5ASR3d230

Series: 5ASR3d | Year: () | 5ASR3d230
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FILIUPU A. OFISA, Claimant,

 

v.

 

POGISA TUIOLEMOTU, Administrator of the Estate of

AUKUSO M. TUIVETA, and TE`I TAUFA`ASE, Objectors.

______________________________

 

POGISA TUIOLEMOTU, Administrator of the Estate of

AUKUSO M. TUIVETA, Claimant,

 

v.

 

LOGOAI SIAKI, AINA SAOLUAGA NUA,

FILIUPU A. OFISA, and LAIE MATA`UTIA, Objectors.

 

High Court of American Samoa

Land and Titles Division

 

LT No. 22-94

LT

No. 14-97

 

June

18, 2001


 

 

[1] A straight line

of trees is a common method of defining boundaries between adjacent,

unregistered tracts of land in Samoa, and is strong circumstantial evidence of

a historic property boundary.

 

[2] Court held

that disputed land belonged to family with title of equal rank to its

neighboring families as it was unlikely that lesser title in village hierarchy

would control land in same vicinity of lands held by such higher ranked titles.

 

Before RICHMOND, Associate Justice, and SAGAPOLUTELE,

Associate Judge.

 

Counsel: For Claimant/Objector Filiupu A. Ofisa,

Aumoeualogo S. Salanoa

             For Claimant/Objector Pogisa Tuiolemotu,

Administrator of the Estate of Aukuso M. Tuiveta, and Objector Logoai Siaki,

Aitofele T. Sunia

             For Objector Te`i Taufa`ase, Pro Se

             For Objector Ama Saoluaga Nua, Tauivi Tuinei

 

 

OPINION

AND ORDER

 

Both of these actions arose out of objections to offers to

register land in the Village of Fitiuta on the Island of Ta`u in the Manu`a

Islands.  A portion of the lands claimed

by the two original claimants and several objectors overlap in varying ways.

Within the common area of the overlaps, the American Samoa Government (“ASG”)

located a well to provide water to the residents of Fitiuta.  The American Samoa Power Authority (“ASPA”)

now has jurisdiction over the well.  An

access road crosses the claimed lands, and a part of the road is within the

overlaps. On March 23, 1998, the two actions were consolidated because of the

overlaps and parties common to both actions.

 

Before trial, several of the original parties to this action were

replaced. Filiupu Galea`i (“Filiupu G.”), the original land registration

claimant in LT No. 22-94, passed away and was replaced by claimant/objector

Filiupu A. Ofisa (“Filiupu O.”), the present Filiupu titleholder. Aukuso M.

Tuiveta (“Aukuso”), the original land registration claimant in LT No. 14-97 and

an original objector in LT No. 22-94, also passed way, and his claim is now

handled by his daughter and administrator of his estate, claimant/objector

Pogisa Tuiolemotu (“Pogisa”).  Te`i Lanu

Fetu (“Te`i L.”), an original objector in LT No. 22-94, passed away and was

replaced by his son, objector Te`i Taufa`ase (“Te`i T.”), who now holds the

Te`i title. So`oupu Ama Savea (“So`oupu”), an original objector in LT No.

14-97, was replaced by her son, objector Ama Saoluaga Nua (“Ama”), who recently

succeeded to the Ama title.  Objector

Laie Mata`utia (“Laie”) in LT No. 14-97 never filed a statement of claim and,

by this inaction, dropped out of the case.

 

Trial commenced on April 10, 2001, and concluded on April 18, 2001. On

May 11, 2001, the court inspected the lands claimed with a designated

spokesperson of each of the four parties still actively pursuing their claims.

 

I.  The Offers of Land Registration

 

A.  The Filiupu Registration

 

On September 4, 1992, pursuant to A.S.C.A. § 37.0101-.0120, Filiupu G.

filed with the Territorial Registrar his offer to register approximately 0.712

of an acre, named “Lalopiu,” as his individually owned land.  The offer was duly noticed in accordance with

A.S.C.A. § 37.0103. Aukuso and Te`i L. objected in a timely manner.  Aukuso asserted that the land offered for

registration by Filiupu G. encroached upon his individually owned land. Te`i L.

declared that Filiupu G.’s claim encroached upon the Te`i family’s communal

land.  Both encroachments involved the

well site and an immediately adjacent portion of the access road.  Accordingly, the matter was referred to the

Secretary of Samoan Affairs for dispute resolution proceedings, mandated in

communal land controversies, and in due course on March 14, 1994, the Secretary

issued a Certificate of Irreconcilable Dispute, a jurisdictional requirement

for judicial communal land title determinations.  A.S.C.A. § 43.0302; Ava v. Logoa`i, 20 A.S.R.2d 51, 52 (Land

& Titles Div. 1992).  On July 1,

1994, the Registrar referred the matter to this Court for resolution.  The referral became LT No. 22-94.

