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Government of Virgin Islands v. Sun Island Car Rentals Inc.

filed: June 1, 1987.

GOVERNMENT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
v.
SUN ISLAND CAR RENTALS, INC.; TERRITORIAL COURT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS, APPELLANT



On Appeal from the District Court of the Virgin Islands - St. Thomas, D.C. Civ. No. 83-0333.

Seitz, Higginbotham and Rosenn, Circuit Judges.

Author: Seitz

Opinion OF THE COURT

SEITZ, Circuit Judge.

The Territorial Court of the Virgin Islands appeals from the June 9, 1986 district court order denying its motion for reconsideration of the March 7, 1986 order, which clarified the permanent injunction entered in this action on January 27, 1984. We have appellate jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1982).

I.

Plaintiff Sun Island Car Rentals, Inc. ("Sun Island") operates a car rental business on St. Thomas. Some of Sun Island's lessees incur parking tickets. Many fail to pay the tickets and fail to inform Sun Island that the rental cars have been ticketed.

Under Virgin Islands law, parking tickets constitute liens on the ticketed cars. A car will not be registered until these liens have been discharged. 20 V.I.C. § 497 (1976). Each year, Sun Island must have its cars inspected and registered by the Virgin Islands Police Department. Because Sun Island generally does not receive notice of the tickets from the government, it often first learns of the outstanding liens when it attempts to renew the vehicle registrations.

When Sun Island commenced this action in December 1983, 70 of its cars were subject to a total of 352 parking and traffic tickets. The complaint requested declaratory and injunctive relief invalidating the liens and mandating strict adherence to the procedures set out in 20 V.I.C. § 497 and named the Government of the Virgin Islands as the sole defendant. Among other things, Sun Island alleged that it was not receiving mailed notice of the parking tickets as required by the statute. Counsel for the plaintiff delivered copies of the complaint and accompanying papers to the Attorney General's office. A consolidated hearing was held on January 5, 1984. The Government of the Virgin Islands was represented by counsel, although he stated that he did not represent the Territorial Court.

On January 27, 1984, the district court entered a permanent injunction in favor of Sun Island. The court determined that while the statute allowed for the establishment of liens as to parking tickets, there was no such authorization as to moving violations. The injunction barred "the Government of the Virgin Islands, its officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys, and those persons in active concert or participation with them who receive actual notice" from requiring, as a prerequisite to registering and licensing of motor vehicles, the payment of parking tickets predating the injunction, the payment of territorial court costs, or the payment of tickets for moving violations. An accompanying order directed the clerk of the Territorial Court to register liens for parking violations in strict adherence to section 497.

In 1985, Sun Island moved for an order holding the Territorial Court in contempt of the permanent injunction. Counsel for the Territorial Court was present at the hearing, although it is unclear whether counsel fully participated. After the hearing, the district court stated that it would deal with the matter informally by contacting the presiding judge of the Territorial Court.

On December 18, 1985, Sun Island again moved for an order holding the Territorial Court in contempt. Counsel for the Territorial Court entered an appearance, filed opposition papers, and fully participated in the hearing on the motion. By order dated March 7, 1986, the district court indicated that there had been little or no compliance with the injunction. The district court, however, accepted the Territorial Court's excuse that it misunderstood the permanent injunction, and entered an order clarifying the permanent injunction. The order invalidated all liens on Sun Island cars that had been imposed without strict compliance with 20 V.I.C. § 497 in that notice of the tickets was not mailed to Sun Island. The order specifically identified the Territorial Court and barred it from imposing liens without complying with 20 V.I.C. § 497.

On March 26, 1986, the Territorial Court moved for reconsideration. It argued that section 497 does not require mailed notice of parking tickets. It further argued that it could not be held in contempt (in fact, it was not so held) because it had substantially complied with section 497. The ...


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