In the course of the trial Judge Camacho asked me if there could be any tort committed absent damages and I responded that it could not, not in this case, because damages is an element of any common-law tort that has to be proven.
First, and any dumb but the dumbest lawyer knows, there is no such thing as a “tort of abuse of process of an estate case.” What, if I availed myself in the probate case of any procedural rule that could not be tortious, and if that were the case, then the court must close shop, because for every conduct under a procedural rule availed would be wrongful, always. Com.R.Civ.P., Rule 11 allows for sanctions for every “improper” (as the court mentioned) conduct in each and every particular case, such as attorney’s fees sanction. In the probate case, no such request was made as nothing done was “improper.” There is a cause of action for abuse of process — “process” here being writs, warrants, subpoenas, etc., which the plaintiffs in this case conceded that no such “process” issued against them that was procured by me. And, it is bedrock principle of the “American Rule” regarding attorney’s fees, especially in tort cases, that each party bears his or her own attorney’s fees, win or lose.
Second, the court mentioned a “Confirmation Deed” between plaintiffs Secundina U. Pangelinan and Selina Marie Pangelinan and grantee “Peak Development (CNMI) LLC.” Actually, the deed was to Pedro Kileleman conveying him the fee simple title. Deeds are executed contracts executing executory contracts such as agreements for sale of land — there simply cannot be an interference with an already executed contract, especially one long executed before you came aware of it. In the case of plaintiffs, they executed the confirmation deed months before the probate case was commenced — at the time of commencement of probate, plaintiffs have already had no interest in the Tanapag lands of the estate, that is, they no longer had any standing in the estate but Pedro Kileleman.
As always, Judge Camacho ignored the threshold question that should have been addressed before going in on the merits of the case. The court has no jurisdiction over a non-justiciable case, and plaintiffs’ constitutional standing to bring their lawsuit must be shown by them that they have established that they were presenting a justiciable case. I challenged plaintiffs’ standing by claiming that they are not persons of Northern Marianas descent (non-NMDs) under Article XII of the NMI Constitution, which they totally failed to prove — challenged that non-NMDs cannot enter into a valid land sales contract in the NMI to convey land that which they cannot inherit or acquire. In fact, plaintiff Secundina testified at trial that she is a non-NMD — incredibly, a testimony elicited by her own attorney as a rebuttal witness. Further, plaintiffs’ own evidence, Exhibit 10-40, is the minute order of September 20, 2016 in the probate case stating that the court made no determination on whether plaintiffs are NMDs or non-NMDs — the probate case has no res judicata effect, and even if so, it does shift their burden of proof to show that they are NMDs in the subsequent case.
I suspect plaintiffs’ attorney, Janet H. King, dropped the ball on Judge Camacho’s lap to mop things up, and he in turn threw it back on her lap for failure to prove damages at trial. Plaintiffs cannot now, post-trial, request for damages. Especially now that the case is already docketed in the NMI Supreme Court, jurisdiction over the case is removed from the Superior Court.
JOHN S. PANGELINAN