7ASR3d244

Series: 7ASR3d | Year: () | 7ASR3d244
Print This
TUANU`UTELE

SAI, Claimant

 

v.

 

SONNY LE`I THOMPSON,

TIKERI N. THOMPSON,

LEANA MISIUAITA,

SOFENI VA`ENA, TAGATA A.T. LE`I

and POROTESANO T.

TUIOLOSEGA, Counter-claimants

________________________________

 

[In re Matai Title

LE’I of the Village of Ofu]

 

 

High

Court of American Samoa

Land

and Titles Division

 

MT

No. 03-98

 

June 6, 2003

 

 

[1] Where

candidate demonstrated humility, maturity, thoughtfulness and respect for the

family, and did not pursue his own personal ambitions or employ maneuvering,

tactics, or strategy to attain matai title, but rather concentrated on

advancing the family’s perceived desires, candidate was most deserving with

regard to the character and personality aspects of the third criterion.

 

[2] A candidate

who is more intimately familiar with family members and assets is in a better

position to serve the family as matai.

 

Before

KRUSE, Chief Justice, SAGAPOLUTELE, Associate Judge, MAMEA, Associate Judge,

and TUPUIVAO, Associate Judge.

 

Counsel:

For Tuanu`utele Sai, pro se

             For Sonny Le`i Thompson, Charles V. Ala`ilima

             For Tikeri N. Thompson, Afoafouvale L.S. Lutu

             For Sofeni Va`ena, pro se

             For Porotesano T. Tuiolosega, pro se

 

OPINION AND ORDER

 

Tuanu`utele

Sai (“Tuanu`u”) filed his application to be registered as the holder of the

matai title Le`i, attached to the village of Ofu, Manu`a.  This in turn triggered a number of objections

and counter-claims, under A.S.C.A. § 1.0407; they included that of Sonny L.

Thompson (“Sonny”), Tikeri N. Thompson (“Tikeri”), Sofeni Va`ena (“Va`ena”),

and Porotesano T. Tuiolosega (“Porotesano”).[1]  Following unsuccessful mediation attempts

before the Secretary of Samoan Affairs, in accordance with the procedure set

out in A.S.C.A. § 43.0302, this litigation ensued.

 

A.S.C.A.

§ 1.0409(c) prescribes the law which the High Court must follow in determining

which matai title candidate shall be the next registered holder.  The enactment reads:

 

In the trial of title cases, the High Court shall be guided

by the following considerations, in the priority listed:

(1) the best hereditary right, as to which the male and

female descendants are equal in families where this has been customary;

otherwise the male descendant prevails over the female;

(2) the wish of the majority or plurality of those clans in

the family as customary in that family;

(3) the forcefulness, character and personality of the

persons under consideration for the title, and their knowledge of Samoan customs;

and

(4) the value of the holder of the title to the family,

village, and country.

 

1.  Hereditary Right

 

With

respect to hereditary right, the evidence shows: that Tikeri is the son of Le`i

Fereti and his degree of hereditary right is 50%; that Va`ena is the grandson

of Le`i Moala and his degree of hereditary right is 25%; that candidate Tuanu`u

is the great-grandson of Le`i Moala and his degree of hereditary right is

12.5%; that Porotesano Tuiolosega is the third great grandson of Le`i Isumama

and his degree of hereditary right is 3.125%; and that candidate Sonny is the

fourth great grandson of Le`i E`e and his degree of hereditary right is

1.56%.  It follows, therefore, that

Tikeri prevails over the other candidates on this issue.

 

2.  Wish of The Clans

 

A

number of Le`i family gatherings to address the matai vacancy were held in Ofu

beginning with a meeting in 1994. 

Shortly after the first and inconclusive family meeting, Tuanu`u bolted

to the Territorial Registrar’s office and offered to register the Le`i title in

his name.  Notwithstanding, the family

further met on the issue and the only emergent consensus that arose at the

initial series of meetings was support for either Tuanu`u or Tikeri to hold the

title.  Rather than persisting with the

issue until a titleholder was decided upon, the family at a meeting in 1996,

merely managed to agree to let Tuanu`u and Tikeri decide between the two of

them as to who would be the matai.  In

effect, the family abdicated its responsibility.

 

Following

this family resolution and after some back and forth between the two leading

candidates, Tikeri was eventually offered the title by Tuanu`u.  The latter had apparently been offered the `ava

cup for another vacant Ofu matai title, Sai. 

Two things, however, stalled, and eventually thwarted any prospect of

the Le`i title being registered in Tikeri’s name: first the counter-claims with

the office of the Territorial Registrar were not immediately withdrawn, hence

the dispute was legally very much alive; second, Tuanu`u’s ambitions towards

the Sai title were held in abeyance because of unresolved third-party

objections.

A subsequent series of the requisite mediation conferences with the Secretary

of Samoan Affairs proved to be of no avail. 

