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Double A Corp. moves for summary judgment against fire inspector

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DOUBLE A Corp. has moved for a summary judgment against fire inspector Anthony Babauta.

Double A, which specializes in fire sprinkler and suppression systems, sued Babauta and former fire chief Claudio K. Norita in federal court for not issuing a permit for a sprinkler system that the company was supposed to install at an establishment.

Represented by attorney Joseph Horey, Double A sued Norita and Babauta on March 27, 2019 for deprivation of property without due process, and deprivation of liberty without due process and demanded a jury trial.

In his motion for summary judgment, Horey said: “On several occasions in late 2017 and early 2018, Antonie Santos of Double A and his business consultant Thomas Salas went to the CNMI fire department to obtain the necessary authorization for Double A to install a sprinkler system in a building project on Middle Road.” The contract price was $410,150.

Horey said they first submitted Double A’s credentials to the fire department for review and approval.

“This was standard practice for permit applicants generally at the fire department at that time — first, an applicant’s credentials were reviewed; and then, only after they had been approved, the fire department filled out a form application for the applicant, and the applicant paid the requisite permit fee,” the lawyer said.

He said Double A’s documents showed that Santos had been certified by the National Fire Protection Association for “successfully completing the educational requirements and comprehensive examination of the NFPA 13 Installation of Sprinkler Systems Seminar.”

Moreover, he had installed numerous such systems in the CNMI over the course of more than a decade, in such locations as the UIC garment factory, the Department of Corrections, Mariana Resort, Saipan Stevedore, Kanoa Resort, and Rota International Airport, Horey said.

Santos’ work has earned him such accolades as: “We have found Tony’s workmanship to be first class and give him our highest recommendation as a fire sprinkler and mechanical contractor”; and, “We can highly recommend Antonie Santos and his company Double A Corporation for any fire protection project.”

Horey said fire inspector Anthony Babauta reviewed these documents, but he did not approve them, and therefore he did not go on to process a permit application form for Double A.

At his deposition, Babauta gave several interwoven accounts as to how and why this occurred, Horey said.

“According to one strand of the story, he thought Double A was applying, not for permit to install a sprinkler system, but rather for a permit to be a ‘certifier’ that systems already installed by others were up to code and [so Babauta] told them that…their credentials were insufficient for that purpose,”  Horey said.

“According to another, somewhat different, thread of the story, however, Mr. Babauta got distracted by a side issue while reviewing Double A’s credentials, never got back to them, and never finished reviewing them. Instead, he left them sitting unread on his desk until, almost a year later; they finally blew away in Typhoon Yutu.”

Horey said according to yet another thread, Babauta acknowledged that Double A was actually seeking a permit to install sprinklers, but claimed that former fire chief Norita had already denied Double A such a permit, and that therefore he, Babauta, could do nothing.

Horey said under any of these scenarios, “the undisputed facts remain that Double A sought a permit from Mr. Babauta, that it gave him its credentials to review in support of its application, but that he never either issued a permit or provided any reasoned denial grounded in the applicable law.”

Therefore, the lawyer said, “whichever of these scenarios is true, whether singly or in combination, Mr. Babauta did not grant Double A the process it was due.”

In denying the defendants’ motion for summary judgment last year, Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona ruled that Norita and Babauta deprived Double A of its right to do business when they denied the permit application of the company.

Norita and Babauta, who are represented by the Office of the Attorney General, have asked the court to issue an order in their favor and dismiss the accusations  against them, saying they have “qualified immunity.”

Double A, for its part, wants the court to award it damages, including lost income and incidental and consequential damages.

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