5ASR3d183

Series: 5ASR3d | Year: () | 5ASR3d183
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NATIONAL PACIFIC INSURANCE COMPANY, LTD., and WILLIAM

REARDON LAW OFFICES, INC., Petitioners,

 

v.

 

COMMISSIONER, ASG WORKMEN’S COMPENSATTON COMMISSION,

Respondent.

______________________________

 

WILLIAM REARDON, Real Party in Interest.

 

High

Court of American Samoa

Trial

Division

CA

No. 75-01

 

October

10, 2001

 

 

[1] If the

moving party on a motion for summary judgment makes a prima facie showing that would entitle him/her/it to a directed

verdict if uncontroverted at trial, the burden then shifts to the adverse

party, who must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue

for trial.

 

[2] Agency

jurisdiction is generally the power granted to a particular department, board

or commission of government to effectively administer the laws enacted by the

Legislature under that agency’s authority. 

 

[3]

Administrative agencies are statutory creations and must adhere strictly to the

statutes for their authority.

 

[4] The

Administrative Procedures Act of 1969 (A.S.C.A. § 4.1001 et seq) establishes the general procedures which all A.S.G.

departments, boards, and commissions must follow when empowered to act as

agencies with rule-making or contested case decision making authority.

 

[5] Under the

Administrative Procedures Act, hearings are to be conducted under minimal due

process requirements and relaxed rules of procedure and evidence, which are set

forth in A.S.C.A. §§ 4.2025-4.1037.

 

[6] According

to A.S.C.A. § 4.1032(5), administrative hearings are conducted by a “hearings

officer,” otherwise known as an “administrative law judge.”

 

[7] The

Administrative Procedures Act affords an aggrieved party the right, upon

exhausting the administrative decision making process, to limited judicial

review of an agency’s final decision by the Appellate Division of the High

Court.

 

[8] Under the

Administrative Procedures Act, the High Court must, in most instances confine

its review of administrative decisions to the record and decision as developed

and issued by the agency. 

 

[9] Under the Administrative

Procedures Act, the Court may not substitute its judgment on the weight of the

facts for that of the agency and the Court is required to give appropriate

weight to the agency’s experience, technical competence and specialized

knowledge.

 

[10] When

reviewing an administrative decision, the High Court must first determine if

substantial rights of the aggrieved party have been prejudiced by the agency’s

decision, but even with such a finding, the Court may only reverse, modify or

remand the agency’s decision if it finds the decision was unlawful, clearly

erroneous, or arbitrary, capricious or characterized by an abuse of discretion.

 

[11]

Compensation orders issued by the Workmen’s Compensation Commission are

immediately reviewable through injunctive proceedings against the Commissioner

brought before the Trial Division of the High Court.

 

[12]

Immigration Board decisions receive expedited limited judicial review under

appeals before the Appellate Division of the High Court in which the Board is

the named respondent.

 

[13] The

effective scope of any legislative act is limited to the subject embraced in

its title and matters properly connected thereto. 

 

[14] Existing

statutes may not be revised by reference to title; the act, section or subsection

of law being revised must be set forth at length as amended.

 

[15] The

Administrative Law Judge Act of 1998 transferred the final administrative

agency hearing authority of the Personnel Advisory Board to the Administrative

Law Judge.

 

[16] Although

the Legislature has the limited, constitutional authority to replace certain

judicial proceedings with administrative contested case proceedings, it may not

invest an administrative hearings officer with more than quasi-judicial

authority.

 

[17] A.S.C.A. §

4.0607, which requires a “trial de novo” in all proceedings before the A.L.J.

is limited in application to sections 1-5 of the Administrative Law Judge Act.

 

[18] With the

possible exception of conducting the final administrative hearing in the

administrative rule procurement bid dispute process under A.S.C.A. § 4.0604(e),

the Administrative Law Judge Act provides no constitutionally permissible

authority for the Administrative Law Judge to conduct a “trial de novo” as an

“appeal” from the final administrative decision of another agency of

government.

 

[19] An A.L.J.

cannot conduct an original contested case proceeding under the A.P.A. by

conducting a “trial de novo” under Judicial Branch rules and procedures. 

 

[20] A “trial

de novo” can only be conducted by the A.L.J. where there was a prior

administrative decision or hearing and the A.L.J. has been specifically

authorized by constitutionally enacted legislation to conduct and decide a

final administrative hearing on a contested case.