 

Filiupu G. offered to register the land he claimed as his individually

owned land.  However, at trial, the

testimony of the Filiupu family members on behalf of Filiupu O. made clear that

Filiupu O. considered the land to be Filiupu family communal land.

 

B.  The

Aukuso Offer of Registration

 

On December 5, 1995, Aukuso offered to register

approximately 1,442 acres, named “Loi,” as his individually owned land. After

notice of the offer was disseminated, objectors Logoai Siaki (“Logoai”),

So`oupu, Filiupu G., and Laie timely opposed the registration. All four

objectors asserted that the land claimed by Aukuso encroached upon their lands,

specifically upon the area of the well site and an adjacent portion of the

access road.

 

The

Filiupu claim, whether as individually owned land or as family communal land,

may be subordinate to the Galea`i family’s claim to the same land as its communal

land.  We take judicial notice of Tuiveta

v. Te`i, LT No. 30-85,

dismissed without prejudice by bench order during trial on April 8, 1987.  LT No. 30-85 involved claims to the same well

site at issue in the present actions.  In

LT No. 30-85, the court had only a survey showing a 20-foot square of land

around the well. Competing claims to the well site were put forth by Aukuso as

the Laie family’s communal land (Aukuso testified that his father was Laie

Misa, but his matai title “Tuiveta” was from his wife’s family, the

Galea`i family), by Te`i L. as the Te`i family’s communal land, and by Galea`i

Poumele as the Galea`i and Filiupu families’ communal land.  The Court recognized that each family owned

land in the vicinity of the well. However, the Court declined to adjudicate the

competing land claims in the absence of surveys of the entire area around the

well site claimed by each family, and therefore dismissed the action until the

parties were prepared to proceed in this manner.

 

The testimony and other evidence in LT No. 30-85

illustrate the marital alliances and other complex interrelationships among the

families involved.  This is also apparent

in the present actions.  We note one

aspect here in particular.  The Filiupu matai title serves the Galea`i matai title.  See

In re Matai Title “Galea`i”, MT No. 6-98,

pretrial orders at 3 (Land & Titles

Div. Nov. 19, 1999).  Thus, it appears

that the Filiupu claim, whether as individually owned land or as communal land,

is subordinate to the Galea`i family’s claim to the same land as its communal

land.  However, we do not need to decide

that issue in the present actions.

 

So`oupu and Laie separately maintained each of their

claims to be family communal land.  As

such, this controversy was referred to the Secretary of Samoan Affairs for

dispute resolution proceedings, which on June 27, 1997, resulted in the

issuance of a Certificate of Irreconcilable Dispute. On August 4, 1997, the

Registrar referred this controversy for judicial determination.  The referral became LT No. 14-97.

 

As noted previously, Laie did not pursue his contention of land ownership

in the well-site area.  Similarly, during

Logoai’s case-in-chief, Logoai’s counsel advised the court that he also represented

Pogisa as the administrator of Aukuso’s estate. 

He further advised us that because the interests of Logoai and Aukuso in

the land claimed for registration by Aukuso in LT No. 14-97 were in fact

identical, Pogisa was withdrawing the claim of Aukuso’s estate to the well-site

area as individually owned land in favor of Logoai’s claim to the same land as

the Logoai family’s communal land.  With

Laie and Aukuso withdrawn, the competing land claims enclosing the well site

and disputed portion of the access road are reduced to the four by Filiupu O.,

Logoai, Ama, and Te`i T.

 

Discussion

 

Each of the remaining four claimants presented evidence of family history

and personal knowledge of the particular land over which each claims

ownership.  Insofar as this evidence

deals with relatively modern times, it is largely related to cultivated use of

the land claimed.  The evidence further

demonstrates the intricate interrelationships between some of the families.

 

We need not dwell on the details of those

relationships, however, except for conflicts in testimony that may truly impact

our decision.  The broad history of the

area and our physical observations are far more persuasive factors.

 

The area where the well site and access road are located is known as

“Faga” and has major historical significance. 

It is reputed to be one of the oldest, and some say the first, human

settlement in the Samoan archipelago. 

Along the way, however, the settlement was removed to the present

location of Fitiuta.  Nonetheless, “Faga”

never lost its sacred identity, and ownership of land within the area was

apportioned as communal land among the families and under the pule (“authority”)

of the highest-ranking matai

(“chiefs”) of present-day Fitiuta.

 

The portion of “Faga” at issue lies immediately adjacent to the public

road, which goes to Fitiuta to the east and to the Village of Ta`u to the

west.  The boundaries along the east and

west sides of the apportioned lands within this portion of “Faga” were

established in straight lines running from the public road at the north end

towards the mountains at the south end. 

Before reaching the disputed area, the access road is clearly within the

Te`i family’s communal land, named “Sina.” 

