It was a historic day for the Supreme Court of Guam which not only kicked off Law Week but also held its first virtual hearing delving into oral arguments in a case that has reached its final stages in resolving the matter on appeal.
For the past 10 years, the Judiciary of Guam has celebrated Law Week by providing the public with insights into how the court turns the wheels of justice.
Today, the wheels of justice continued to push forward, hearing oral arguments in the Roseanna Palmer versus Marianas Stones breach of extraction lease case which is on appeal before the Supreme Court of Guam.
Peter Perez, who represents Marianas Stone Corporation (MSC), told the Supreme Court that the lower court deprived his client of its day in court, stating that the trial court denied Marianas Stone’s ability to present its defenses and pushing for the lower court’s judgment to be vacated and to rule in favor of Marianas Stone, or alternatively reversing the judgment and sending it back to the lower court for a new trial.
He highlighted several issues one of which is the mitigation of damages. He said the trial court denied MSC the ability to argue Palmer’s failure to mitigate damages. Marianas Stone believes this was in error as under the law, a commercial landlord has the duty to mitigate damages that are triggered upon a tenant’s abandonment or breach of lease. He says the burden was on Palmer to show diligence and under the law, if Palmer did not mitigate damages, she would not be entitled to recover for the avoidable harms.
Palmer had accused Marianas Stone of breaching their contract and invoked the extraction lease in the complaint, citing the terms of the contract. Marianas Stone denied liability and any allegations that they did not admit, pleading affirmative defenses including that there was a superseding circumstance beyond its control, specifically an inability to obtain special permits from Fish and Wildlife to extract aggregate or traverse the easement. According to Perez, MSC was not able to carry out this defense as a trial court ruling did not allow for this part of the contract to be raised.
Supreme Court Justice Robert Torres questioned whether this “superseding circumstance was a foreseeable risk and if they could have safeguarded against the denial of permits, pointing out that the language contained in the contract spoke towards a release of liability and therefore an indication that the permit denial was foreseeable.
Perez, however, contended that the denial of permits was beyond MSC’s control.
Chief Justice Philip Carbillido concurred with Justice Torres stating that “it would seem that the circumstances and nature of the parties would lend itself that they should have accounted for such a circumstance.”
Perez contended that the property was “zoned as commercial since 1977, the route of way was used for commercial purposes traveled by commercial vehicles for years predating the extraction lease.”
Perez also pointed out the development of private properties including a resort, arguing that Fish and Wildlife never required special permits before. ”All this was new. It was a surprise to everyone.”
Perez characterized the rulings by the trial court as being based upon form over substance, hyper-technicality, over merits, and a deprivation of fairness and substantial justice to Marianas Stones.
If anyone engaged in gamesmanship, it was MSC and its attorneys, stated Genevieve Rapadas who represents Palmer.
“What they did through their litigation strategy and their tactics was turn a simple case into an almost 7-year case. And after every defeat at the trial level, they repeatedly threw different tactics off the walls mostly and mainly without any factual legal support, hoping that something would stick,” stated Rapadas.
The case is under advisement by the Supreme Court of Guam and a decision is pending.