By letter of November 25, 1997, the Secretary certified an

irreconcilable dispute, noting the convening of six meetings with the

candidates and their failure to reach a settlement.  On January 7, 1988, the matter was then referred

to the Land and Titles Division in accordance with A.S.C.A. § 1.0409.[2]

On the date of filing with the Court, the Clerk’s office prepared and sent out

to all the parties, the Court’s Notice to File Questionnaire within 30 days,

pursuant to T.C.R.L.T. 3.  The only

parties who complied with the Rule 3 Notice, however, were Tuanu`u, Tagata A.T.

Le`i (who has since passed away), and Tikeri. 

Sonny did not get around to filing his response to Questionnaire until

November 5, 2002, Porotesano on March 4, 2003, two days before trial, while

Vaena filed only on March 6, 2003, the day of trial itself.  (Notwithstanding a caution contained in the

Rule 3 notice to comply within the stated time frame or suffer dismissal of claim,

there were, inexplicably, no adverse motions to dismiss were filed by anyone).

Ironically, and while the matter remained pending with the Court as a “disputed

claim,” see A.S.C.A. § 1.0409(a), the candidates who had failed to

comply with the Court’s Rule 3 notice, took it upon themselves to convene a

further meeting, around July 2002, to select a matai.  Vaena testified that he had convened and

presided at the meeting, and that as the presiding official, he had determined

that the meeting had resulted in Sonny’s favor.

We find on the evidence that while the Le`i family had met on various occasions

to discuss the appointment of a successor matai, the family failed to reach a

consensus on any one of party candidates. 

As previously indicated, the meetings in the late 1990s simply ended

with the family effectively abandoning its responsibility to pick a matai.  At the same time, the unresolved family

impasse with Tuanu`u and Tikeri was never taken back to the family for further

deliberation.  To confound matters, some

of the family elders who were in attendance at the meetings of 1990s had, in

the meanwhile, passed on.

As to the gathering convened by Vaena in 2002, all that may be said of this

meeting is that it resulted in a settlement concluded only among candidates

Vaena, Sonny and then objector/claimant Leama Misiuaita.  Indeed, Leama Misiuaita withdrew his

candidacy in the looming days of trial to support Sonny, while Vaena quite

clearly remained in the litigation not so much for the purpose of actually

vying for the title, but for the principal purpose of indicating support for

Sonny and to merely establish, for the record, his entitlement.  But by the time of this so-called family

meeting, the matter of matai succession was already a “disputed” issue squarely

before the Court.  The Secretary of

Samoan Affairs’ certification of an irreconcilable dispute, unquestionably gave

the court jurisdiction over all the candidates’ “disputed

claim[s].”  See Ava v. Logoai, 20

A.S.R.2d 51, 52 (Land & Titles Div. 1992). 

Therefore, without the stipulation of the other remaining claimants,

Tuanu`u, Tikeri, and Porotesano, to Vaena’s proposition of a family consensus

in favor of Sonny, the asserted outcome of the 2002 meeting appears to ring

rather hollow.

We find the 2002 meeting to be nothing less than posturing efforts, with

pending litigation in mind, by parties who not only ignored the Court’s

pre-trial notices but who were simply not in the assembled family’s

contemplation.  Furthermore, we find that

the Le`i family did not decide on any one candidate and, hence, no candidate

can be said to prevail on this criterion.[3]

 

3.

  Forcefulness, Character and

Personality, and Knowledge of Samoan Customs

First, we are satisfied that the candidates are more or less equally versed in

Samoan customs; they each live and practice it from day to day.  However, in terms of forcefulness, Tuanu`u,

Sonny and Tikeri have shown greater gumption and initiative in the manner they

have extended their respective educational pursuits beyond the secondary school

level.  This is more so given the

relative hardship of early life in Ofu. 

Sonny and Tikeri went further to the collegiate level, where each

acquired a sound educational foundation that has seen both with good

professional careers and leadership roles. 

Both have also given extensive public service.  Sonny retired with the rank of major after

twenty-one years of meritorious service with the United States Air Force.  Since his return to the Territory, Sonny has

worked in the private sector; however, he continues his public service with his

involvement with the Territory’s various disaster/emergency related

programs.  Tikeri’s career, on the other

hand, is and has been with the LBJ Tropical Medical Center, the Territory’s

only hospital.  He is the only nationally

licensed pharmacist in American Samoa and his professional certifications have

been essential towards the local hospital’s ability to purchase and dispense

federally regulated medicines.  Sonny and

Tikeri surpass the other candidates on the consideration of forcefulness.

[1] Under the consideration of

character and personality, Tikeri impressed most.  Against the other candidates, Tikeri appeals

to us as a humble, mature, and thoughtful person who has throughout this long

drawn out succession ordeal, shown the greatest respect for the family.  Too often in matai succession disputes, we

recurringly encounter candidate maneuvering, tactics, and strategy motivated

solely with individual gain in mind, to the detriment of family preference.  For instance, a favored strategy to overcome

a perceived adverse family sentiment towards one’s candidacy is the unilateral

removal of the matai succession issue altogether from the family, in favor of a

government resolution, by premature offers to register the title with the

Territorial Registrar.  See, e.g.,

In re Matai Title “Olomua,” 27 A.S.R.2d 20, 21 (Land & Titles Div.

