Tofaeono asking for reconsideration in court decision on CCCAS case
Rev. Amaama Tofaeono and his wife Joan Aleluia Tofaeono, through their attorney, Charles V. Ala’ilima, are asking the Trial Division of the High Court to reconsider its Oct. 2nd decision — dismissing their tort claims against the individuals named in their suit, saying the court has mistakenly determined that CCCAS and individual defendants “were one and the same” — and that these individuals are not ‘personally’ liable.
Tofaeono and his wife Joan were named as defendants in a complaint filed by the Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa (CCCAS) in May of this year, when Tofaeono refused to vacate the CCCAS housing he and his wife occupied, after his ministerial duties, including his CCCAS General Secretary post, were suspended for a certain amount of time.
(See Samoa News, Monday, Dec. 04, 2017 issue for report on the court’s dismissal of the defendant’s tort claims)
According to the defendants' motion, the court has already issued its declaratory findings that Amaama Tofaeono was an at-will employee of CCCAS and had been discharged from his post as General Secretary of CCCAS, elected to a four-year term by the CCCAS General Assembly by virtue of his subsequent suspension as a minister, issued by the CCCAS Elders' Committee.
"These declaratory findings and conclusions arising from such findings are the subject matters of defendants’ appeal of the summary eviction order of the Court.
In dismissing the defendant’s contractual tortious interference counter-claims against the plaintiffs the court appears to be re-enforcing the declaratory finding and conclusions it reached earlier that the defendant, Amaama, has no contractual employment rights associated with his election as General Secretary and … to suspend him operated as a de facto removal on his ordination as a minister and consequently disqualifying him as General Secretary."
Defendants' believe there were errors in the court’s finding and legal conclusions on these issues.
According to the defendants, “The court determined that the individual counter-defendant and the CCCAS were one and the same and therefore there was no third-party actor who could interfere with an employee claim.
“While the court could properly dismiss the CCCAS from a tortious interference with contract counter-claim, it would not be appropriate to dismiss the individual defendants from personal liability at least until there is a clear finding supported on the merits that they were in fact acting within the scope of their CCCAS authority.
“If the court is unable to make the distinction from the pleadings as presented, it would be more appropriate at this stage of the proceedings for the court to grant time to amend that pleading to ensure clarity as to the personal capacities in which the individual defendants are being sued.”
The defendants' appeal addresses both the jurisdictional issue of whether this dispute over the occupancy of the structure was appropriately before the court and on the merits of whether the court’s declaratory findings and legal conclusions relevant to Amaama’s employment and division of authority under the CCCAS constitution were correct.
The defendants believe the court’s order dismissing the two counterclaims relate to the context of constitutional deference granted by courts of religious corporate authorities and contractual employment rights. It says in its rulings the court has been inconsistent in regards to saying it does not have the constitutional authority to rule, and then interprets the structure and authority in the CCCAS to make its rulings.
As such, the court has now reduced the ongoing case simply to common law and constitutional libel claims.
It has dismissed its authority to review on any issues relating to church structure and organization in so far as it relates to Amaama’s ordination as a minister of his continued employment as the elected General Secretary.
Attorney for the plaintiffs, Gwen Tauiliili-Langkilde stated in her opposition motion that reconsideration is appropriate if the trial court is presented with newly discovered evidence; committed clear error or the initial decision was manifestly unjust, or, if there is an intervening change in controlling the law.
In fact, she says, it is not altogether clear what the defendants are asking the Court to reconsider.
Plaintiffs state the defendants did not show any facts to support a plausible claim against plaintiffs Mamoe, Aofia, and Faalevao as agents of CCCAS. Furthermore, having failed to seek to amend their pleading prior to this Court’s ruling, they should not now be allowed to amend their pleading.
It should be noted that on the issue of slander, the Court said Amaama's assertions meet the pleading standard for slander and that's why the plaintiffs' motion to dismiss the counter claim for slander is denied.
Amaama claims that the same slanderous statements made by the plaintiffs — that he was unfaithful and/or abusive to his family — also violate the dignity of the individual clause of the Constitution. The Court agreed and for that reason, they denied the plaintiffs' motion to dismiss the defendants' counter-claim.