5ASR3d215

Series: 5ASR3d | Year: () | 5ASR3d215
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OLO U. MISILAGI LETULI, Claimant,

 

v.

 

PILI POPO LETULI, ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, MITIOMAAUGA

SALAVE`A, FONOTI TAFAIFA,

and IOSEFO KAPELI IULI, Counterclaimants.

 

[In re the Matai Title “LETULI” of

the Village of Iliili]

 

High Court of American

Samoa

Land and

Titles Division

 

MT No. 11-98

 

February 12, 2001

 

 

[1] To determine successor to matai title “Letuli” of Village of

Iliili, Court evaluated qualifications of four candidates according to mandated

criteria in statutory order of priority: (a) best hereditary right; (b) wish of

majority or plurality of family clans; (c) forcefulness, character, and

personality, and knowledge of Samoan customs; and (d) value to the family,

village and country.

 

[2] Each candidate is blood member of

Letuli family and is therefore qualified under hereditary right criteria to

hold “Letuli” title. Nonetheless, to compare relative strength of candidates’

blood connection to title at issue, Court has traditionally applied judicial

rule that distance of each candidate’s relationship is measured from closest

preceding titleholder in candidate’s lineage.

 

[3] Court held

that Olo U. Misilagi Letuli should be registered as Letuli of Village of Iliili

as he prevailed over other candidates on criterion of personal characteristics

and knowledge of Samoan customs, and value of prospective service, while

equally entitled by hereditary right along with two other candidates.

 

Before RICHMOND, Associate Justice, LOGOAI, Chief

Associate Judge, ATIULAGI, Associate Judge, and TAUANU`U, Temporary Associate

Judge.

 

Counsel: For Claimant Olo U. Misilagi Letuli, Afoa L.

Su`esu`e Lutu

             For Counterclaimant Pili Popo Letuli, Salanoa

Aumoeualogo Soli

 For Counterclaimant Eni F.H. Faleomavaega,

Tauivi Tuinei

 For Counterclaimant Mitiomaauga Salave`a, Pro

Se

 For Counterclaimant Fonoti Tafaifa, Asaua

Fuimaono

 For Counterclaimant Iosefo Kapeli Iuli,

Isa-Lei Iuli

 

OPINION

AND ORDER

 

On December 30, 1997, claimant Olo B. Misilagi Letuli

(“Olo”) filed with the Territorial Registrar his claim to succeed to the vacant

matai title “Letuli” of the Village

of Iliili was noticed and attracted seven counterclaims.  The counterclaimant Ufuti Fa`afetai Ieremia

dropped out, however, by failing to file with the court answers to the

questionnaire required in matai title

cases.  Later, before trial,

counterclaimant Fugaipaono V. Tagaloa withdrew. Trial began on January 25,

2000, and initially concluded on February 3, 2000.  The remaining six candidates and all counsel

were present throughout this phase of the trial.

 

The Court deliberated and, on March

24, 2000, returned the selection process to the family to hold one or more

meaningful family meetings to select the successor matai.  On March 27, 2000, an

amended order replaced the first order solely to correct the inadvertent

omission of the name of the pro se

counterclaimant, Mitiomaauga Salave`a (“Mitiomaauga”), from the list of

counsel.

 

We also took cognizance of two

special collateral matters in the return order. 

First, counterclaimant Eni P.R. Faleomavaega (“Faleomavaega”) did not

timely file with the Territorial Registrar a claim supported by at least 25

members of the family, which numbers far in excess of 25 members, as required

by A.S.C.A. § 1.0407(b), and therefore failed to become an eligible candidate.  Faleomavaega filed a motion for a new trial

on this eligibility issue, which we denied on June 6, 2000. Second, we noted

the untimely demise of counterclaimant Iosefo Kapeli Iuli on March 6, 2000.

 

On September 5, 2000, the four

remaining candidates, Olo and counterclaimants Pili Popo Letuli (“Pili”), Mitiomaauga Salave`a

(“Mitiomaauga”), and Fonoti Tafaifa (“Fonoti”),

jointly informed the Court that the family met on August 19, 2000,

and was still unable to select the successor to the “Letuli” title.  They therefore requested that we continue

with the judicial selection process. 

