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TERRITORY GUAM v. OLSEN

May 23, 1977

TERRITORY OF GUAM
v.
OLSEN



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Burger, Brennan, Stewart, White, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, Rehnquist, Stevens

Author: Brennan

[ 431 U.S. Page 196]

 MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question for decision in this case is whether the provision of § 22 of the 1950 Organic Act of Guam that the District Court of Guam "shall have such appellate jurisdiction as the [Guam] legislature may determine" authorizes the Legislature of Guam to divest the appellate jurisdiction of the District Court under the Act to hear appeals from local Guam courts, and to transfer that jurisdiction to the Supreme Court of Guam, newly created by the Guam Legislature.

I

Section 22(a) of the Organic Act, 64 Stat. 389, before an amendment not relevant here, provided: S

"There is hereby created a court of record to be designated the 'District Court of Guam,' and the judicial authority of Guam shall be vested in the District Court of Guam and in such court or courts as may have been or may hereafter be established by the laws of Guam. The District Court of Guam shall have, in all causes arising under the laws of the United States, the jurisdiction of a district court of the United States as such court is defined in section 451 of title 28, United States Code, and shall have original jurisdiction in all other causes in Guam, jurisdiction over which has not been transferred by the legislature to other court or courts established by it, and shall have such appellate jurisdiction as the legislature may determine. The jurisdiction of and the procedure in the courts of Guam other than the District Court of Guam shall be prescribed by the laws of Guam."*fn1 (Emphasis supplied.)I

[ 431 U.S. Page 197]

     In 1951, under the authority of the Organic Act, the Guam Legislature created three local courts for local matters and defined cases appealable from those courts to the District Court.*fn2 That structure continued without substantial change for 23 years until 1974 when the Guam Legislature adopted the Court Reorganization Act of 1974. Guam Pub. L. 12-85. The former Island, Police, and Commissioners' Courts, were replaced by a Guam Superior Court with "original jurisdiction in all cases arising under the laws of Guam, civil or criminal, in law or equity, regardless of the amount in controversy, except for causes arising under the Constitution, treaties, laws of the United States and any matter involving the Guam Territorial Income Tax."*fn3 The Act also repealed the provisions of the Guam Code of Civil Procedure governing appeals to the District Court,*fn4 and created the Supreme Court of

[ 431 U.S. Page 198]

     Guam. The Act transferred to the Supreme Court essentially the same appellate jurisdiction as had previously been exercised by the District Court, providing that the Supreme Court "shall have jurisdiction of appeals from the judgments, orders and decress of the Superior Court in criminal cases... and in civil causes." Pub. L. 12-85, § 3. Other provisions of the Reorganization Act amended various territorial laws to change the references to the Supreme Court of Guam from the Appellate Division of the District Court as the appellate court.

Respondent was convicted of criminal charges in the Superior Court, and appealed to the District Court of Guam. The District Court dismissed the appeal on the authority of a divided panel decision of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit holding that the 1974 Court Reorganization Act validly divested the District Court of its appellate jurisdiction and transferred that jurisdiction to the newly created Supreme Court. Agana Bay Dev. Co. (Hong Kong) Ltd. v. Supreme Court of Guam, 529 F.2d 952 (1976). In this case, however, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, overruled en banc*fn5 the panel decision in Agana Bay, and reversed the dismissal of respondent's appeal. 540 F.2d 1011 (1976). The Court of Appeals held that "the appellate jurisdiction of the district court may not be transferred without congressional authorization and pursuant to such provisions and safeguards as Congress may provide." Id., at 1012. Certain judgments of the appellate division of the District Court were made appealable to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and to this Court, by § 23 of the Organic Act of Guam of 1950, as

[ 431 U.S. Page 199]

     amended, 65 Stat. 726,*fn6 but Congress has not similarly provided for appeals from judgments of the Supreme Court of Guam. In that circumstance, the Court of Appeals held that § 22(a) did not authorize the transfer of the District Court's appellate jurisdiction to the Supreme Court of Guam because, under existing statutes "litigation in the territorial court [that] may involve substantial federal questions... cannot be reviewed by the United States ...


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