Judge denies IPI request for remote testimony of plaintiffs

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DISTRICT Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona has denied the request of Imperial Pacific International LLC for the plaintiffs’ live or remote testimony and request to depose the plaintiffs in lieu of their testimony in the lawsuit they filed against IPI and its former contractor and subcontractor.

The judge also rescheduled the hearing for the plaintiffs’ petition for damages and the IPI motion to set aside the entry of default to Aug. 7 at 8:30 a.m.

The plaintiffs,  who are construction workers formerly employed by the former contractor and subcontractor of IPI, are represented by attorneys Aaron Halegua and Bruce Berline.

The two lawyers were allowed by the court to appear via  video teleconference and by phone for the hearing.

The judge instructed Halegua and Berline to contact the clerk’s office and schedule a VTC test connection prior to the hearing.

For his part, IPI attorney Mike Dotts, in a notice filed on Aug. 2, stated that he does not intend to call any witness or present any exhibits during his presentation on Aug. 7.

“Should [the] plaintiffs call any live witnesses at the evidentiary hearing, IPI reserves the right to use any documents previously produced in its cross-examination and to call rebuttal witnesses as appropriate,”  Dotts said.

The exhibits used in cross-examination will be limited to documents previously produced, Dotts added.

The plaintiffs are Tianming Wang, Dong Han, Yongjun Meng, Liangcai Sun, Youli Wang, Qingchun Xu, and Duxin Yan. They are asking the federal court to issue an order awarding them $3.86 million in compensatory damages and $7.72 million in punitive damages.

They sued IPI and its former contractor and subcontractor MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co. and Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI) over allegations of forced labor, negligence, and liability for employees of subcontractors.

The plaintiffs’ first amended complaint also alleged human trafficking under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and the CNMI Anti-Trafficking Act, as well as claims under CNMI law for the physical injuries the plaintiffs suffered on the construction project.

IPI has been cited by the court for failing to pay $29,459 in attorneys’ fees and costs that were due on June 5, 2020.

The court also cited IPI for failing to fully comply with various discovery requirements related to such matters as producing bank records, employee separation dates, and paper discovery.

For their part, the plaintiffs have asked the federal court not to grant the IPI motion to set aside the default judgement against it.

IPI reiterated that it is willing to pay all outstanding sanctions, but needs time to do so.

But according to Halegua, “IPI still has not complied with orders to produce responsive emails, produce mobile phone data, or produce WeChat or WhatsApp messages.”

On Monday, Dotts said he believes IPI has met “all the prongs of the three-factor test to warrant setting aside the entry of default judgement.”

He said  IPI has acted expeditiously in correcting the default by producing thousands of paper documents and moving forward with other discovery.

The extreme sanction of default is not warranted, he added.

Letter from adviser

Imperial Pacific International, LLC Chief Executive Officer Donald Browne, in a declaration filed in federal court on Monday, stated that the letter written on the IPI letterhead  asking for a federal judge’s recusal came from Hongtao Su, an adviser to board members of  the parent company of IPI.

On June 12, 2020, IPI employees demonstrated outside the Horiguchi Building in Garapan where the District Court for the NMI was located to protest an order by Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona who granted a writ of execution to seize IPI bank deposits so it could pay for the $6.8 million judgment entered by the court in the lawsuit filed by  former IPI contractor, Pacific Rim Land Development LLC.

On June 26, 2020, Judge Manglona ordered IPI counsel Michael Dotts to obtain an answer on whether or not IPI issued the unsigned letter.

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