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Defendants in civil rights case claim Hueter is “forum-shopping”

Federal Courthouse Washington, D.C.
More claims and counter claims argued

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Attorneys for the American Samoa defendants in a federal lawsuit claim that local resident Steven Jay Pincus Hueter “is on a quest around the globe” for a court that “will vitiate” — meaning, to destroy or damage something — precautions the American Samoa Government has taken to protect the safety of territorial residents from the COVID-19 pandemic.

And the plaintiff’s “latest forum-shopping” is now with the federal court in Washington D.C., which is where Hueter has a pending lawsuit and several motions, against the ASG, COVID-19 Task Force, as well as current and former ASG officials, according to the defense.

The American Samoa defendants, along with federal defendants — the US Secretary of Interior and the Chief Justice of American Samoa — are named in the federal lawsuit filed by Hueter last December, followed by a second amended complaint earlier this year claiming violation of his constitutional rights, such as freedom to assemble and attend religious services due to local COVID-19 restrictions.

The new COVID-19 declaration issued Feb. 19th allows religious services 24/7 and the court, in an order issued Mar. 3rd, ordered claims of violation of religious freedom as a “moot” issue.

However, Hueter had already filed — on Mar. 1st — a proposed third amended complaint, which the court ruled that the plaintiff must first request the court for “leave” to file the third one. And Hueter did comply, along with new motions seeking emergency injunctions against the defendants.

On Mar. 16th, as directed by the court, the American Samoa defendants filed opposition to Hueter’s request for leave to file a third amended complaint.

Based on the proposed third complaint already in court records, the defense argued that plaintiff is seeking to expand this litigation to over 70 defendants, including all members of the American Samoa House and Senate, and to add allegations of misappropriation of CARES Act funds by the ASG, as well as allegations that the ASG has failed to enforce federal maritime and local laws by allowing StarKist or its affiliates to dock a fishing vessel that Plaintiff alleges was not properly quarantined.

Defendants said Plaintiff’s claims fall into three general categories:

• Constitutional challenges to the COVID19 declarations, namely the restrictions preventing certain gatherings and activities after midnight and the unavailability of public transportation after midnight; Plaintiff seeks an injunction to prevent the enforcement of the COVID-19 restrictions, as well as damages, claiming that the declarations are unconstitutional;

• Complaints about the use of CARES Act funds, claiming that such funds were improperly allocated and used in American Samoa, including to build a new courthouse or improve remote work arrangements for members of the Fono.

• Complaints relating to the allegedly illegal docking of a StarKist fishing vessel, without the vessel going through quarantine in accordance with American Samoa’s COVID-19 measures.

The American Samoa defendants argued that Hueter “is on a quest around the globe for a forum that will vitiate the deliberative precautions the ASG has taken to protect the safety of American Samoa residents in response to the COVID-19 crisis.”

They contend that the federal court should conclude that Hueter’s “latest forum-shopping stop in the District of Columbia by denying Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave for futility and undue prejudice, and by dismissing this action with prejudice.”

The defense points out that the plaintiff filed multiple suites since the summer of 2020 in the American Samoa courts asserting the same claims made in the federal complaint.

Dissatisfied with the local courts’ denials of relief, “Plaintiff came half-way across the world looking for a second opinion” at the federal court.

According to the defense, the federal court should deny the Motion for Leave because the amendment would be futile and would prejudice the American Samoa defendants by “unnecessarily prolonging Plaintiff’s vexatious and harassing litigation that is destined to fail.”

Defendants argued — among other things — that plaintiff does not have standing to assert any of his claims against the ASG defendants.

“As a threshold matter, Plaintiff lacks Article III standing to sue —a jurisdictional failure that Plaintiff has not cured (and cannot cure) in his Third Amended Complaint. Additionally, Article III of the Constitution limits the federal courts’ jurisdiction to adjudicating “actual cases or controversies.”

The defense further argued that the proposed third complaint, would be futile and prejudicial for lack of standing. They point out that plaintiff has not come forward with facts to establish that an actual injury related to defendants’ actions in connection with the COVID-19 crisis can be redressed by this court.

According to the defense, plaintiff sets forth his “supposed injuries” on his proposed 35-pages of the third amended complaint, which is “not with facts, but by generically listing certain rights and certain provisions” from the COVID-19 declarations.

Plaintiff’s claim of “denied rights to ride on buses and public and private transportation, and deprived rights to work and deprived rights to operate a business, and deprived rights to conduct charity fundraiser night life concerts, events, and performances for the benefit of the general public after 9PM or after 12 midnight till 5AM.”

The defense argued that, “There are no details explaining the harm Plaintiff supposedly suffered by not being able to engage in certain activities after 9 pm or midnight, nor does he identify any such purported middle-of-the- night activities or bus travel that he desired to participate in for any reason other than to defy the Emergency Orders”.

According to the defense:

• plaintiff also has no standing because he alleges nothing more than “generalized grievances” regarding the ASG’s efforts to combat the coronavirus, which are shared equally by everyone in American Samoa and are insufficient to confer standing. That is, given the ongoing pandemic, all American Samoans (including Plaintiff) are currently prohibited from the activities Plaintiff generally refers to in his Complaint, such as “conduct[ing] charity fundraiser night life concerts, events, and performance” after midnight.

• Plaintiff also has no standing to assert his misappropriation of CARES Act funds claims. Without addressing the veracity or accuracy of these allegations — which the ASG firmly disputes, even if the ASG’s use of CARES Act funds to build a new courthouse, or Fono members’ use of the funds to accommodate remote work, were inappropriate, such activities nevertheless impose no actual injury upon Plaintiff. Plaintiff does not have standing to contest governmental appropriations of funds received from the U.S. Treasury simply because he purports to be a federal taxpayer.

• Plaintiff “does not... have standing to ask this Court to essentially govern American Samoa via court orders from 7,000 miles away,” the defense said.

“In sum, Plaintiff has failed to establish any concrete, particularized, actual, or imminent harm,” the defense argued.

The defense also reiterated the High Court of American Samoa is the proper forum to hear this case, and that plaintiff has identical cases in the territory.

“There is no legitimate reason for Plaintiff to initiate another suit in this forum other than to unduly burden and harass the Defendants and to circumvent the unfavorable rulings Plaintiff has received from the High Court,” according to the defense.

Samoa News will report in a future edition on the motion by the Secretary of Interior and the Chief Justice.