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    Friday, July 19, 2019-4:23:32P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Settlement Fund asks court for a stay-order in lawsuit against CUC

THE Settlement Fund has requested a stay-order from the Superior Court in its lawsuit against the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. over unpaid employer contributions.

Settlement Fund attorney Nicole M. Torres-Ripple also asked the court for an additional three months to respond to CUC’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Torres-Ripple said a stay-order is necessary to allow the Settlement Fund sufficient time to seek federal court determination on issues raised by CUC and the CNMI government relating to the settlement agreement.

Superior Court Presiding Judge Roberto C. Naraja did not make any ruling on Wednesday but he continued the hearing on the stay-order motion to June 27 at 1:30 p.m.

The CNMI government was represented by Assistant Attorney General Hessel Yntema while Assistant AG Jose Mafnas represented CUC.

In her motion, Torres-Ripple stated that a three-month stay is warranted because: 1) the questions raised by the defendants require interpretation of the settlement agreement, and 2) the District Court for the NMI has “continuing and exclusive jurisdiction” over the interpretation and enforcement of the settlement agreement.

The NMI Retirement Fund sued CUC on May 5, 2011 to collect unpaid employer contributions.

The Retirement Fund sought judgment in the amount of $3,175,225 plus $740,462 in penalties, and $527,716 in economic damages as of April 29, 2011.

In Dec. 2011, the Retirement Fund moved for partial summary judgment. CUC filed its opposition and cross-motion for partial summary judgment on Feb. 20, 2012.

The lawsuit was automatically stayed due to the Retirement Fund’s bankruptcy petition in the District Court on April 23, 2012.

On Aug. 15, 2012 the bankruptcy petition was dismissed and the Retirement Fund’s lawsuit against CUC was remanded to the CNMI Superior Court.

On Aug. 15, 2017, the Retirement Fund, CUC, the CNMI government and the Settlement Fund stipulated to the substitution of the Settlement Fund as the plaintiff in the Superior Court lawsuit based on the Retirement Fund’s assignment and transfer of all rights, title and interest in and to the litigation pursuant to the settlement agreement.

The Superior Court approved the stipulation on Aug. 16, 2017.

Following a hearing on March 28, 2018 on the partial summary judgment originally filed by the Retirement Fund, the Superior Court denied the motion and ordered that “the pleadings be amended to include the updated information, arguments, and complaints in this case.”

On April 10, 2019, the Settlement Fund filed its first amended verified complaint in Superior Court and added the CNMI government as defendant.

CUC, in its motion to dismiss which the CNMI government joined, stated that the settlement agreement resolved CUC’s liabilities in the Superior Court action, including CUC’s unpaid employer contributions.

Last week, Torres-Ripple asked the federal court to intervene because it has “exclusive and continuing jurisdiction over all matters arising under the settlement agreement” including its interpretation.

She said the settlement agreement did not resolve CUC’s liabilities.

In 2009, retiree Betty Johnson sued the CNMI government for its failure to send remittances to the Retirement Fund since 2005.

She said the Fund would run out of money by June 2014 and would no longer be able to pay retirement benefits.

In Sept. 2013, the parties settled the lawsuit. The federal court approved a $779 million consent judgment in case the CNMI government does not meet its obligations to the Settlement Fund, which was created by the federal court as part of the settlement agreement.