5ASR3d262

Series: 5ASR3d | Year: () | 5ASR3d262
Print This

FAUMUINA SUAFA`I SATELE,      Plaintiff,

 

v.

 

TAUTOLO GALOSA and AMERICAN SAMOA POWER AUTHORITY, Defendants.

 

High

Court of American Samoa

Land

and Titles Division

 

LT

No. 09-95

LT

No. 31-95

 

November

30, 2001

 

 

[1] Where two

unrelated families had lived together on land peacefully and harmoniously over

significant period of time, interspersing their own improvements upon the land

without any logical pattern of present control, court would not declare land to

be sole communal land of either family, nor would it create a new form of

communal land ownership, but instead ruled that each was entitled to continue,

indefinitely, such joint occupancy and use.

 

[2] Where land

was found to be neither the exclusive communal land of either of two

family-parties, court apportioned rents owed by government for use of such land

based on the extent of occupancy and use by each family.

 

Before RICHMOND, Associate Justice, ATIULAGI, and

SAGAPOLUTELE, Associate Judge.

 

Counsel: For Plaintiff, Charles V. Ala`ilima

 For Defendant Tautolo

Galosa, Arthur Ripley, Jr.

 For Defendant American

Samoa Power Authority, Roy J.D. Hall, Jr.

 

OPINION

AND ORDER

 

Following the trial of these

consolidated actions on July 13 and 14, 2000, the Court’s Opinion and Order was

entered on August 3, 2000.  Plaintiff

Faumuina Suafa`i Satele (“Faumuina”) filed a timely motion for reconsideration

or new trial.  We heard this motion on

August 31, 2000, and granted partial reconsideration without a new trial on

November 6, 2000.  Defendant Tautolo Galosa

(“Tautolo”) then filed a timely motion for reconsideration or new trial.  We heard this motion on February 15, 2001,

and granted a limited rehearing on March 1, 2001.  The rehearing was held on April 23 and 27,

2001.  Then, on June 28, 2001, we

inspected the land at issue.  All counsel

were present at the hearing and site inspection.

 

Discussion

 

We initially

held that as between Faumuina and Tautolo, the entire land at issue, named

“Agaoleatu” and located on the Island of Aunu`u, American Samoa (“the land at

issue”), was the Tautolo family’s communal land.  We reconsidered this finding, following

Faumuina’s motion for this purpose, and revised the decision to hold that a

particular portion of the land at issue was the Faumuina family’s communal

land. We were then persuaded, upon Tautolo’s motion for reconsideration or new

trial, that further evidentiary development was required on the specific

factual issue of how the Faumuina family acquired title, if any, to any portion

of the land at issue, as claimed by Faumuina and disputed by Tautolo.

 

At the time of granting this limited evidentiary

hearing, the only associate judge previously serving on the panel for this case

had fully retired to become a newly selected Senator in the Legislature of

American Samoa.  A new panel of associate

judges was therefore constituted for the evidentiary rehearing.  We further apprised the parties that the new

panel of judges would review the entire record, and that we would amend or make

new findings of fact and conclusions of law, as may be appropriate, and issue a

new decision.

 

The newly constituted Court has

considered the evidence presented at the evidentiary rehearing, its inspection

of the land at issue, and the record of previous proceedings.  We are persuaded that the Court’s decision in

effect upon entry of the Order Partially Granting Motion for Reconsideration

and Denying New Trial on November 6, 2000, is correct with respect to the

ultimate holding of the Faumuina family’s title to a portion of the land at

issue as its communal land.

 

It is now clear to us, however, that

the Faumuina family did not acquire this portion of the land at issue from a

Tautolo titleholder, but rather that a Faumuina titleholder on the family’s

behalf acquired this portion of the land, principally for the titleholder’s

sleeping quarters during visits to Aunu`u, in the customary manner of the time,

by authority higher than the Tautolo title within the historical matai hierarchy of the original settlers

of Aunu`u.  We therefore reaffirm the

Faumuina family’s ownership of this portion of the land at issue as its communal

land in accordance with the court’s decision that became effective on November

6, 2000.

We are also persuaded that the

Tautolo family originally came upon the land at issue, or the remaining portion

of the land at issue, in a similar historical manner, perhaps even before the

Faumuina titleholder was there.  However,

even if this occupancy preceded the Faumuina family’s presence on the land at

issue, the Faumuina family was given the right, by customary means, to succeed

to the portion of the land at issue where the former Faumuina sleeping quarters

and now a former Faumuina titleholder’s grave are located, which we hold to be

the Faumuina family’s communal land.  The

Tautolo matai title is of lesser rank

among the matai of Aunu`u and in

relation to the Faumuina matai title

in the county and territory.

