Justice chief: Notary law amendments are unconstitutional
By John McPhaul
Justice Secretary Domingo Emanuelli Hernández said Monday that the amendments to the Notary Law approved through the Puerto Rico Public Finances Stabilization Act are unconstitutional.
The agency thereby acquiesced to a lawsuit filed by the Puerto Rico Bar Association to declare the article containing the changes null.
“After carefully evaluating the proposals of the Association, the Department of Justice recognizes that Article 86 of Law 52-2022 suffers from the constitutional defects that are alleged in the lawsuit,” reads the motion presented by the Justice secretary to the San Juan Superior Court.
Emanuelli also argued that since Law 52-2022 contains a separability clause, any determination of the court declaring the unconstitutionality of Article 86 of the statute will not affect the rest of the law.
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said later in the day regarding the court filing that the priority is to pass the law to stabilize the island’s finances, and that the issue involving notaries will be resolved by the courts.
“As I stated, it was so important to resolve the issue of [Law] 154 and change the form and manner in which foreign companies pay their taxes to Puerto Rico that that weighed more on me than any other consideration. That was specifically the bill that was introduced in the Legislature with my approval, that of the transition of Law 154. That was the one that I worked on along with the secretary of the Treasury,” the governor said in response to questions from the press. “I publicly asked the speaker of the House not to include other issues in that bill, but, at the end of this entire legislative process, he did. Now, I was not going to allow this Bill 154 to return to the legislative process again. My judgment was to sign that measure immediately to give stability and certainty to the entire manufacturing sector in Puerto Rico, and that was the correct decision. Now what has happened is that an article of that law has been challenged because it violates the constitutional principle that each law must have a purpose and if there is more than one purpose, everything must be outlined in the title of the measure. That particular article was not included in the measure’s title nor in the explanatory statement of the measure, which is why, obviously, it violates that constitutional principle. The Justice secretary had no alternative because he could not defend an article that is clearly constitutional.”
The provision called into question by the Justice secretary creates new requirements in the granting of deeds of segregation, and in grouping or transferring ownership of real estate. Therefore, the information sheet required for the granting of the deeds must include the appraisal price, accompanied by the appraisal of an authorized professional appraiser, duly licensed in Puerto Rico, a survey plan and a title study of the property in question.
The analysis conducted by the Justice Department was based on section 17 of Article III of the Puerto Rico Constitution, which establishes the so-called doctrine of one law, one matter, which requires that all laws approved by the Legislative Assembly regulate a single matter or subject. Failure to comply is grounds for annulling the statute.
The Justice motion notes that the amendment is not related to “the changes to the tax system” contained in the Puerto Rico Public Financing Stabilization Act.
The new requirements have been questioned by various sectors because they could represent an onerous cost to any citizen who wishes to sell his or her property, and delay transactions for registering real estate, among other factors. Also subject to criticism has been that the amendment was approved at the legislative conference stage, without having the discussion required as part of the process of evaluating a measure.