FILIUPU A. OFISA, Claimant,
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,
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
 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.
 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,
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
 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
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.
 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
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.
 We have listed the communal land in geographical order
from the public road towards the inland direction.