 

[21] If

compatible with the rules and statutes creating or implementing the agency, the

A.L.J. may, as allowed under § 4.0602(a) of the Act, hear and decide contested

cases in original proceedings.

 

[22] If the Legislature

has directed by statute the final agency decision-making power to be exercised

only by a superior agency officer, such as its director, or by its governing

board, commission or chief officer thereof, the A.L.J. is allowed only to hear

and recommend a decision in a contested case with the agency director, board,

etc. so that the agency head can make a final, informed, agency decision as

mandated by law.

 

[23] A.S.C.A. §

4.0604(a) does not vest, in the Office of the Administrative Law Judge, exclusive

administrative agency subject matter jurisdiction to hear and decide contested

workmen’s compensation claims, but only makes the Administrative Law Judge

legally available to the Commission to conduct contested claim hearings under

existing, statutorily prescribed, rules of administrative practices and

procedures. 

 

[24] A.S.C.A. §

4.0604(a) does not change the statutory authority of the Workmen’s Compensation

Commission to do all legal things necessary to fulfill its agency mandate.

 

[25] It is at

the discretion of the Workmen’s Compensation Commission how the A.L.J. may be

used in contested claim hearings, not the Office of the Administrative law

Judge.

 

[26] The High

Court of American Samoa retains the exclusive and express jurisdiction to

review the Workmen’s Compensation Commission’s compensation orders for legal

sufficiency. 

 

[27] Judicial

powers can only be exercised by the Judicial Branch of the American Samoa

Government under the Revised Constitution of American Samoa.

 

[28] The A.L.J.

Act confers authority to the O.A.L.J. to conduct de novo hearings in those limited situations where the A.L.J. has

been clearly designated by the Legislature as the final administrative agency

decision maker.

 

[29] In

contested matters brought before an agency having subject matter administrative

jurisdiction over the dispute, where the Administrative Law Judge has not been

designated by the Legislature as the final administrative agency decision

maker, the A.L.J. functions as an agency hearings officer and conducts hearings

under the A.P.A. or such special statutes or rules which apply to that

particular agency.

 

[30] The

Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner is vested with final agency decision-making

authority with regard to workmen’s compensation claims.

 

[31] Final

agency decisions are subject to limited judicial review in most instances

before the Appellate Division of the High Court under sections A.S.C.A. §§

4.1040-4.1044 of the Administrative Procedures Act or as may be particularly

provided in the enabling statutes of a particular agency.

 

[32] The

authority, powers, and duties of the Administrative Law Judge are

administrative in nature and limited to legitimate Executive branch

functions. 

 

[33] Judicial

power, and the exercise thereof, is constitutionally reserved exclusively for

the Judicial Branch by the Courts of Law established under the Revised

Constitution of American Samoa.

 

Before WARD,* Acting Associate Justice, and LOGOAI, Chief

Associate Justice.

 

Counsel:          For Petitioners, Jennifer Joneson

 For Real Party in Interest, Roy J.D. Hall, Jr.

 For Commission, Acting Attorney General, Fiti

Sunia

 

OPINION

AND ORDER

 

Petitioners

National Pacific Insurance Company, Ltd. and William Reardon Law Offices, Inc., (“NPI-LOI”), filed its

Petition for Injunctive Relief with this

Court on July 25, 2001, seeking limited judicial review of a certain

compensation order in favor of William Reardon (“Reardon”) issued by the

Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner (“Commissioner”).

 

Petitioners

NPI-LOI also filed a request for a hearing on appeal with the Office of the

Administrative Law Judge (“O.A.L.J.”) under certain sections of the

Administrative Law Judge Act of 1998 (“A.L.J. Act”), which address the

Executive branch, administrative hearings appeals process.  By stipulation of the parties, the

jurisdictional questions of this controversy came on for early oral argument

and subsequent submission of briefs addressing the O.A.L.J’s statutory

authority with respect to conducting contested claims hearings before the

Workmen’s Compensation Commission (“W.C.C.”) and reviewing Commission

compensation orders which have been appealed. 

All parties submitted briefs and we have carefully considered the

parties’ positions on this jurisdictional issue.

