Gen. Offshore Corp. v. Farrelly

Citation25 V.I. 226
Decision Date06 August 1990
Docket NumberCivil No. 147/1988
PartiesGENERAL OFFSHORE CORPORATION v. GOVERNOR ALEXANDER FARRELLY, Governor of the United States Virgin Islands; PAUL ARNOLD, Commissioner of Labor of the United States Virgin Islands; GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS
CourtU.S. District Court — Virgin Islands

Plaintiff's motions for declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent enforcement of the Virgin Islands Wrongful Discharge Act (VIWDA). The District Court, Cahn, J., dismissed the as-applied claims for want of jurisdiction as unripe, and granted summary judgment motion on the facial challenge to the constitutionality of VIWDA.





JOHN R. COON, St. Croix, V.I., for plaintiff

DARYL DODSON, Assistant Attorney General, St. Thomas, V.I., for defendant

CAHN, Judge


The plaintiff, General Offshore Corporation, seeks declaratory and injunctive relief from this court, claiming that the Virgin Islands Wrongful Discharge Act, V.I. Code Ann. tit. 24, §§ 76-79 (Supp. 1989) [hereinafter VIWDA], violates various portions of the United States Constitution made applicable to the Virgin Islands by the Revised Organic Act of 1954, 48 U.S.C. § 1561. The parties have filedcross-motions for summary judgment.1 For the reasons below, this court grants the defendants' motion insofar as it addresses a facial challenge to the VIWDA, and dismisses this action as unripe insofar as it mounts an "as applied" challenge.


This action stems from the Territorial Legislature's enactment of Act No. 5227 on December 29, 1986. This act, the VIWDA, sets forth a list of reasons for which an employer might dismiss an employee. V.I. Code Ann. tit. 24, § 76(a) (Supp. 1989). The Commissioner of Labor is also empowered to adopt other grounds by rule or regulation. V.I. Code Ann. tit. 24, § 76(b) (Supp. 1989). Otherwise, only economic hardship, going out of business, or unprotected concerted activity can warrant discharge. V.I. Code Ann. tit. 24, § 76(c) (Supp. 1989). An employee believing himself wrongfully discharged is given a choice of remedies. He may file suit in the appropriate court for compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney's fees and costs. V.I. Code Ann. tit. 24, § 79 (Supp. 1989).

Instead, or in addition, an employee may file a complaint before the Commissioner within thirty days of discharge. V.I. Code Ann. tit. 24, § 77(a) (Supp. 1989). The Commissioner then serves the complaint and schedules a hearing, set for ten days after the complaint is served. V.I. Code Ann. tit. 24, § 77(b) (Supp. 1989). The Commissioner may set forth the applicable rules of evidence. Id. If the Commissioner finds that the discharge is wrongful, he shall issue an order directing the employer to reinstate the employee with back pay. V.I. Code Ann. tit. 24, § 77(c) (Supp. 1989). Such orders are appealable to Territorial Court. V.I. Code Ann tit. 24, § 78 (Supp. 1989).

On November 6, 1986, shortly before the statute was enacted, Gordon Martin II was hired by General Offshore. Complaint, Exh. A. He passed his probationary period, and received several satisfactory work appraisals. Id. However, on May 21, 1987, General Offshore fired him. Id. On June 8, 1987, Martin filed a complaint with the Commissioner, alleging that he was discharged because he was an active member of the Virgin Islands National Guard and hence that hisdischarge was wrongful.2 Id. The Commissioner sent a letter to General Offshore on October 7, 1987, which stated that Martin had filed a complaint alleging wrongful discharge with the Commissioner and that a copy of the complaint and a notice of hearing would be sent later. Complaint, Exh. B. On March 11, 1988, the Commissioner sent a copy of the complaint to General Offshore, along with a notice that a hearing was scheduled for March 23, 1988. Complaint, Exh. C. This hearing was later rescheduled for May 20, 1988. Complaint, Exh. D. After filing an objection to the hearing with the Commissioner (Complaint, Exh. E), General Offshore filed the complaint in this action. The administrative hearing has not taken place.

[1, 2] The complaint contains three counts. Count I requests injunctive relief, stating that the VIWDA violates the Revised Organic Act of 1954 by impairing General Offshore's contractual obligations and effecting a taking of General Offshore's property without due process of law, and that the Commissioner violates General Off-shore's procedural due process rights by failing properly to set forth regulations effecting the statute. Complaint, ¶¶ 17-22. Count II requests an injunction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985. It states that the defendants have acted under color of law to violate General Offshore's due process and equal protection rights and to impair General Offshore's contracts. Complaint, ¶¶ 24-25. Finally, Count III states that the defendants have impaired General Off-shore's contractual obligations, deprived General Offshore of its property without due process of law, and denied General Offshore its procedural due process rights. Complaint, ¶ 30. It also states that the VIWDA is preempted by federal labor law. Complaint, ¶ 31. It thus seeks a declaration that the VIWDA is unconstitutional. Complaint, ¶ 33. The ad damnum clause asks for an injunction barring enforcement of the statute until appropriate rules and regulations are promulgated and for a declaration that the statute is unconstitutional because it impairs General Offshore's contracts, denies substantive and procedural due process, and effects a taking without due process of law. The clause asks for all appropriate relief, which presumably is both equitable and legal. The parties have since filed motions for summary judgment. This court's jurisdiction rests upon 28 U.S.C.§ 13313 and 48 U.S.C. § 1612(a).4