The communal lands of the Logoai, Patea, and Filiupu families are

situated east of the Te`i family’s communal land, towards Fitiuta, and communal

lands of the Taaga and Paopao families are situated on the west side, towards

Ta`u.[1]

 

According to Te`i T., the southern boundary of his land claim is the

northern boundary of Logoai’s land claim. 

In Te`i T,’s survey, this boundary is shown sufficiently inland to place

the well site and the disputed portion of the access road within the southeast

area of his land claim.  The eastern

boundaries of both Te`i T.’s survey and Logoai’s survey (originally Aukuso’s

survey) also coincide roughly in this area. Te`i T.’s southern boundary does

not, however, follow any clearly discernible boundary marked by trees or other

identifying markers.

 

[1] The northern and

eastern boundaries of Logoai’s survey enclose the well site and the disputed

portion of the access road within the northeast area of his land claim.  Unlike Te`i T.’s placement of the boundary

between his and Logoai’s land claim, the northern boundary of Logoai’s survey

follows a distinct line of trees.  This

court has found a straight line of trees, a common method of defining

boundaries between adjacent, unregistered tracts of land in Samoa, to be strong

circumstantial evidence of a historic boundary. 

See Faleafine v. Suapilimai, 7 A.S.R.2d 108, 112 (Land &

Titles Div. 1988).  In weighing the lack

of distinguishing field markers defining the southern boundary in Te`i T.’s

survey against the actual line of trees along the northern boundary of Logoai’s

survey, we must give deference to the circumstance of existing trees. We

therefore find that the northern boundary of Logoai’s survey is the southern

boundary of the Te`i family’s communal land, and that the well site and the

disputed portion of the access road are outside of the Te`i family’s communal

land.

 

Filiupu O.’s survey is not configured

in the manner used to apportion the lands within “Faga.”  Neither the east nor the west boundaries of

this survey follow anything near straight lines.  The east boundary artificially juts out to

include approximately one-half of the eastern side of the well site, and a

substantial part of the eastern side of disputed portion of the access road

within this survey.  Strangely, this

configuration happens to put the western side of well site and the disputed

access road within the Ama family’s land claim. 

This delineation of the boundary appears to be deliberately rather than

coincidentally determined for these actions. 

The evidence shows that the Filiupu family owns communal land in this

vicinity.  However, we find that the well

site and the disputed portion of the access road are outside of the Filiupu

family’s communal land.

 

Ama did not present a survey of his

land claim.  However, Ama’s land claim

essentially coincides with Logoai’s land claim, except he agreed that the

eastern boundary of the Ama family’s communal land is the same as the western

boundary of the Filiupu family’s communal land. 

Thus, Ama claims approximately one-half of the western sides of the well

site and the disputed portion of the access road, as defined by the peculiar

boundary between his and Filiupu O.’s land claims.  Unlike Logoai’s survey that defines the

boundaries of his land claim consistently with the traditional layout of lands

in “Faga” established by the ranking Fitiuta matai, we do not believe that there is any historical basis for the

common boundary claimed by Ama and Filiupu O.

 

So`oupu, Ama’s mother, pointed out

that her family had a plantation fale within Ama’s land claim.  Her father, however, was from the Logoai

family.  She further testified that her

brother Kiliona held the Ama title as the sa`o (“head chief”) of the

family, as proof of Ama’s land claim. 

She claimed that Kiliona as the Ama permitted Aukuso to maintain a

plantation on the land.  She admitted,

however, that Kiliona later held the Logoai title as the sa`o of the

Logoai family.  The present Logoai

maintained that Kiliona as the Logoai authorized Aukuso’s plantation.

Furthermore, Aukuso’s son acknowledged that he currently plants within the land

claimed by both Logoai and Ama, as his father used it before him, under the

authority of the Logoai title.  No doubt

the connection between the Logoai and Ama families in the past lends to

confusion over ownership of land each family is now claiming.

 

[2] The Logoai

title is a high-ranking matai in the hierarchy of Fitiuta. The Filiupu,

Te`i, Patea, Taaga, and Paopao titles, which have pule over lands in the immediate proximity of the land claimed by

Ama and Logoai, are comparable in rank to the Logoai title.  The Ama is a lesser title in the village

hierarchy, and it is unlikely that the Ama title would control land in Faga in

the same vicinity of the lands held by these other titles.

 

We hold, therefore, that the land

within Logoai’s survey (formerly Aukuso’s survey), which encompasses the well

site and the disputed portion of the access road, is the Logoai family’s

communal land.

 

Order

 

1. The land within Logoai’s survey, which encompasses

the well site and the disputed portion of the access road, is the Logoai

family’s communal land.  The Territorial

Registrar is directed to register this land in this manner.

 

2. Logoai is entitled to receive the unpaid

compensation from ASPA or ASG, or both, accrued for use of the well site and

access road within the land from the inception of the well site and access road

to the present time, and accruing in the future.

 

It is so ordered.

 



[1] We have listed the communal land in geographical order

from the public road towards the inland direction.