 

For purposes of

deciding this narrow issue of jurisdiction, we will examine and address

Petitioner MPI-LOI’s Summary Judgment Motion in light of their position that

the A.L.J. Act divested the Commissioner of subject matter jurisdiction to hear

and decide contested claims under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, or

alternatively, entitles NPI-LOI to a “trial de novo” before the A.L.J. on

appeal.

 

Standard of Review

 

[1] Summary judgment is

appropriate only when the pleadings and supporting documents show “that there

is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is

entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” 

T.C.R.C..P. 56(e); Etimani v. Samoa

Packing Co., 19 A.S.R.2d 1,

4 (Trial Div. 1991).  The court must view

the pleadings and supporting documents in the light most favorable to the

non-moving party.  Amerika Samoa Bank

v. United Parcel Serv., 25

A.S.R.2d 159, 151 (Trial Div. 1994); Ah Mai v. Am. Samoa Gov’t (Mem.),

11 A.S.R.2d 133, 136 (Trial Div. 1989). 

If the moving party makes a prima

facie case that would entitle movant to a directed verdict if

uncontroverted at trial, the burden shifts to the adverse party, who must “set

forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.”  T.C.R.C.P. 56(e).

 

Facts

 

The parties are

in general agreement with the facts in this matter. For purposes of this motion

we summarize those pertinent facts to be as follows.  Reardon suffered a stroke on August 28, 1997

while employed by his incorporated law practice.  Reardon filed a claim for workmen’s

compensation benefits with the Commissioner on September 10, 1997. The Law

Office, Inc. and its insurer, N.P.I., contested the claim.  A contested claim hearing was held, lasting

several days before the Workmen’s Compensation Commission during May and June

1999, with a final decision and compensation order in Reardon’s favor being

issued by the Commissioner on June 25, 2001.

 

During this

protracted administrative process, the Legislature enacted an administration

request bill known as the Administrative Law Judge Act of 1998 duly endorsed by

the Governor on October 7, 1998.  Through

some delays, an actual administrative law judge was not appointed and confirmed

under this Act until March 16, 2000.  The

Court now considers the application of the A.L.J. Act’s language to these

facts.

 

Overview

 

[2-3] Administrative agency

jurisdiction is nothing more than the clear grant of power by law for an agency

administering certain statutes to hear and decide controversies between parties

arising out of the agencies lawful scope of administrative activities. 2 Am. Jur 2d Administrative Law §§ 274, 275. 

In its broadest sense, agency jurisdiction is generally the power

granted to a particular department, board or commission of government to

effectively administer the laws enacted by the Legislature under that agency’s

authority.  It is reflective of the

separation of powers embodied in the Constitution under which the Legislature

enacts enabling legislation to establish agencies within the Executive branch

to effectively enforce and administer such laws that the Legislature enacts and

entrusts to that agency to carry into effect. 

These administrative agencies are statutory creations and must adhere

strictly to those statutes for their authority. Davidson v. D.C. Bd. of Medicine, 562 A.2d 109, 112 (D.C. App. 1989); see also Springville Cmty. Sch. Dist.

v. Iowa Dept. of Pub.

Instruction, 109 N.W.2d 213, 215 (1961).

 

[4-6] The American Samoa

Legislature provided a general set of administrative procedures and practices

by enacting the Territory’s Administrative Procedures Act of 1969 (“A.P.A.”)

A.S.C.A. § 4.1001 et seq.  The A.P.A. establishes the general procedures

which all A.S.G. departments, boards, and commissions must follow when

empowered to act as agencies with rule-making or contested case decision making

authority.  The hearing requirements

under the A.P.A., to be conducted under minimal due process requirements and

relaxed rules of procedure and evidence, are set forth in A.S.C.A. §§

4.1025-4.1037 of the A.P.A., which contemplates the use of a “hearings officer”

(the administrative law, generic equivalent of “administrative law judge”).

A.S.C.A. § 4.1032(5).

