7ASR3d220

Series: 7ASR3d | Year: () | 7ASR3d220
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FALEULA FANO REAVIS, Plaintiff,

 

v.

 

MATALENA LELEUA, MALIA ASIATA, MAUA

ASIATA,

and FIAPIA MEREDITH, Defendants.

 

High Court of American Samoa

Land and Titles Division

 

LT

No. 06-01

 

March

21, 2003

 

 

[1] A Samoan

family’s sa`o controls the occupancy

and use of the family’s communal land, in a manner similar to a trustee for the

benefit of the family’s members as a whole.

 

[2] The sa`o’s

authority extends to making customary assignments of the occupancy and use of

portions the family’s communal lands, usually to family members.  His decisions on customary assignments of the

family’s communal lands are final, subject only to judicial review for

arbitrary and capricious actions.

 

[3] Ordinarily, so long as the

customary assignee of a portion of the family’s communal land provides tautua (“customary service”) to the sa`o, the assignment endures for the

assignee’s lifetime. 

 

[4] The sa`o also retains authority to reassign

the portion to another in the event of the assignee’s prolonged nonuse of the

premises.

 

[5] Where there has been a lengthy history of

violence, threatened violence, harassment, and annoyance by one party toward

another, the Court found that money damages were inadequate and a permanent

injunction was the most suitable legal remedy.

 

Before RICHMOND, Associate Justice,

SAGAPOLUTELE, Associate Justice, and TUPUIVAO, Associate Judge.

 

Counsel:         

For Plaintiff, Katopau T. Ainu`u

                         For Defendants, Matalena Leleua, Malia Asiata,

and Maua Asiata. S. Salanoa Aumoeualogo

                         For Defendant Fiapia Meredith,

Arthur Ripley, Jr.

 

OPINION

AND ORDER

 

This is an interfamily controversy involving the Fano

family’s communal land.  The Secretary of

Samoan Affairs unsuccessfully mediated the matter and, on October 5, 2000,

issued a certificate of irreconcilable dispute. 

Then, plaintiff Faleula Fano Reavis (“Faleula”) commenced this action to

evict defendants Matalena Leleua (“Matalena”), Malia Asiata (“Malia”), Maua

Asiata (“Maua”) (collectively “the occupants”) and Fiapia Meredith (“Fiapia”) from the portion of

communal land at issue, and to recover damages based on alleged tortious

actions.  The action came on regularly

for trial.  Both counsel were present.

 

Findings of Fact

 

Faleula is a blood member of the Fano family o the

Village of Faga`alu.  She was born and raised on the Fano family’s

communal land.  In the mid-1950s, her

family moved to a dwelling on a plot of Fano family land in Faga`alu (“the

upper mountainside site”) assigned in the recognized Samoan customary manner to

her mother, and perhaps her family as well, by the Fano family’s sa`o (“senior chief” or “head

chief”).  The upper mountainside site of

land is a small level area partially up the Faga`alu side at the mountain above

Blunts Point at the western side of the entrance to Pago Pago Bay.  Beyond a point partway up the mountainside,

the plot is accessible only by a dirt footpath.

 

Faleula left American Samoa in 1962 when she was age

17 years.  Her mother and other family

members lived in the family house on the upper mountainside site at that

time.  At some point before her death in 1965, however, Faleula’s mother

moved from the residence on the upper mountainside site to another house on

Fano family communal land closer to the main public road located along the

shoreline at the base of the mountain in Faga`alu (“the lower mountainside

site”).  However, some family members

remained on the upper mountainside site at that time.  While living outside American Samoa, Faleula

married Charles C. Reavis (“Charles”), and they lived in the U.S. mainland

until 1995.  Then, after their youngest

daughter graduated from high school, they relocated to American Samoa,

intending to permanently reside here.

 

While she resided abroad, Faleula only visited

American Samoa occasionally.  She came in

1965 during her mother’s last illness. 

