King v. Morton

Decision Date09 October 1975
Docket NumberNo. 73-1995,73-1995
Citation520 F.2d 1140,172 U.S.App.D.C. 126
PartiesJake KING, Appellant, v. Honorable Rogers C. B. MORTON, Secretary of the Interior of the United States.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

Linda F. Blumenfeld, Washington, D. C., for appellant. Daniel A. Rezneck and Anthony Z. Roisman, Washington, D. C., were on the brief for appellant.

Edwin E. Huddleson, III, Atty., Dept. of Justice, with whom Carla A. Hills, Asst. Atty. Gen., Earl J. Silbert, U. S Atty., and Robert E. Kopp, Atty. Dept. of Justice, were on the brief for appellee.

Opinion for The Court filed by Circuit Judge ROBB.

Opinion filed by Circuit Judge TAMM, dissenting.

Before TAMM and ROBB, Circuit Judges, and HART, * Chief Judge, United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

ROBB, Circuit Judge:

In this action begun in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia the question presented to that court was whether, under the Constitution of the United States, an American citizen charged with a crime in violation of the laws of the unincorporated territory of American Samoa was entitled to a trial by jury. The District Court dismissed the action for lack of jurisdiction. We reverse and remand.

American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States consisting of a cluster of small islands in the South Pacific. The Secretary of the Interior is responsible for administering the government of the territory. Exec. Order No. 10264, 3 C.F.R., 1949-1953 Comp. 765.

On January 3, 1972, Jake King, a citizen of the United States and a resident of American Samoa, was charged by information filed in the Trial Division of the High Court of American Samoa with willful failure to pay his 1969 Samoan income tax and file his 1970 Samoan income tax return, in violation of section 18.0405 of the Revised Code of American Samoa (1961). 1 King moved for a jury trial, and on October 3, 1972, the Trial Division denied the motion for the following reasons:

1. The legislation and statutes of the Government of American Samoa do not provide for a jury trial, and

2. The Supreme Court of the United States has held that the constitutional right to a jury trial does not extend to territories which were not incorporated into the Union. Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, (42 S.Ct. 343, 66 L.Ed. 627) (1922).

King was tried in American Samoa on October 11 and 12, 1972. On December 11, 1972, the Trial Division issued its "Memorandum, Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Judgment", finding King guilty of willfully failing to pay his 1969 income tax and acquitting him of willfully failing to file his 1970 income tax return. Government of American Samoa v. King, Crim.Case No. 785 (High Ct.Am.Samoa, Trial Div., decided Dec. 11, 1972). On February 2, 1973, King was given a suspended sentence and placed on probation for twelve months, conditioned in part on his payment of all back taxes together with a fine of $250.00 and court costs of $25.00.

King appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division of the High Court of American Samoa. On April 1, 1974 the Appellate Division issued its opinion upholding King's conviction. Relying on the "Insular cases " 2 and Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 42 S.Ct. 343, 66 L.Ed. 627 (1922), the court held that the right to jury trial guaranteed by the United States Constitution did not extend to persons tried in American Samoa and that the imposition of the Anglo-American jury system upon Samoa's legal structure "would be an arbitrary, illogical, and inappropriate foreign imposition". Government of American Samoa v. King, No. App. 63-73 (High Ct.Am.Samoa, App. Div., decided April 1, 1974). The decision of the Appellate Division of the High Court of American Samoa is final under Samoan law. 15 Am.Samoa Code § 5104 (1973).

On October 10, 1972, one week after the Trial Division had denied King's motion for a jury trial and the day before his trial began in American Samoa, King commenced this action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against the Secretary of the Interior as administrator of American Samoa "to declare unconstitutional the denial of the right of trial by jury to an American citizen charged with a crime in the court of American Samoa, a territory of the United States." Jurisdiction was grounded upon 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343 and 1361 (1970). King asked:

(A) That this Court declare and adjudge that the provisions of the Revised Code of American Samoa, the Rules of the High Court of American Samoa, and the rules and regulations of the Secretary of the Interior, which deny the right of trial by jury in criminal cases in American Samoa are unconstitutional on their face and as applied to plaintiff, and that the defendant, his appointees, agents, employees, and all other persons subject to his authority and control cannot lawfully enforce these provisions or act pursuant to them;

(B) That this Court permanently enjoin the defendant, his appointees, agents, employees, and all other persons subject to his authority and control from enforcing any judgment of criminal conviction against plaintiff obtained without according him a right to trial by jury; and

(C) That this Court award plaintiff such other and further relief as may be just and equitable under the circumstances.

In May 1973, before King's conviction had become final in American Samoa, both King and the Secretary of the Interior moved for summary judgment. The District Court heard argument on the motions and afterward by order dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction. King appeals.

I. Jurisdiction of the District Court
A. Geographical Jurisdiction

Since the District Court proffered no explanation for dismissing King's case for want of jurisdiction, we must look to the government's argument in this court to find the reasons for the decision. The government's argument is that American Samoa is outside the geographical bounds of the jurisdiction of the United States District Courts, 3 and that consequently those courts cannot "rule on matters affecting and altering the customs and traditions of the Samoan people." The government contends that the Samoan courts are competent to adjudicate claims of Samoan litigants arising under the laws of the United States so that jurisdiction of the district courts over such claims is unnecessary. Moreover we are warned that if the doors of the district courts are opened to such claims the federal courts will soon be inundated with cases concerning matters halfway around the world without the knowledge to handle such matters or the power to order relief.

Whatever force the government's argument might have in cases against the Samoan government or its officers involving the interpretation or application of Samoan law, 4 the argument has no application to this case. Here the sole defendant is the Secretary of the Interior, and the issue is whether he has administered the government of American Samoa in accordance with the requirements of the United States Constitution. Clearly, the Secretary is within the geographical jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, and that court is competent to judge the Secretary's administration of the government of American Samoa by constitutional standards and, if necessary, to order the Secretary to take appropriate measures to correct any constitutional deficiencies. Although it may be necessary for the District Court to inquire into matters of Samoan law and custom in order to determine the applicability of principles embodied in the laws and Constitution of the United States, this case focuses on the applicability of those principles and not on Samoan laws and customs themselves.

Furthermore, that Samoan courts are competent to adjudicate claims of Samoan litigants arising under the laws of the United States does not prevent district courts from hearing such claims when jurisdiction is otherwise proper. The availability of remedies in the Samoan courts may give rise to a requirement that such remedies be exhausted before proceeding in the district courts, but that availability cannot act as a complete bar to district court proceedings. Exhaustion is not at issue here, since King has already appealed his conviction to the highest court in American Samoa. What is at issue is whether King can ever bring this action in the district court when alternative remedies were available to him in the Samoan courts. We hold he can, provided there is some statutory basis for jurisdiction. This does not mean that the door of the district court is open wide to claims properly within the peculiar province of the Samoan courts, but only that it cannot be shut to Samoan plaintiffs properly challenging the lawfulness of the actions of an official of the United States government.

Assuming that the District Court relied exclusively upon the government's geographical jurisdiction argument in dismissing this case for want of jurisdiction, we think the court erred. We do not hold, however, that jurisdiction was proper, for, as we explain below, we cannot tell from the record whether there is a sufficient statutory basis for jurisdiction in this case. Accordingly, we must remand the case for further proceedings, but before we do, we examine briefly each of the jurisdictional bases claimed by King.

B. Statutory Bases for Jurisdiction

King first claims jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331(a) (1970), which provides The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions wherein the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $10,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and arises under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.

Although King's action is a civil action arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States, we cannot determine on the basis of the record before us whether the action...

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