 

[7-10] Included within the

A.P.A. is the right of an aggrieved party, who has exhausted the administrative

decision making process, to seek limited judicial review of an agency’s final

decision before the Appellate Division of the High Court.  A.S.C.A. §§ 4.1040-4.1044.  The Legislature has carefully restricted the

Judicial Branch’s role in reviewing administrative decisions.  The Court must, in most instances confine its

review to the record and decision as developed and issued by the agency. The

Court may not substitute its judgment on the weight of the facts for that of

the agency and the Court shall give appropriate weight to the agency’s

experience, technical competence and specialized knowledge. The Court must

first determine if substantial rights of the aggrieved party have been

prejudiced by the agency’s decision, but even with such a finding, the Court

may only reverse, modify or remand the agency’s decision if it finds the

decision was unlawful, clearly erroneous, or arbitrary, capricious or characterized

by an abuse of discretion.

 

[11-12] Although the A.P.A.

generally applies to the administrative procedure process for all agencies, the

Legislature has recognized that special circumstances affecting particular

agencies require special agency powers or practices coupled with specialized

forms of expedited, but limited, judicial review of such agencies’

decisions.  Compensation orders issued by

the Workmen’s Compensation Commission are immediately reviewable through

injunctive proceedings against the Commissioner brought before the Trial

Division of the High Court. Immigration Board decisions receive expedited

limited judicial review under appeals before the Appellate Division of the High

Court in which the Board is the named respondent.

 

Discussion

 

N.P.I.-L.O.I.

has moved this Court for summary judgment based solely upon the language

appearing in the A.L.J. Act of 1998, which N.P.I.-L.O.I. argues grants the

A.L.J. exclusive subject matter administrative jurisdiction to hear and decide

contested claims filed before the Workmen’s Compensation Commission.  Alternatively, this party urges us to find

that even if the Commission had authority to issue a compensation order, the

Act requires that the A.L.J. conduct a completely new hearing on the

controversy under Judicial Branch rules of evidence and civil procedures.  We disagree.

A.  Exclusive Subject Matter Administrative

Jurisdiction

 

[13-14] The effective scope

of any legislative act is limited to the subject embraced in its title and matters

properly connected thereto.  Rev. Const. of Am. Samoa, art. II, § 16.

Existing statutes may not be revised by reference to title; the act, section or

subsection of law being revised must be set forth at length as amended. Rev. Const. of Am. Samoa, art. II, §

17.  The judicial power of the American

Samoa Government shall be vested in the High Court, the District Courts and

such other courts as created by law.  Rev. Const. of Am. Samoa, art. III, §

1.  Within this constitutional framework

we next examine the meaning and legal effect of the language in the A.L.J. Act

of 1998 cited by petitioners NPI-LOI.

 

The title of

the Act states:

 

An

Act providing for the creation of the Office of administrative law judge, to

decide administrative decisions of department, offices, agencies, boards or

commissions of the Government of American Samoa: Amending sections 7.0102,

7.0110, 32.0341, 320344, 32.0345 ASCA: And creating a section 7.0104 A.S.C.A.

and Chapter 05 under Title 4 A.SC.A.

 

It contains the

subject of the Act and lists 5 sections of statutory law being amended along

with a new section of law being created and a new chapter of law for the

O.A.L.J. also being created. 

Significantly, the Act’s title does not include any reference to the

Administrative Procedures Act or, more particularly to the issue at hand, any

reference to the Workmen’s Compensation Act.

 

[15] The body of the bill

begins with the amendments listed in the title which set forth at length those

statutes being amended by the Act, and involving only two particular agencies

of government, being the Personnel Advisory Board (P.A.B.) and the Wage and

Hour Board. Section 1 and 2 of the Act repeals the authority of the P.A.B to

hear A.S.G. employee disputes, and creates other duties for the P.A.B. and the

Director of Manpower Resources.  The new

section of law created by the Act, A.S.C.A. § 7.0104 appearing as section 6 of

the Act, transfers the former final authority of the P.A.B. to hear A.S.G.

personnel disputes to the A.L.J. for “… hearing and disposition in accordance

with regulations of the American Samoa Government.”  These sections, embraced in, or related to

the Act’s title and set forth at length in the body of the Act, reveal the

Legislature’s clear intent to transfer the final administrative agency hearing

authority of the P.A.B. to the A.L.J.

