TUIAGAMOA T. TAVAI, plaintiff,
TU`UGAOLO LOGOTAEAO, Defendants.
Court of American Samoa
and Titles Division
 Where case
involves the same parties and issue regarding land ownership and court has
previously adjudicated the land at issue to be communal land of a certain
family, court will recognize the res judicata effect of the previous
decision to reinforce the holding that the land at issue is that family’s
possession of land is pursuant to a traditional assignment of a family’s
communal land by the family’s sa`o,
the family member in possession of the land is obligated to render tautua to the sa`o in order
to protect and preserve the family member’s right to occupy and use the land at
Before RICHMOND, Associate Justice, and
LOGOAI, Chief Associate Judge.
Counsel: For Plaintiff, Afoa L. Su`esu`e Lutu
For Defendant, Mark Ude
Trial of this
action began on August 23, 2001, and ended the same day in remarkable and
dramatic fashion, with defendant Tu`ugaolo Logotaeao (“Tu`ugaolo”) reaffirming
her fidelity and pledging tautua (“traditional service”) to plaintiff
Tuiagamoa T. Tavai (“Tuiagamoa”) as the
sa`o (“senior chief”) heading the Tuiagamoa family of the Village of
Malaeola, American Samoa. We memorialize
this result, and in the process will summarize the essence of the situation, to
encourage lasting effect for the benefit of both parties and counsel.
brought this action to evict Tu’ugaola, a member of the Tuiagamoa family, from
a portion of the family’s communal land named “Toeleve” in Malaeloa (“the land
at issue”), based on alleged lack of compliance with her obligations to the sa`o
under the traditional Samoan customs pertaining to the Tuiagamoa family.
 Tu’ugaolo initially
defended in large measure on a claim that the land at issue is her individually
owned land. This Court, however, in a
case involving the same parties and issue regarding land ownership, has
previously adjudicated the land at issue to be communal land of the Tuiagamoa
family. Logotaeao v. Tuiagamoa,
LT No. 14-84, slip op. at 3-4 (Land & Titles Div. Nov. 20, 1984).
did not pursue this claim at trial. Accordingly, we need not address this issue
further than to recognize the res judicata effect of Logotaeao and to reinforce the holding
that the land at issue is the Tuiagamoa family’s communal land.
 Tu’ugaolo has lived
on the land at issue for most of her life.
Her possession is, however, tantamount to a traditional assignment of a
family’s communal land by the family’s sa`o. See
Coffin v. Mageo, 4 A.S.R. 14,
17 (Land & Titles Div. 1970).
Because of that assignment, and as member of the Tuiagamoa family, she
is obligated to render tautua (“traditional service”) to Tuiagamoa in
order to protect and preserve her right to occupy and use the land at
issue. Id.; see also Seventh Day Adventist
Church of Am. Samoa v.
Maneafaiga, 23 A.S.R.2d 150, 154-55 (Land & Titles Div. 1993); Toleafoa
v. Tiapula, 7 A.S.R.2d 117, 120 (Land & Titles Div. 1988).
l970s, Tu`ugaolo and her husband Aofetalaiga Logotaeao (“Aofetalaiga”), now
deceased, were strong supporters of Tuiagamoa’s candidacy to fill the then
vacant Tuiagamoa title. In the ensuing matai title action, this court awarded
the title to the present titleholder. In re Matai Title “Tuiagamoa”,
LT No. 1394-74, slip op. at 5 (Land & Titles Div. Dec. 26, 1974). Tuiagamoa and Tu`ugaolo differ in the role
and significance of this support, both during the pendency of the title action
and the investiture ceremony in its aftermath.
The differences are not now, however, an important factual issue.
assumed the title, Tu`ugaolo and Aofetalaiga provided unfailing tautua to
Tuiagamoa as the family sa`o until 1983.
Then, in reference to construction of a building, Tu’ugaolo, claiming to
own the land at issue as her individually owned land, and Aofetalaiga, as the
owner of the building entered an agreement to separate the building from the
land at issue, pursuant to A.S.C.A. §§ 37.1501-.1506, and Tuiagamoa
objected. These actions precipitated Logotaeao,
LT No. 14-84, and the ultimate declaration of the Tuiagamoa family’s
communal ownership of the land at issue. After Logotaeao was decided, there was, in
Tuiagamoa’s estimation, a precipitous decline in the rendering of acceptable tautua
by Tu`ugaolo and Aofetalaiga to Tuiagamoa.
attributes this backsliding principally to the outcome of the Logotaeao case. He describes the lessening of tautua especially
in terms of Tu’ugaolots failures on several occasions to obtain his
permission as the family’s sa`o for significant construction or
remodeling of improvements on the land at issue, and to regularly provide
foodstuffs and similar measures of traditional support and respect. He indicates that after Tu`ugaolo left in
1987 to reside outside of American Samoa, except for occasional brief return
visits, she essentially ceased to contribute tautua and continually offended the dignity of his office as the
head of the Tuiagamoa family.
explains her actions, first saying that she understood from the staff of the
Building Branch of the American Samoa Government’s Department of Public Works
that the sa`o’s approval
signature was not required for the kinds of construction work she had done on
the land at issue. She further states
that until Aofetalaiga joined her outside American Samoa for health reasons in
1994, he continued to regularly provide tautua
to Tuiagamoa, such as providing traditional foodstuffs to him on Sundays, and
that since then, she has done her best to provide appropriate tautua to
him, within her limited financial resources, when she was notified of family
affairs requiring the support of family members.
after expressing her viewpoint on the situation, Tu`ugaolo apologized to
Tuiagamoa and reaffirmed her loyalty to him.
She promised to obtain Tuiagamoa’s permission before she undertook any
new construction or remodeling activity on the land at issue and appropriately
provide tautua to him. Though
Tuiagamoa then took issue with certain aspects of Tu’ugaolo’s explanations, he
accepted her apology and agreed to permit her continued occupancy and use of
the land at issue so long as she kept her promises. Tu’ugaolo stood steadfast by her apology and
promises. On this note, we
concluded the trial.
obtain Tuiagamoa’s consent before she begins new construction or remodeling of
improvements on the land at issue. She
shall also render tautua to Tuiagamoa to the best of her ability in a
manner satisfactory under the traditions of the Tuiagamoa family. Tu`ugaolo
shall remain in possession of and have use the land at issue so long as she
complies with her promises and fulfills her obligations to the Tuiagamoa title.
It is so ordered.