Case Caption: Elsa Hall v. Samuel H. Hall, Jr.Case Number: S. Ct. Civ. No. 2018-0036Date: 04/19/2018Author: Per CuriamCitation: Summary:

Considering a certification order issued by the District Court for the District of the United States Virgin Islands pursuant to Rule 38 of the Virgin Islands Rules of Appellate procedure requesting that this Court resolve questions of law concerning (1) whether a viable claim exists under Virgin Islands law for alienation of a parent's affection where one entices a parent to leave their child and (2) if not, whether, under Virgin Islands law, a viable claim exists for a tort where one abducts or by similar intentional action compels a parent to be asunder from their child, having reviewed the certification order and the record, the Court declines to accept jurisdiction over these certified questions. Rule 38(a) empowers the Court to answer questions of law certified to it by a court of the United States, but only if such questions "may be determinative of the cause then pending in the certifying court." In this case, it is not clear that an opinion issued by this Court, were it to accept the certified question, would be outcome-determinative in the district court proceeding. First, the underlying motion for judgment as a matter of law in the district court prompting that court to pursue the Rule 38 certification is premised on several grounds, only one of which involves whether this Court would recognize the tort claims addressed in the above-referenced questions, and none of those alternate grounds has yet been adjudicated by the district court. Since at least one of those alternate grounds might permit the appellant to receive judgment as a matter of law regardless of how this Court were to answer the district court's certified questions, the Rule 38 proceeding in this Court would be completely unnecessary. Second, even if this Court were inclined to infer that the district court implicitly rejected these other alternate grounds in the motion for judgment as a matter of law when it certified the above-referenced questions, it is not clear how answering the certified questions would "save time, energy, and resources"-a principal aim of the Rule 38 certified question proceeding-given that the district court has not only already predicted how this Court would resolve the issues of local law addressed in the certified questions, but held two jury trials based on the tort claim that it predicted this Court would recognize. Consistent with federal appellate precedent, the certified question remedy is not appropriate after a district court has already resolved the issue by predicting how the pertinent court of last resort would rule on the matters raised in a certified question. Under the particular circumstances presented in this case, the Court is not prepared to utilize the Rule 38 certification procedure to resolve issues that may not necessarily be outcome-determinative, and that in any event could have been certified at a significantly earlier stage of the litigation, before the District Court issued a prediction of Virgin Islands law and the parties went through the expense of two jury trials based on that prediction. Because the Court declines to answer the certified questions on procedural grounds without reaching the merits, neither the parties nor the district court should infer that this Court agrees with or endorses the predictions of Virgin Islands law made by the District Court concerning the issues presented in the above-referenced questions.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion