7ASR3d235

Series: 7ASR3d | Year: () | 7ASR3d235
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HARRY B. STEVENS, Plaintiff,

 

v.

 

FAUMUINA TAGISIAALI`I and MR. KO TAE

SUK

aka TSK ENTERPRISES, Defendants.

 

High Court of American Samoa

Land and Titles

 

LT No. 23-01

 

May 2, 2003

 

 

[1] 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.

 

[2] 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.

 

Counsel:          For

Plaintiff, Arthur Ripley, Jr.

 For Defendant

Faumuina, Faiivae A. Galea`i, L.P

 For Defendant Ko Tae

Suk, William H. Reardon

 

OPINION

AND ORDER

 

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.[1]

 

[1] 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

per month.

 

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

fruitless.

 

On December

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.

 

[2] We further conclude that an award of

damages in the sum of $12,000, as prayed for in the complaint,[2] 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

ordered.

 

**********



[1] 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.

[2] 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).