 

Sections 3, 4,

and 5 of the Act respectively amend A.S.C.A. §§ 32.0341, 32.0344 and

32.0345.  All are listed in the Act’s

title and set forth at length as amended in the body of the Act.  Unlike the previous sections of the Act which

substituted the administrative authority of the A.L.J. for the administrative

authority of the P.A.B., Sections 3, 4, and 5 of the Act substitute the

administrative, Executive branch agency O.A.L.J­. for the Judicial Branch/High

Court of American Samoa.  Left otherwise

unamended in these sections are the judicial powers of issuing permanent or

temporary injunctions and awarding judgment on a legal action including

damages.  In addition, the language of

Section 5 insulates certain orders issued by the A.L.J. against private

employers from judicial review on the underlying issue of the A.L.J.’s

authority to act in such a capacity.

 

[16] We need not decide herein

the questionable constitutionality of these three sections, but we do note our

concern.  Although the Legislature has

the limited, constitutional authority to replace certain judicial proceedings

with administrative contested case proceedings, it may not invest an

administrative hearings officer with more than quasi-judicial authority. See State ex rel. Keasling v. Keasling, 442 N.W.2d 118, 121

(Iowa 1989).

 

The bulk of the

Act is found in Section 7 which establishes the O.A.L.J.  It is these sections of law which are in dispute, but which

may best be interpreted by reference to the previously discussed sections,

above.

 

[17-18] After carefully

comparing the various provisions of the A.L.J. Act to determine the

Legislature’s intent and noting that the Revised Constitution prohibits an

inference that the Legislature intended to revise other regulatory statutes

that were not set forth as amended in the Act, we determine that the broad

language requiring a “trial de novo” in all proceedings before the A.L.J.

(Section 4.0607 of the Act) is limited in application to the above mentioned

sections 1-5 of the Act.  With the

possible exception of the A.L.J. conducting the final administrative hearing in

the administrative rule procurement bid dispute process under Section 4.0604(e)

of the Act, this Act provides no other constitutionally permissible authority

for this independent administrative agency to conduct a “trial de novo” as an

“appeal” from the final administrative decision of another agency of government.

 

Section 4.0607

of the Act reads as follows:

 

4.0607 Rules of

procedures and evidence.

(a)

Proceedings before the administrative law judge shall be a trial de novo

notwithstanding the nature of the controversy or dispute, and it shall be the

obligation of the judge to preserve as good a record as possible for purposes

of appeal.

(b)

In proceedings before the administrative law judge, the Rules of Civil

Procedure and Rules of Evidence applicable in the High Court of American Samoa

shall be followed as closely as practicable. 

In that event, whenever the word High Court shall appear in said rules,

the word Administrative law judge shall be substituted therefor. These rules

may be supplemented by the administrative law judge with any additional rules

promulgated in accordance with provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act.

 

Yet the primary

function of the O.A.L.J., as set forth under subsections (a) and (f) of Sec.

4.0502 of the Act, is facially incompatible with the requirements of 4.0607.

 

4.0602 Administrative

law judge-Office created-Qualifications.

(a)

The office of administrative law judge is created as an independent agency of

the Executive branch of government. The head of this office shall be known as

the administrative law judge.  In a

contested case, as defined in 4.1002, or other grievance or controversy before

any agency, as defined in 4.2001, the administrative law judge shall conduct

and either make or recommend decisions in original proceedings, in accordance

with the Administrative Procedures Act 4.1025-4.1037.  Any agency may utilize the administrative law

judge to conduct or otherwise assist its authorized rule making under

4.1001-4.1020.

*   *  

*   *   *

(f)

The administrative law judge shall adopt uniform rules governing the procedures

for the operation of his office in accordance with the provisions of the

Administrative Procedures Act.

 

[19-20] An A.L.J. cannot

conduct an original contested case proceeding under the A.P.A. by conducting a

“trial de novo” under Judicial Branch rules and procedures.  Clearly a “trial de novo” can only be

conducted by the A.L.J. where there was a prior administrative decision or

hearing and the A.L.J. has been specifically authorized by constitutionally

enacted legislation to conduct and decide a final administrative hearing on a

contested case.

 

In all other

functions carefully established for the A.L.J. as set forth in 4.0602(a) above,

the A.L.J. functions as an agency hearing officer under the A.P.A. See A.S.C.A. § 4.1032(5).  The A.L.J. follows such administrative

practices as required by the A.P.A. or as supplemented by the particular laws

or rules of the agency for which the A.L.J. is conducting a contested case

proceeding.

