HARRY B. STEVENS, Plaintiff,
FAUMUINA TAGISIAALI`I and MR. KO TAE
aka TSK ENTERPRISES, Defendants.
High Court of American Samoa
Land and Titles
LT No. 23-01
May 2, 2003
 In action for eviction and damages for
trespass, plaintiff has a superior claim of entitlement to the disputed land
where plaintiff’s family had exclusive use and occupation of the land for
generations, graves of family members and remnants of the homestead are on the
land, and plaintiff currently receives rents on leases of the land.
 Plaintiff seeks eviction, but injunctive relief is
more appropriate in action for eviction and damages for trespass.
Before KRUSE, Chief Justice, MAMEA, Associate Judge,
and TUPUIVAO, Associate Judge.
Plaintiff, Arthur Ripley, Jr.
Faumuina, Faiivae A. Galea`i, L.P
For Defendant Ko Tae
Suk, William H. Reardon
This dispute concerns a parcel of land “Vaiaupa” located
in the Village of Leloaloa, and more particularly described in metes and
bounds, by plot map in magnetic bearings, in the Territorial Registrar’s office
at Volume 1 Native Titles at pages 213-14, and containing 0.6 acres more or
less. Title to the disputed land is
registered to “Henry Stevens and Kitiona.”
The disputed land, for purposes of trial, was
relocated by defendant Faumuina’s witness L.P. French, a locally licensed
surveyor, on a larger topography map of the vicinity based on 1991 aerial
photographs of the bay area. French was
asked directly at the outset of his testimony as to whether his research and
maps showed the Faumuina family’s land; he responded negatively. Rather, his research showed that the disputed
land was at one time within that area of land awarded to the Catholic Church
under Court Grant 387.
 Of significance with the physical
site is that Vaiaupa abuts defendant Ko’s store, which is situated to the east
of the disputed area. The evidence shows
that the land has been, at least since the date of registration, in the
exclusive use and occupation of the original titleholders and their kin,
followed by the use and occupation of various generations of their respective
descendants. At the present time, the
land contains the remnants of a homestead’s foundations as well as graves of
plaintiff’s family members. Vaiaupa has
lately been in the custody and care of plaintiff Stevens and his siblings who
have rented out the land to different third parties. Plaintiff’s family has regularly obtained
rents on leases of the disputed land with third parties at a rental of $1000
Plaintiff’s family’s use of the Vaiaupa has been
undisturbed, until the recent administration of defendant Faumuina
Tagisiaali`i. The latter has apparently
taken the position that all land in the vicinity is logically the communal
property of the Faumuina family of Leloaloa, and he has accordingly taken it
upon himself to assert dominion over the disputed land, notwithstanding the
continuing protests of Stevens and his siblings, by granting Ko permission to
use the disputed land for parking, storage of containers, and other related
commercial use. Faumuina formalized his
agreement with Ko in a writing dated March 20, 2000, purporting to issue a
license over the disputed land for a period of 10 years. While Ko used the disputed land, between
December 2000 and December 2001, plaintiff and his siblings were effectively prevented
from enjoyment of the land.
Faumuina’s response to numerous entreaties from
plaintiff’s side, including written notices to both Faumuina and his permittee
Ko, was to first demand that plaintiff prove their entitlement to him. Plaintiff then confronted Faumuina with the
registration papers from the Territorial Registrar’s office, but to no
avail. Faumuina appeared receptive only
to the idea of plaintiff selling him the land so that he could live within the confines
of Leloaloa village. Moreover, efforts
for an A.S.C.A. § 43.0302 resolution before the office of Samoan Affairs proved
26, 2001, plaintiff filed suit against the defendants seeking eviction and
damages for trespass. Shortly
thereafter, Ko moved off the disputed land.
We conclude on the evidence that as between the
parties, plaintiff has a superior claim of entitlement to the disputed land
than that of Faumuina and his permittee Ko.
The latter have shown absolutely no basis whatsoever for going upon the disputed
land but for an entirely unfounded assumption. Their unauthorized use of the
disputed land constituted trespass.
 We further conclude that an award of
damages in the sum of $12,000, as prayed for in the complaint, has been
sufficiently shown. While plaintiff
seeks eviction, the Court is of the view that injunctive relief is more
appropriate under the circumstances.
Among other things, the legal remedy is inadequate and equity would
avert a multiplicity of suits.
Accordingly, the judgment of the Court is as follows:
1. Plaintiff is
awarded damages in the sum of Twelve Thousand Dollars ($12,000) against the
defendants and each of them jointly and severally.
2. The defendants and each of them, together
with their respective aiga, agents,
servants, attorneys and all those in active concert with them are hereby
enjoined and restrained from any further encroachment whatsoever upon the
plaintiff’s family land “Vaiaupa,” as the same is more particularly described
in the Territorial Registrar’s office at Volume 1 Native Titles at pages
213-14, and containing 0.6 acres more or less, and relocated on Exhibits “13”
and “14” of the record hereof.
It is so
 Under A.S.C.A. § 37.0201, such land is “freehold”
land, unless “at the request of the owner, [the land has] been returned to the
status of other land in American Samoa surrendering their freehold
characteristics.” Except for anecdotal
references French said he saw on files that the Catholic Church maintained, he
could not find any record of a formal relinquishment of the land by the
Catholic Church in any government office.
Practice, however, seems to suggest that the Church may have surrendered
its interests in the area since the court grant area has been in the occupation
of the Faumuina family, excluding the disputed land.
 This is perhaps an appropriate case to award punitive
damages, had such an award been sought and appropriately argued. Given the sensitive and emotive dimension to
Samoan land disputes, self-help measures must be thoroughly discouraged. See
generally Letuli v. Le`i, 22
A.S.R.2d 77, 85-86 (Land & Titles Div. 1992).