC formerly occupied has been leased out by the government to a commercial concern, a restaurant called Don’t Drink the Water (DDW).