Case Caption: In Re: The 35th Legislature of V.I. Case Number: SCT-CIV-2023-0126Date: 03/22/2024Author: Hodge, Rhys S. Citation: 2024 VI 13Summary: Upon the motion of the 35th Legislature of the Virgin Islands and its President to dismiss, on several constitutional grounds, a lawsuit filed against them by Steven D. Payne.—a former member of the 34th Legislature—and Noellise Powell, a Virgin Islands taxpayer (“the plaintiffs”), this Court granted a petition to transfer the underlying action from the Superior Court to itself in accordance with title 4, section 32(d) of the Virgin Islands Code. Now, upon the following considerations, the motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ lawsuit in in its entirety is granted. Under Section 6(d) of the Revised Organic Act, titled “Immunity of Members,” the “Speech or Debate Clause,” plaintiffs’ claim that the President of the Legislature may not assert immunity for acts done in an official capacity is wholly without merit, and the motion to dismiss with respect to the Senate President is granted; the Legislature’s claim to immunity pursuant to the this Clause is denied. The plaintiffs’ claim for money damages is barred by section 2(b) of the Revised Organic Act, and the claim for monetary damages is dismissed on sovereign immunity grounds. Section 6(g) of the Revised Organic Act provides, in pertinent part, that “[t]he legislature shall be the sole judge of the elections and qualifications of its members.” Here, because the Legislature did not use compliance with its Code of Ethical Conduct to refuse to seat Payne or any other member-elect, it did not create an additional qualification for obtaining legislative office, but rather used it to regulate the conduct of a member who had already occupied such office. The power to expel a member had been widely understood as such an inherent power of a legislative body, and drafters of the governing provisions could not possibly have intended that granting the power of the voters to initiate a recall and placing reasonable limitations on the recall power to avoid abuse and promote fiscal responsibility would remove the authority of the Legislature to wield its inherent expulsion power to address these and other situations. Therefore, it is concluded that the claims raised in plaintiffs’ lawsuit are not justiciable. The Legislature cannot enact unrepealable or unmodifiable super-legislation, and as a matter of law the Legislature may constitutionally adopt a set of rules—as it did when it passed Resolution No. 1880—and then explicitly or even implicitly disregard them in a particular case, as the plaintiffs allege it did when it passed Resolution No. 1891. To the extent plaintiffs assert that the Legislature’s actions violated Payne’s due process rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution the Supreme Court of the United States has already held that an unlawful denial of state political office is not a denial of a right of property or of liberty secured by the due process clause. Given this authority precluding most of the plaintiffs’ claims as a matter of law, their only remaining claims—that the Legislature and its members somehow acted arbitrarily or capriciously in doing what they did—inherently requests that this Court substitute its own judgment for that of the 14 senators who voted to expel Payne. Because doing so would infringe on the authority of the Legislature to administer its own affairs as a co-equal branch of government, the motion to dismiss the lawsuit in its entirety as nonjusticiable is granted.Attachment: Open Document or Opinion