 

[21-22] If compatible with

the rules and statutes creating or implementing that agency, the A.L.J. may, as

allowed under Section 4.0602(a) of the Act, hear and decide contested cases in

original proceedings. If the Legislature has directed by statute the final

agency decision-making power to be exercised only by a superior agency officer,

such as its director, or by its governing board, commission or chief officer

thereof, the A.L.J. is allowed only to hear and recommend a decision in a

contested case with the agency director, board, etc. so that the agency head

can make a final, informed, agency decision as mandated by law.

 

Petitioner

NPI-LOI appears to argue that the A.L.J. Act be more broadly construed by this

Court.  More particularly, UPI-LOI urges

this Court to find that the Legislature intended to confer upon the O.A.L.J.

exclusive administrative agency subject matter jurisdiction to hear and decide

contested workmen’s compensation claims under Section 4.0604(a) of the

Act.  Said section reads:

 

4.0604 Jurisdiction of

the administrative law judge.

The

office of administrative law judge shall have jurisdiction to conduct hearings

and issue judgments, decisions, orders or decrees with regards to the following

matters:

(a)

Claims for workmen’s compensation in accordance with the procedures set forth

in sections 32.0635 to and including 32.0646. 

All other authorities of the workmen’s compensation commission under

chapter 06 of Title 32 A.S.C.A. shall remain with the commission.

 

[23-25] As required by the

Revised Constitution, for the Legislature to lawfully transfer the existing

authority of the Workmen’s Compensation Commission, it must, as it did in the

A.L.J. Act with the P.A.B., include such sections of law and the subject matter

in the title of the Act and set forth such sections or subsections of law so

amended at length within the body of the Act. 

What the Legislature chose to do instead, for the Workmen’s Compensation

Commission, was simply make the A.L.J. legally available to the Commission to

conduct contested claim hearings under existing, statutorily prescribed, rules

of administrative practices and procedures. 

The statutory authority of the Commission to do all legal things

necessary to fulfill its agency mandate by the Legislature remains unchanged.  How the Commission chooses to utilize the AL.J.

in such proceedings has been left for the Commission to decide and implement,

not the O.A.L.J.  The Legislature has

very clearly indicated the A.L.J. can be so used by the Commission and chose,

in marked contrast to its approach with Personnel Advisory Board, not to

transfer the commission’s administrative agency subject matter jurisdiction to

the O.A.L.J.  For this Court to infer

otherwise would require a finding the Legislature acted unconstitutionally.  We cannot so hold.

 

B.  Required Trial De Novo

 

Next, NPI-LOI

posit that notwithstanding the Commission’s clear, unamended, statutory

authority to issue compensation orders, Petitioners are entitled to a “trial de

novo” before the A.L.J, under Section 4.0607 of the A.L.J. Act because Section

4.0604(g), requires all administrative appeals to be heard first by the A.L.J.

and, under 4.0607 of the Act, such “appeals” must be conducted as a “trial de

novo.”

 

[4.0604](g)

All appeals from administrative rulings or decisions of any administrative

agency, except those matters specifically exempted herein or by statute of a

department office, agency, commission board or committee of the Executive

branch or the American Samoa Government shall first be made to the office of

administrative law judge. Decisions of the administrative law judge may be

appealed to the appellate division of the High Court of American Samoa.

 

As discussed

above, the scope of the A.L.J. Act is constitutionally limited to objects

embraced in its title and those sections of law set forth as amended within the

body of the Act.  Thus narrowed, A.S.C.A.

§ 4.0604(g) applies, if at all, only to those two, possibly three, agencies

whose enabling statutes or administration rules were duly amended in the body

of the Act.

 

An “appeal” of

a final agency decision in a contested case results, under the A.P.A., or other

specialized agency statutes, with a division of the High Court conducting a

limited review of the agency’s decision with the Court being required to give

due deference to that agency’s experience and special competence.  Neither the A.P.A. nor other statutes, such

as this Court’s limited judicial review powers of compensation orders under

A.S.C.A. § 32.0652, governing judicial review of administrative decisions or

orders have been constitutionally amended or altered by the enactment of the

A.L.J. Act.  Indeed, subsection 4.0604(g)

of the Act, supra, expressly

preserves this statutory appeals process to the High Court by excepting all

such appeals from that subsection’s application.

