Legal Memorandum: District Court's "Judicial Power of the Territory" in VI

Issue: Is the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands bound to follow the decisions of the District Court?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Decisions; District court; Binding
Jurisdiction: Virgin Islands
Cited Cases: None
Cited Statutes: 4 V.I.C. § 2; 48 U.S.C.A. § 1611(a) ; 48 U.S.C. § 1613a(a); 4 V.I.C. § 21
Date: 03/01/2007

For years, the Virgin Islands legislature has expressly conferred on the District Court the “judicial power of the Territory.”  See Spink v. Gen. Acc. Ins. Co., 36 F. Supp. 2d 689, 691 n.6 (D.V.I. 1999); S & S Servs., Inc. v. Rogers, 35 F. Supp. 2d 459, 462 (D.V.I. 1999); Prime Hospitality Corp. v. Genstar, 41 V.I. 284, 287 (D.V.I. 1999).  The effect is that when “suit is brought in the District Court of the Virgin Islands to enforce provisions of Virgin Islands law, that court sits essentially as a local court.”  V.I. Dep’t of Conservation & Cultural Affairs v. V.I. Paving, Inc., 714 F.2d 283, 285-86 (3d Cir. 1983).

As recently as 2004, the Virgin Islands legislature re-affirmed the grant of territorial judicial power to the District Court, amending the relevant statute to read that “[t]he judicial power of the Territory is vested in a court of general jurisdiction . . . designated the ‘District Court of the Virgin Islands,’ and in courts of local jurisdiction to be designated the ‘Superior Court of the Virgin Islands’ . . ..”  4 V.I.C. § 2.  

The necessary effect is that when the District Court of the Virgin Islands has jurisdiction then, because it is also a territorial court, vested with the “judicial power of the territory” and granted “general jurisdiction” it has the authority to determine what territorial law is.  Genstar, 41 V.I. at 287-88 (“When acting in a case within its diversity jurisdiction, then, the District Court exercises the judicial power of the […]

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