Then, on December 11, 2000, we resumed the trial by taking further

evidence solely concerning the issue of the wish of the majority or plurality of

the family clans in choosing the successor.

 

Discussion

 

[1] From the

evidence presented on December 11, 2000, we find that after due notice was

given, the Letuli family met on August 19, 2000, to select the successor to the

“Letuli” title.  On this occasion, the

family thoroughly discussed the issue and was unable to reach agreement on the

selection of the next titleholder.  The

family carried out the Court’s direction to engage in a meaningful process to

choose a new sa`o and has not succeeded. 

Accordingly, we will now evaluate the qualifications of the four

remaining candidates, according to the mandated statutory criteria, and

adjudicate the issue.  We discuss the

criteria in the statutory order of their priority.

 

1.  Best Hereditary Right

 

[2] Each of

the four remaining candidates is a blood member of the Letuli family and is

thus qualified under the hereditary right criteria to hold the “Letuli”

title.  The Court has traditionally

applied an artificial rule to compare the relative strength of the candidates’

blood connection to the title at issue. 

Under this judicial rule, the distance of each candidate’s relationship

is measured from the closest preceding titleholder in the candidate’s lineage.  Olo is Letuli Pili’s grandson and has a 1/4th

relationship.  Pili is Letuli Tagaloa’s

grandson and has the same 1/4th connection. 

Mitiomaauga is Letuli Tuiaana’s grandson and likewise has a 1/4th

relationship.  Fonoti is Letuli Alaese’s

great-great-granddaughter and has a more remote 1/16th relationship to a former

titleholder.

 

On this basis, we find that Olo,

Pili, and Mitiomaauga equally share the best hereditary right to succeed to the

“Letuli” title, and Fonoti trails them.

 

2.  Wish of the

Majority or Plurality of the Family Clans

 

The Letuli family presently

recognizes three clans within the extended ranks of the family, Manualii,

Kenese, and Faalogo. Olo and Mitiomaauga are members of the Manualii clan.  Pili belongs to the Kenese clan, and Fonoti

is in the Faalogo clan.  Based on the

clear lack of a decision by the clans on selecting a successor to the “Letuli”

title, none of the four candidates has the support of either a majority or

plurality of the present-day traditional clans of the family.

 

We find, therefore, that none of the

four candidates fares any better than the other three on the clan wish

criterion. The criterion is a wash.

 

3.  Forcefulness,

Character, Personality, and Knowledge of Samoan

     Customs

 

We have carefully considered the four

candidates’ backgrounds and careers, but will not set forth a detailed list of

their accomplishments. Suffice it to say that each of them has experienced a

purposeful and successful life in significantly different directions from the

other three.

 

Judging this evidence along with the candidates’ demeanor,

we first find that each is of good character. 

We likewise find that their knowledge of Samoan customs is essentially

equal.  We do find that Olo and Fonoti

have a decided advantage in forcefulness, and that Olo has a particularly

engaging personality.

 

On the

evidence, we rate Olo first on the personal attributes criterion and Fonoti

next, by slight margins over Pili and Mitiomaauga.

 

4. 

Value to the Family, Village and Country

 

Each of

the four candidates is quite capable of leading the Letuli family. The

distinguishing factor is that Olo is a veteran of a more lengthy record of

responsible leadership positions.  On

this basis, we find that Olo’s value to his family, village, and the territory

is presently more pronounced over the other three candidates.

 

We

therefore also award the leadership potential criterion to Olo.

 

Conclusion

 

[3] Olo, Pili, and Mitiomaauga are equally entitled by hereditary

right to the “Letuli” title and prevail over Fonoti on this highest priority

criterion for judicial selection of a successor matai titleholder.  None of

the candidates prevail over the others on the majority or plurality clan wish

criterion.  Due to his forcefulness and

personality, Olo slightly prevails over the other three candidates on the

personal characteristics and knowledge of Samoan custom criterion.  He also has the present advantage on the

value of prospective service criterion. 

Accordingly, we will award the “Letuli” title to Olo.

 

Order

 

The

“Letuli” title is awarded to Olo U. Misilagi Letuli.  The Territorial Registrar shall register the

“Letuli” title in Olo’s name, provided that he has resigned from and is not

holding any other registered title.

 

It is

so ordered.