 

[26] We do not need to

speculate as to how the Legislature may employ the O.A.L.J. in a particular

agency’s decision review process in the future when amending a particular

agency’s statutes.  For purposes of

deciding  this motion, we simply are not

persuaded the Legislature intended the painstaking labor of the parties,

including the Commission, to be legally voided and to require the injured

claimant to undergo a new trial before a separate administrative agency where

he must completely reprove his case under different procedures and rules. Until

and unless the Workmen’s Compensation Act is duly amended by the Legislature,

this Court retains the exclusive and express jurisdiction to review that

agency’s compensation orders for legal sufficiency.  As such, Petitioners claim of a right to a

“trial de novo” before the A.L.J. is denied.

 

[27] Although not required

to be reached in the decision of this motion, this Court does note its concerns

over the somewhat cavalier use of indicia of judicial powers throughout the A.L.J.

Act.  Judicial powers can only be

exercised by the Judicial Branch of the American Samoa Government under the

Revised Constitution of American Samoa. 

The purported investiture of the A.L.J. throughout the Act with

authority to issue “judgments” or “decrees” or even to conduct a “trial” de novo are inappropriate within the

context of executive branch administrative agency proceedings.  Even the use of the term “jurisdiction” in

the Act has proven to be misleading to counsel in this case.  It is likewise confusing to the general

public to call an administrative agency a “court of record” and require an

executive branch agency of government to conduct certain hearings under the

Judicial Branch’s specialized Rules of Civil Procedure and Rules of Evidence (after,

of course, the required editing set forth in the Act of substituting

“Administrative Law Judge” for the “High Court”).

 

The Act’s

attempts to substitute the O.A.L.J. for the Appellate Division of the High

Court in reviewing certain Immigration Board decisions is also noted with

suspicion.  The most disturbing aspects

however, are sections 3, 4, and 5 in which the Legislature, while leaving all

judicial powers contained therein unchanged, blandly substituted “the

administrative law judge” for “High Court of American Samoa.” Although we are

now more enlightened as to why the A.L.J. was required by the Act to conduct

certain hearings under High Court Civil Procedure and Evidence Rules, we stress

that the exercise of such traditionally Judicial Branch functions as “awarding

judgments for plaintiffs,” or issuing “a permanent or temporary injunction

decree or restraining order” by the A.L.J. as contemplated under these sections

is constitutionally suspect.

 

Conclusion

 

[28-30] The A.L.J. Act

confers authority to the O.A.L.J. to conduct de novo hearings in those limited situations where the A.L.J. has

been clearly designated by the Legislature as the final administrative agency

decision maker, (e.g. in ASG employment disputes and procurement bidding

process disputes).  In all other

contested case matters before an agency having subject matter administrative

jurisdiction over the dispute, the A.L.J. functions as an agency hearings

officer and conducts hearings under the A.P.A. or such special statutes or

rules which apply to that particular agency. 

As authorized or required under the enabling legislation establishing

the agency, the A.L.J. may conduct hearings on and decide or recommend

decisions for agency contested cases. 

Final agency decision-making responsibility remains where vested by the

Legislature under the enabling statutes. In the instant matter, the Workmen’s

Compensation Commissioner is vested with that authority by law.

 

[31-33] Final agency decisions

are subject to limited judicial review in most instances before the Appellate

Division of the High Court under sections A.S.C.A. §§ 4.1040-4.1044 of the

Administrative Procedures Act or as may be particularly provided in the

enabling statutes of a particular agency as directed by the Legislature.  The authority, powers, and duties of the

A.L.J. are administrative in nature and limited to legitimate Executive branch

functions.  Judicial power, and the

exercise thereof, is constitutionally reserved exclusively for the Judicial

Branch by the Courts of Law established under the Revised Constitution of

American Samoa.

 

We therefore

find that the compensation order issued in the instant matter by the Commission

to have been made by the agency of government statutorily authorized to make

final administrative agency decisions involving this subject matter.  Until otherwise amended by the Legislature

pursuant to constitutional requirements, the Workmen’s Compensation Act,

including the particularized judicial review procedures authorized therein for

exercise by this Court, remains in full force and effect.

 

Motion for

summary judgment denied.

 



* Honorable John L. Ward, II, Judge, District Court of

American Samoa, serving by designation of the Secretary of the Interior.