One threshold matter needs to be addressed. The plaintiff earlier filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, based upon the procedural due process issues. In a later memorandum, the plaintiff stated that the motion had been denied, and that the court had stated that the procedural due process issues should be raised by a writ of review. Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment at 2-3. While this court does not question the accuracy of this statement, no order denying the motion was ever entered. Consequently, for the sake of completeness, this court shall briefly consider the motion here.

[3, 4] To secure a preliminary injunction, the moving party must demonstrate:

(1) a reasonable probability of eventual success in the litigation and (2) that the movant will be irreparably injured pendente lite if relief is not granted. Moreover, while the burden rests upon the moving party to make these two requisite showings, the district court "should take into account, when they are relevant, (3) the possibility of harm to other interested persons from the grant or denial of the injunction, and (4) the public interest."

West Indian Co. v. Government of the Virgin Islands, 812 F.2d 134, 135 (3d Cir. 1987) (per curiam) (quoting Professional Plan Examinersv. LeFante, 750 F.2d 282, 288 (3d Cir. 1984)). Here the plaintiff, as the discussion below will demonstrate, has not shown a reasonable probability of success, at least on the facial challenges. While the as-applied challenge may prove successful, it necessarily must await administrative resolution. At this point, we simply do not know what regulations will be applied in the Martin hearing, or how they will be promulgated; as a result, a procedural due process challenge would be entirely speculative until the hearing takes place. In addition, in light of the findings below, enjoining the administrative process would significantly impair the public interest, as expressed by the legislature, in an efficient means of resolving wrongful discharge disputes. This court thus renders concrete Chief Judge O'Brien's denial of the motion for a preliminary injunction. This obviates any need to consider the procedural due process issues below, especially insofar as they were not raised in the briefing for the summary judgment motions.5

[5] Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The court must construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Tigg Corp. v. Dow Corning Corp., 822 F.2d 358, 361-62 (3d Cir. 1987). The evidence so construed, though, the movant will prevail if there are no genuinely disputed issues that could support a verdict for the non-moving party and that would prove essential to the claim. See, e.g., Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). The facts stated, except where dispute is noted, are uncontradicted.

[6] Before this court can address the merits of the plaintiff's claims, it must consider whether they are justiciable. Even where the defendants do not challenge this court's jurisdiction, this court must do so itself. Regional Rail Reorganization Act Cases, 419 U.S. 102,138 (1974); Felmeister v. Office of Attorney Ethics, 856 F.2d 529, 535 (3d Cir. 1988). After these threshold issues are resolved, this court will consider the substance of the motions for summary judgment.


The defendants argue that the plaintiff's claims are only partly justiciable. Relying upon the distinction between facial and as-applied challenges to the constitutionality of a statute, they maintain that only the facial challenges to the statute are ripe for adjudication. Memorandum of Defendants Regarding Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment at 1-15.6 The plaintiff argues...

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3 cases
  • Gumbs-Heyliger v. CMW & Assocs. Corp., Civil Action No. 2012–00078
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of the Virgin Islands
    • 13 Noviembre 2014
    ...of acceptable reasons for discharge, proscribing all others that are not justifiable by business necessity or other, similar reasons.” 25 V.I. 226, 257–58, 743 F.Supp. 1177 (D.V.I.1990).The structure of the WDA has been described as “perhaps curious, in that it states acceptable reasons for......
  • Bell v. Chase Manhattan Bank, CIV. 97–129.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of the Virgin Islands
    • 11 Febrero 1999
    ...WDA was challenged as facially violating due process, the Contracts Clause, and the Takings Clause.12 General Offshore Corp. v. Farrelly, 25 V.I. 226, 743 F.Supp. 1177 (D.Vi.1990). [40 V.I. 385] In response to the defendant's argument that the WDA does nothing more than define public policy......
  • St. Thomas-St. John Hotel & Tourism Ass'n, Inc. v. Gov't of the U.S. Virgin Islands By & Through the Virgin Islands Dep't of Labor & Eleuteria Roberts, Civ.1999–54.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of the Virgin Islands
    • 3 Junio 1999
    ...WDA survived challenges based on facial due process, the Contracts Clause, and the Takings Clause. See General Offshore Corp. v. Farrelly, 25 V.I. 226, 743 F.Supp. 1177 (D.V.I.1990); see also Bell, at slip op. 11–12, WL *3. The Court in that opinion observed that the act “covers almost ever......

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