 

Eventually,

however, a Tautolo titleholder permitted members of the Fa`i family to share

use of the remaining portion of the land at issue that the Tautolo family

occupied after Faumuina titleholder entered the scene. The Tautolo and Faumuina

families are not blood related.  Neither

are the Tautolo and Fa`i families. 

However, the Fa`i family is blood connected with the Faumuina family and

owes ultimate allegiance to the Faumuina titleholder.

 

[1] Nonetheless,

the Tautolo and Fa`i families have, for the most part over a long period of

time, lived together peacefully and harmoniously under this shared occupancy

and use arrangement.  The houses and

other structures of both families on the remaining portion of the land at issue

attest to this mutual accommodation. 

These improvements are also interspersed to an extent that defies

finding any logical pattern of present control by either family of large

contiguous portions of the remaining portion of the land at issue.  Under these circumstances, while we are not

satisfied by a preponderance of the evidence that the remaining portion of the

land at issue is the Faumuina family’s communal land, we are also not satisfied

that this remaining portion continues to be solely the Tautolo family’s

communal land.

 

[2] We are not about to create or

recognize a new form of communal land ownership that might be styled, in common

law terms, as a tenancy in common of two or more families.  Rather, under the evidence, we only find that

the Tautolo and Fa`i families have mutually assented to jointly or commonly

occupy and use the remaining portion of the land at issue. On this basis, we

will direct a proportionate sharing of the rent paid by the American Samoa

Power Authority (“ASPA”) under the leases for the water well and refuge

disposal sites within the remaining portion of the land at issue.  Evaluating the extent of occupancy and use by

each family, we will direct ASPA to pay 60% of the rent to Tautolo and 40% of

the rent to the Fa`i family.

 

During these proceedings, Faumuina

surveyed and offered for title registration approximately 6.301 acres of the

land at issue.  The Faumuina survey

encompasses the portion of the land at issue that we are holding to be the

Faumuina family’s communal land.  It also

encircles ASPA’s well site, but not ASPA’s refuge disposal site.  There were no objectors to Faumuina’s offer

to register the title except by Tautolo. 

In addition, though generally described, we left, in our order of

November 6, 2000, the precise location of the boundary between the Faumuina

family’s communal land portion of the land at issue and the remaining portion

of the land at issue undetermined until the parties successfully negotiated the

boundary location or we established the location should the negotiations fail,

and necessary resurveying was done. 

Accordingly, the Faumuina family’s communal land, as determined by this

decision, may be registered but only after the exact boundary issue is

resolved.

 

Tautolo surveyed the entire land at

issue, approximately 23.333 acres, but he has not yet offered to register the

title.  The Tautolo survey surrounds both

the water well site and refuge disposal site. 

As of now, we will not, and cannot on the evidence presented, determine

the ownership of the land at issue outside the portion recognized as the

Faumuina family’s communal land, either within or outside of Faumuina’s survey.

Therefore, no one may register the remaining portion of the land at issue at

this time.  Tautolo can, of course, offer

to register the title to the remaining portion of the land at issue included

within his present survey and attempt perfect his claim of title by this means.

 

Order

 

1. As between

Faumuina and Tautolo, the portion of the land at issue where the foundation of

former sleeping quarters of Faumuina titleholders and a former Faumuina’s grave

are located is the Faumuina family’s communal land.

 

2. Faumuina and

Tautolo are directed to attempt to agree on the exact location of the boundary

between the area determined to be the Faumuina family’s communal land and the

remainder of the land at issue, and if they reach agreement, to have this

boundary surveyed, each paying one-half the cost.  If they are unable to agree on the boundary

within 90 days of entry of this order, we will determine this boundary,

provided that Faumuina or Tautolo, or both

of them, at their respective cost, submit a survey of his proposed boundary.

 

3. The Tautolo and Fa`i families may

continue indefinitely to jointly occupy and use the remaining portion of the

land at issue.

 

4. ASPA shall

divide and pay the accrued and future rent for the water well site and disposal

site on the remaining portion of the land at issue as follows: (a) 60% to

Tautolo; and (b) 40% to the Fa`i family.

 

It is so

ordered.

 

**********