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Brown v. Hansen

argued: June 11, 1992.

VIRDIN C. BROWN, ADELBERT M. BRYAN, ALMANDO LIBURD, ELMO D. ROEBUCK, STEPHANIE SCOTT-WILLIAMS, ARTURO WATLINGTON, JR., CELESTINO WHITE
v.
ALICIA HANSEN, LORRAINE L. BERRY, MALCOLM C. CALLENDER, BENT LAWAETZ, LILLIANA BELARDO DE O'NEAL, HOLLAND L. REDFIELD, II, JOHN F. TUTEIN, ST. CLAIR N. WILLIAMS, ALEXANDER FARRELLY, GOVERNMENT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS, VIRDIN C. BROWN AND ADELBERT M. BRYAN, APPELLANTS



On Appeal from the District Court of the Virgin Islands Appellate Division. Division of St. Thomas and St. John. (D.C. Civil Action No. 92-00035)

Before: Mansmann, Scirica and Roth, Circuit Judges

Author: Per Curiam

Opinion OF THE COURT

Per Curiam.

In this case involving the validity of certain acts and resolutions of the Virgin Islands Legislature, plaintiff legislators Virdin C. Brown and Adelbert M. Bryan appeal from an order of the appellate division of the District Court of the Virgin Islands dismissing their complaint as presenting nonjusticiable political questions and reversing the territorial court's entry of a declaratory judgment and permanent injunction. Plaintiffs also appeal from the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants on their counterclaim. We will affirm.

I.

This case arises out of a dispute between two factions of the Virgin Islands Legislature over the validity of four bills and resolutions proposed and voted upon by defendant legislators on January 22, 1992. The Virgin Islands Legislature is a unicameral body comprised of fifteen Senators. When the Nineteenth Legislature of the Virgin Islands convened on January 14, 1991, it adopted standing rules ("the 1991 Rules") and made committee and chair assignments. Among other things, the 1991 Rules provided they could be amended, suspended, or waived only upon a vote of two-thirds of the Senators. These rules were adopted by an 11-4 vote of the legislature.

A year later, a majority of the Senators (defendants) had become disenchanted with the committee leadership and 1991 Rules, and petitioned Senate President Virdin C. Brown to convene a special session of the legislature to consider the following bills and resolutions: (1) No. 19-2001, reorganizing committee and chair assignments; (2) No. 19-2002, repealing certain 1991 Rules and adopting new rules;*fn1 (3) No. 19-2003, authorizing the allocation of funds to senior citizen programs; and (4) No. 19-2004, appropriating funds for stray animal programs.

President Brown convened the legislature in public session on January 22, 1992 in Charlotte Amalie. After reading defendant Senators' petition, Brown stated that the proposed bills and resolutions were not submitted in accordance with the 1991 Rules and, over the objections of several Senators, declared the meeting adjourned. Brown and his six supporters then left the Senate chambers. After their departure, Senate Vice President Alicia Hansen assumed the president's chair and continued deliberations with the remaining Senators present. Defendant Senators then adopted the proposed bills and resolutions by a vote of 8-0. Six days later, Senator Hansen forwarded the bills and resolutions to the governor, who deposited Nos. 19-2001 and 19-2002 in the Archives of the lieutenant governor's office (because they were resolutions and did not require his signature), signed No. 19-2003, and vetoed No. 19-2004.

On February 12, 1992, the Senators who had walked out of the January 22, 1992 session filed this action in the Territorial Court of the Virgin Islands against the governor and the Senators who had voted in favor of the proposed bills and resolutions. In their complaint, plaintiffs alleged that defendants violated "the Rules of the 19th Legislature" by, among other things, attempting to amend those Rules by a simple majority rather than a super-majority of two thirds. They also argued before the territorial court (but not in their complaint) that defendants' actions were contrary to the Revised Organic Act of 1954, 48 U.S.C. §§ 1541 et seq. (1988), which functions as the Virgin Islands' constitution.*fn2 Plaintiffs sought an injunction preventing defendants from reorganizing the standing committees and taking any action in violation of the 1991 Rules, and a declaration that bills and resolutions Nos. 19-2001 through 19-2003 were null and void. Defendants counterclaimed, seeking a declaration that the bills and resolutions were passed in accordance with the Revised Organic Act and therefore valid, and moved to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint on the ground that the controversy was nonjusticiable.

The territorial court initially entered a temporary restraining order. Then, after a hearing, it issued a memorandum opinion and order denying defendants' motion to dismiss, and, a day later, an amended judgment granting the relief sought by plaintiffs. The territorial court found plaintiffs' action justiciable because (1) the parties' differences had created an impasse which only the judiciary could resolve; and (2) defendants violated § 9(a) of the Revised Organic Act because Senator Hansen both "assumed" the president's chair without being designated "acting president" and failed to entertain a motion to overrule President Brown's adjournment.

The appellate division of the District Court of the Virgin Islands reversed.*fn3 Although it agreed that defendants violated the 1991 Rules, it held that they did not violate any "external source of law" (i.e., the Revised Organic Act or the United States Constitution). In particular, the district court rejected plaintiffs' argument that the two-thirds voting requirement for amending standing rules was intended to be or had become incorporated into § 6(g) of the Revised Organic Act. Following the principle that a legislature is free to disregard internally imposed rules, including those establishing super-majority voting requirements, the district court held that plaintiffs' complaint was nonjusticiable. The district court also granted defendants' request for a declaration that the challenged bills and resolutions were valid.

Two of the original seven plaintiff Senators filed this appeal. They seek reversal of the district court's judgment and reinstatement of the territorial court's judgment. In particular, they argue that the territorial court properly determined that defendants violated ยง 9(a) of the Revised Organic Act, and that the district court erred in holding that the two-thirds voting requirement for ...


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