Some of Faleula’s family members were still then living in the house on

the upper mountainside site.  During this

visit, she informed the incumbent family sa`o,

Fano Shimasaki, of her desire to eventually return and live on the upper

mountainside site.  At some point between

1965 and 1972 however, all of Faleula’s family members vacated the house on the

upper mountainside site.  Faleula next

visited in 1981 and 1982.  On both

occasions, she found Matalena and her family living on the upper mountainside

site.  However, she reaffirmed with Fano

Shimasaki her desire to live there when she permanently returned

 

Matalena was born and raised in [Western] Samoa.  Her father is the sa`o of her family there, and she still maintains contact with

them.  Matalena is not a blood member of

the Fano family, but she is related to Fano Shimasaki’s mother.  She married Iosefo Asiata (“Iosefo”) in

1949, and Malia and Maua are their children. 

Instigated in substantial part by Fiapia, Fano Shimasaki’s sister,

Matalena and her family came to American Samoa in 1969 and began living with

the Fano family in 1970.  In 1972, Fano

Shimasaki in the customary Samoan manner assigned the area of the vacated upper

mountainside site to Matalena and her family, which included Iosefo, Malia,

Maua, and Matalena’s sister and her husband. 

By then, only remnants remained of the dwelling and plantation of

Faleula’s family on the upper mountainside site.  Matalena and her family redeveloped the area

and have lived there ever since.

 

After Faleula and Charles

relocated to American Samoa in 1995, they initially moved onto, and still

reside, on the lower mountainside site. 

She actually has a 55-year lease of land in this area, signed by the

presently incumbent sa`o, Fano Salilo

in 1995, but she professes no present intention of building a residence

there.  Instead, Faleula made, and

continues to make, it known to Fano Salilo, and at least indirectly to Matalena

and her family, that she considered, and still considers, the upper

mountainside site to be the assigned Fano land of Matalena’s family, and she

wanted, and now wants, to live there.

 

Before long, serious trouble erupted in the relations

between Faleula and Charles, on one side, and Matalena and her family on the

other side.  The incidents generally

described below began in 1995 and periodically continued at least up to the

issuance of the preliminary injunction in this action in 2001.  The core issue was, and still is, Faleula’s

desire to reside on the upper mountainside site.  It appears that the initial provocation of

the serious incidents that followed came when Faleula cut down some of

Matalena’s bananas.  Matalena retaliated,

mostly through her family members as agents.

 

These incidents included physical

violence and threatened violence against both Faleula and Charles.  The serious incidents of assaults occurred in

1996 to 1998.  Charles, with his law

enforcement background, was then employed in the American Samoa Government’s

Department of Public Safety, but even though some incidents were reported, he

and Faleula obtained very little police assistance.  Also included were episodes of undue and

frequent harassment and annoyance through profanity, name calling, and by throwing

rocks at, and trash onto, the premises occupied by Faleula and Charles.  While Faleula and perhaps Charles were not

entirely innocent of further provocative action, clearly Matalena and her

family responded and initiated retaliatory actions of a far more serious and

unjustified nature.

 

Fano Salilo, as the sa`o, attempted to intercede and restore peace and harmony among

all, both family blood and nonblood members living within the family

structure.  Fiapia also assisted in Fano

Salilo’s efforts.  Unfortunately, Fano

Salilo does not appear to be a strong and forceful leader.  Even though in October 1995 Fano Salilo

notified Matalena to move out of the upper mountainside site in Faleula’s

favor, he changed his mind and supported, and still supports, his predecessor’s

assignment of the site to Matalena in 1972. 

Moreover, he apparently now holds Faleula principally responsible for

the disruption in family relationships, citing the good will existing before

her return here.  In any event, his

efforts failed.

 

We hasten to point out that following the return of Faleula and

Charles to the Territory in 1995, and in addition to her peacemaker’s efforts,

Fiapia has neither played a negative role in the property dispute, nor has been

directly involved in any of the confrontational incidents of violence or

harassment.