1994); In re Matai Title “Misa`alefua,” 28 A.S.R.2d 106, 109 (Land &

Titles Div. 1995).  The matter at bar

proved to be no exception.  When Tuanu`u

offered to register the title at the outset, after the family had only met

once, he thereby effectively set the family’s agenda, in terms of a slate of

candidates, and accordingly fettered any further meaningful family

discussion.  His action opened the door

for other family members, who were not even in the family’s contemplation

(Vaena unabashedly confessed that nobody supported his candidacy) to hop aboard

the registration bandwagon in hope for the best.[4]  We have already alluded to posturing efforts

by Vaena, Sonny, and Leama Misiuaita, to advance their concerted agenda even as

the issue was before the Court.  This

agenda was pursued even to the extent of Sonny offering Tikeri the inducement

of communal rental income for Tikeri’s use if Tikeri would abandon his claim in

favor of the latter’s succession ambitions.

In Tikeri’s case, he was beyond maneuvering, tactics, and strategy.  We are satisfied that his purpose throughout

this succession process was the advancement of perceived family desire rather

than the singular pursuit of his own personal ambitions.  Notwithstanding the early upstaging of the

family by Tuanu`u’s unilateral and impetuous action of taking the matter to the

government, Tikeri quietly persevered toward realization of the family’s 1996

mandate.  (Implementation of that

expressed family desire, however, even after Tuanu`u relented, was simply not

possible with the outstanding succession counter-claims of family members who

were clearly outside the family’s choosing.) 

In this, Tikeri showed judgment and a great deal of patience.  Comparatively, he stands out on the

considerations of character and personality. 

We find that Tikeri prevails under this heading.

4.  Value to Family, Village, and

Country

In terms of value to the village, we rate all of the candidates to be about

equal.  As to public worth, all the

candidates have in their different career choices contributed materially to the

general well being of the Territory; however, Sonny and Tikeri’s vocational

background and experience sets them slightly ahead in this regard.  Commensurate with their respective education

and training, the public service these candidates have and are rendering is, by

comparison, more pronounced in the scheme of things; they each offer a unique

expertise.  Tikeri’s role with the

hospital’s pharmacy is crucial, just as is Sonny’s disaster related planning

background and organizational acumen.

[2] With regard to the consideration

of value to the family, we single out Tikeri. 

Prior to his going off-island to seek his professional training, Tikeri

was very much involved with his late father’s administration in the way of tautua

(traditional service) to both family and matai. 

He is more familiar with the family and its natural resources.  Indeed, he is currently involved with the

administration and preservation of family rental income.  It follows that a candidate who is more

intimately familiar with family members and assets is in the better position to

serve the family as matai.  Moreover, we

are persuaded that Tikeri is by his nature and general disposition the best

candidate to lead the Le`i family.  We

have already alluded to his strong sense of family value—his loyalty to and

respect for family regard over his own personal ambitions.  With his patience and humility, Tikeri has

demonstrated the sort of maturity and tofa (judgment) best suited for

family leadership.

All things considered, we find that Tikeri also prevails under this fourth

criterion.

 

Conclusion and Order

On the foregoing, we conclude that Tikeri is qualified to hold the matai title

Le`i, attached to the village of Ofu, Manu`a. 

He prevails on hereditary considerations, as well as on the third, and

fourth criteria specified by A.S.C.A. § 1.0409(c).

The Territorial Registrar shall, in accordance with A.S.C.A. § 1.0409(b),

register the matai title Le`i in candidate Tikeri N. Thompson.

 

It

is so ordered.

 

**********

 



[1]  By the time of trial, the

succession claims of Leana Misiuaita and Tagata A.T. Le`i had been withdrawn.

[2]  On February 3, 1998, a

subsequent letter, dated February 2, 1998, from the Secretary of Samoan Affairs

was filed with Clerk clarifying that while four of the candidates had

stipulated to withdrawing, with a fifth having died, two of the candidates were

holding out, and hence the continuing dispute.

[3]  In view of our findings, we

need not at this time decide on the issue of clan definition and the number of

clans in the Le`i family.  The only thing

really clear on the evidence in this regard, apart from the very apparent fact

that the research on family history was very much superficial and wanting, is

that there was accord on the evidence suggesting that the Le`i family is

compromised of more than one clan.

[4]  It is not lost on us that the

Le`i matai title is that of to`oto`o or ranking orator from the Manu`a

District.  As such, its attendant

political prestige is not only relevant within the traditional scheme of things

but also within the government framework. 

It is, therefore, a coveted title among family members.