Supreme Court nixes GWA's plea for reversal of ancestral lands ruling
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
The Supreme Court of Guam has paved the way for Core Tech International to seek compensation for the ancestral property it purchased from developer Younex, which had purchased it from original landowners.
The Guam Waterworks Authority claimed the property should never have been returned.
The government of Guam previously challenged the return of the property in another civil case against Younex. The lawsuit failed when GovGuam admitted Younex was an innocent third-party purchaser.
The Department of Land Management then granted Younex certificates of title for the property. However, the department declined to give CoreTech certificates of title arguing that the property should have never been returned to the ancestral landowners in the first place.
In 2018, GovGuam and DLM asked the Superior Court to cancel the certificates of title which CoreTech had relied on to purchase the property.
GWA intervened, also suing Core Tech to quiet title. CoreTech then countersued for inverse condemnation to seek just compensation for the property GWA and the government sought to take back.
On Nov. 30, 2021, Superior Court Judge Elyze M. Iriarte denied GWA’s request to throw out CoreTech’s claims. Instead, the Superior Court found CoreTech did obtain an ownership interest in the property, and in fact, GWA only had a small waterline easement.
In a last-ditch effort to throw out CoreTech’s case GWA, pleaded with the Supreme Court to overturn the court's decision, arguing that Iriarte misinterpreted the law and should have found that public laws exempt lands needed for utilities from being returned to ancestral landowners. GWA also claimed the statute of limitations barred CoreTech’s claims.
The Supreme Court declined to overrule the Superior Court’s factual determinations and concluded that GovGuam and GWA did not meet “the exceptionally high burden” to justify an appeal at this point.
The Supreme Court’s order leaves the rest of the case to be ultimately determined by the Superior Court at trial. Nevertheless, Peter Sgro, CoreTech's legal counsel, considers it a victory in the ongoing four-year battle.
“Core Tech prides itself in being a good corporate citizen and working with the government to provide millions of dollars to our island’s infrastructure," Sgro said.
"However, when public servants show they are willing to alter property titles, move fences, or do whatever they can, to take private property without just compensation, we also felt we had an obligation to shine a light on that wrong not just for ourselves, but for others. This proves our claim is legitimate, that this problem will not go away, and it will all come to light when we have our day in court," he added.
Vanessa Williams, attorney for CoreTech, noted that while the government had decades to fix the problem, it chose to drag everyone who has owned this property since 2006.
“It’s unfortunate these government actors haven't taken any accountability for what is clearly decades of errors and instead want an innocent party-- in this case CoreTech -- to pay for their mistakes,” Williams said.
The lawsuit will now return to the Superior Court where the Judge will determine if GWA’s claim is barred by the statute of limitations and whether the government’s petition must be dismissed due to its prior lawsuits.