7ASR3d285

Series: 7ASR3d | Year: () | 7ASR3d285
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SAINILA P. FANENE, Plaintiff,

 

v.

 

AISA IAKOPO VAONA, Defendant.

 

High

Court of American Samoa

Land

and Titles Division

 

LT No. 10-02

 

October 10, 2003

 

 

[1] A family member cannot sell communal family land and a house upon it,

nor only the house, there being no agreement to separate the existence of house

from the land. 

 

[2] Where plaintiff misrepresented that the house and surrounding land

were for sale and that he had the legal ability to sell them, he clearly

defrauded defendant.

 

[3] Due to the plaintiff’s fraudulent conduct during a purported sale of

land, defendant is entitled to return of amounts paid, reimbursement for

repairs to the property, and an award of punitive damages. 

 

[4] Claim of emotional distress denied where defendant

continued to occupy house that was subject of threats of destruction. 

 

Before RICHMOND, Associate Justice, SAGAPOLUTELE, Associate Judge, and

TAPOPO, Associate Judge.

 

Counsel:          For Plaintiff, Faiivae A. Galea`i, L.P.

                        For

Defendant, Asaua Fuimaono

 

OPINION

AND ORDER

 

The Court intentionally delayed issuing a formal

decision in this action in light of continuing representations of counsel for

Plaintiff Sainila P. Fanene (“Fanene”) at the close of and following trial that

settlement discussions were ongoing and would likely bear fruit.  As of this time, however, it is apparent that

settlement has not been and will not be reached.

 

Discussion

 

Fanene filed this action to evict Defendant Aisa

Iakopo Vaona (“Vaona”) from Fanene’s house on land called “Lelulu” in Nu`uuli,

American Samoa.  The eviction remedy was

premised on Vaona’s alleged failure to pay the balance of the agreed purchase

price for sale of the house to Vaona. 

Fanene also sought recovery of the rental value, alleged to be $350.00

per month based on the rent paid by a tenant prior to the sale at issue, for

the period of Vaona’s occupancy of the house.

 

Vaona denied Fanene’s allegations and counterclaimed

for refund of the purchase price, reimbursement of her expenditures for repairs

and remodeling, damages for emotional distress, and punitive damages.

 

Findings of Fact

 

We find the following as the ultimate facts of this

dispute.  In May of 1997, Vaona was

residing in the U.S. mainland.  She

wanted to purchase a house and underlying land in American Samoa in

contemplation of permanently returning here in the near future.  She learned of Fanene’s advertisement in the

May 22, 1997 Samoa News of the house for sale. 

Vaona talked to Fanene by telephone and agreed with his asking price of

$15,000, with an immediate down payment of $5,000 to hold the property, subject

to her inspection of its condition.  On

May 27, 1997, after a relative confirmed the acceptable condition of the house,

Vaona paid Fanene $5,000 by cashier’s check sent by certified mail.

 

Vaona returned to American Samoa and, on or about

September 1, 1997, she paid Fanene the $10,000 balance with another cashier’s

check.  She believed that she had then

paid for the house and underlying land in full and asked for the documents

needed to transfer ownership to her.  She

thought that there may be a problem when Fanene told her that title

registration had not been completed. 

Nonetheless, Vaona moved into the house and, based on the receipts in

evidence, she spent $707.68 on repairing and remodeling the house.

 

Vaona continued to ask Fanene for the necessary title

transfer documents, but he kept putting off delivery of these documents.  Fanene then demanded that Vaona pay an

additional $10,000, claiming that they had agreed to a sales price of $25,000.  Vaona refused to pay the additional

amount.  Fanene accompanied some of his

repeated demands for the additional $10,000 with such inappropriate statements

as threatening to demolish the house by burning or other means.  Other members of Fanene’s family made similar

destruction threats if the additional $10,000 was not paid.  Vaona feared that the threats would be

carried out, but she continued

to live in the house.

 

Finally, about three years after Vaona took possession

of the house, Fanene advised Vaona that she was only buying the house, as the

underlying land was not for sale.  This

was the last straw for her.  Exasperated, Vaona demanded that Fanene

return the $15,000 she paid to him. 

Fanene refused and, when Vaona remained in possession, he commenced this

eviction action.

 

[1] The land is the Fanene family’s

communal land.  Fanene could neither sell

the land and house, nor only the house, there being no agreement to separate

the existence of house from the land.  He

produced a general power of attorney, signed by the Fanene family’s sa`o on August 15, 1997, which purported

to give him authority to do all things necessary to carry out the Fanene

family’s communal affairs, specifically including the sa`o’s obligations.  Even if

this power of attorney is construed to potentially give Fanene authority to

enter transactions concerning the Fanene family’s communal land or houses on

the land, there is no evidence that Fanene ever took any of the necessary legal

steps either to separate the house from the land or to alienate the land by

going through the required legal process of first obtaining the Land

Commission’s review and recommendation and the Governor’s approval.

 

Conclusions

 

[2-3] Fanene misrepresented that the house

and surrounding land were for sale and that he had the legal ability to sell

them.  In short, he clearly defrauded

Vaona of the $15,000 she paid him for the house and, she thought, the

underlying land.  Because of Fanene’s

fraudulent conduct, Vaona is entitled to have Fanene refund the $15,000 she

paid to him.  Fanene’s intentional tort

justifies an award of punitive damages. 

We assess punitive damages at $5,000.

 

Vaona is also entitled to reimbursement of her

documented expenditures of $707.68 for repairing and remodeling the house.

 

[4] However, based on Vaona’s continuing

occupancy of the house, even at the time of the trial, we conclude that the

threats made by Fanene and other Fanene family member to Vaona did not cause

her any substantial emotional distress. 

We deny her recovery of any damages on this claim. However, further

harassment of this or a similar nature remains probable, and Vaona’s award of

damages, set forth above, will inadequately remedy this potential.  Therefore, Fanene and his family members

should be permanently enjoined from engaging in such conduct.

 

Our findings and conclusions preclude any recovery of

rent by Fanene during Vaona’s occupancy of the house.  However, if Vaona is still in possession, she

may remain in the house for the time being but must vacate the house as soon as

Fanene pays the judgment in full. 

Alternatively, if Fanene produces and Vaona accepts a valid deed

conveying the house and underlying land to her, she may indefinitely remain in

possession as the owner of the house and land.

 

Order

 

1. 

Fanene recovers nothing against Vaona on his complaint.

 

2. Vaona shall recover from Fanene

$15,000 to refund the funds fraudulently extracted from her, plus $5,000 as

punitive damages, and $707.68 as reimbursement of her documented expenditures

on repairing and remodeling, for a total of $20,707.68.  Payment shall be made in full to the Clerk of

the Court within 120 days after entry of this judgment.

 

If full payment is not made within 120 days, Fanene shall pay, in

addition, post-judgment interest at the rate of 6% per annum on the unpaid balance

of judgment, accruing from the judgment entry the judgment is paid in full.

 

3.  If Vaona

still occupies the house, she shall vacate the house as soon as Fanene pays the

judgment in full.  Alternatively, if

Fanene produces and Vaona accepts a valid deed conveying the house and

underlying land to her, she may indefinitely remain in possession as the owner

of the house and land.

 

4. 

Fanene, his officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys, and

those persons in active concert or participation with them, including Fanene’s

family members, are permanently enjoined from harassing, annoying, molesting,

threatening in any manner, or otherwise disturbing the peace of Vaona.

 

It is so ordered.

 

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