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Resident files lawsuit against Gov and ASG over emergency declarations

American Samoa High Court building

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Local resident and US citizen, Bryan Jackson, is seeking — among other things — $4 million in punitive damages through a lawsuit filed Wednesday with the Trial Division of the High Court against Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga and the American Samoa Government in connection with the governor’s four COVID-19 emergency declarations since March.

The lawsuit is for “violation of my civil and constitutional rights due to [the governor’s] continued unlawful declarations that a state of emergency exists in American Samoa,” Jackson said in an email message to the news media.

“Under color of law and with malice, acting in both his individual and official capacities” the lawsuit alleges that the governor “did knowingly, willfully, and repeatedly deprive plaintiff of civil rights guaranteed him by the Constitution of the United States — including the First Amendment of that Constitution — and Section One of Article One of the Constitution of America Samoa, thereby violating and injuring those rights.

It further alleges that the governor “was aided and abetted in committing these unlawful acts by officers and employees of ASG who — also acting under color of law and with malice — conspired with the governor to “prevent the plaintiff from freely exercising his religious beliefs or gathering in peaceful assembly together with other individuals, and they carried out the governor’s orders.

The plaintiff claims that beginning Mar. 18th, the governor issued four separate declarations that a state of disaster emergency existed or exists in American Samoa, all four of which either did or currently do contain regulations in direct conflict with the First Amendment of the US Constitution and provision of the American Samoa Constitution,  which regulations were and are, therefore, unconstitutional and unlawful.

As a result of the governor’s declarations, the lawsuit alleges that the plaintiff has suffered injuries consisting of:

•     prohibition of the free exercise of his religious beliefs;

•     deprivation of his right to peaceably assemble along with other individuals; and

•     the placement of unlawful restrictions on the number of people he could freely gather together with in peaceful assembly.

A footnote in the lawsuit points out that, though the two disaster declarations that took effect in March and April didn’t specifically prohibit or ban “church meetings, services, and events”, the statement made in the 4th Amended Declaration which was effective in May that all church services, meetings, and events would “continue to be suspended until further notice” clearly indicates that the intention of those previous declarations had, in fact, been to ban those church meetings, services, and events.

The court is requested to immediately issue a Temporary Restraining Order to prevent defendants from continuing to violate and injure the civil and constitutional rights and privileges of plaintiff.

And until the court issues a final decree in this matter, plaintiff also requested the court to issue a Preliminary Injunction enjoining defendants from issuing or making any further disaster declarations containing the same or similar unconstitutional provisions as described in this complaint.

Furthermore, the court is requested to make a finding of Declaratory Relief in favor of plaintiff, who is seeking $1 (one-dollar) in nominal compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive or exemplary damages.

Jackson is representing himself in the lawsuit, which was expected to be officially served on the defendants yesterday.