 

Discussion

 

A.  Right to  Occupy and Use the Upper Mountainside Site

 

[1-4] A Samoan family’s sa`o controls the occupancy and use of

the family’s communal land.  Seventh

Day Adventist Church v. Maneafaiga, 23 A.S.R.2d 150, 154 (Land & Titles Div. 1993); Lutu v. Taesaliali`i, 11 A.S.R.2d 80, 87-88 (Land & Titles Div. 1989).  His relationship to the family’s communal

land is likened to a trustee for the benefit of the family’s members as a

whole.  Lutu, 11 A.S.R.2d at 88; Talili v. Satele, 4 A.S.R.2d 23, 27 (Land

& Titles Div. 1987).  His authority

extends to making customary assignments of the occupancy and use of portions

the family’s communal lands, usually to family members.  Seventh Day Adventist Church, 23

A.S.R.2d at 154; Lutu, 11 A.S.R.2d at 88.  His decisions on customary assignments of the

family’s communal lands are final, subject only to judicial review for

arbitrary and capricious actions. Pen v. Lavata`i, 25 A.S.R.2d 164, 168 (Land

& Titles Div. 1994); Lutu, 11 A.S.R.2d at 88.  Ordinarily, so long as the customary assignee

of a portion of the family’s communal land provides tautua (“customary service”) to the sa`o, the assignment endures for the assignee’s lifetime.  Afoa

v. Taaifili, 26

A.S.R.2d 47, 51 (Land & Titles Div. 1994) (quoting Seventh Day

Adventist Church, 23 A.S.R.2d at 155). 

However, the sa`o also retains authority to reassign

the portion to another in the event of the assignee’s prolonged nonuse of the

premises.  Lutu, 11 AS.R.2d at 88.

 

In this case, the assignment of the upper mountainside

site was clearly to Faleula’s mother, who is now deceased.  Even if the assignment is construed to

include Faleula and other members of her family, the upper mountainside site

was unoccupied by anyone in the family for a significant period of time,

perhaps as long as seven years.  Although

Faleula expressed to the sa`o on

several occasions her desire to again live on the site some day, no other

member of her family was using the site in 1972, and had not used it for some

time, and it was readily apparent at that juncture that Faleula had no concrete

plans to permanently return to American Samoa in the foreseeable future.  The circumstances could even be construed as

a surrender of the assignment by Faleula and her family.  See generally Talagu v. Te`o, 4 A.S.R. 122

(Land & Titles Div. 1974).  In any

event, under these circumstances, Fano Shimasaki, the incumbent sa`o in

1972, acted well within his authority when he assigned the site to Matalena,

and perhaps her family as well.  We therefore

conclude that Faleula does not have any right to occupy and use the upper

mountainside site, and that Matalena is the lawful occupant and user of that

site.

 

B.  Permanent Injunctive Relief

 

[5] After a full and final trial

on the merits, the Court may issue a permanent injunction upon finding that a

basis for it is established and determining that a judgment for money damages

will provide an inadequate remedy for the wrong claimed.  A.S.C.A. §§ 43.1301(f), (g) and 43.1302.

 

In light of the lengthy history of violence,

threatened violence, harassment, and annoyance by Matalena and her family

towards Faleula and Charles, we find that money damages are an inadequate

remedy in the situation at hand and conclude that permanent injunctions are the

most suitable legal means, under the circumstances, to guard against the

occurrence of further episodes of this nature between the parties.  Matalena and her family need to be

permanently enjoined from any further actions of violence and harassment

against Faleula and Charles.  Faleula

should be enjoined likewise from any such actions against Matalena and her

family to further promote peaceful relations between the parties.

 

Order

 

1.  Based on the

proper customary assignment by the Fano family sa`o in 1972, Matalena, not Faleula is entitled to occupancy and

use of the upper mountainside site.

 

2.  Until

further order of the Court, Matalena, Malia, and Maua, and their officers,

agents, servants, employees, attorneys, and family members, and those persons

in active concert or participation with them are permanently enjoined from

assaulting, threatening to assault, harassing, annoying, or otherwise

disturbing the peace of Faleula and Charles.

 

3. Until further order of the Court, Faleula, and her

officers, agents, servants, employees, attorneys, and family members, and those

persons in active concert or participation with her, are permanently enjoined

from assaulting, threatening to assault, harassing, annoying, or otherwise

disturbing the peace of Matalena, Malia, and Maua.

 

4.  The cause of

action against Fiapia is dismissed with prejudice

 

It is so ordered.

 

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