SAINILA P. FANENE, Plaintiff,
AISA IAKOPO VAONA, Defendant.
Court of American Samoa
and Titles Division
LT No. 10-02
October 10, 2003
 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.
 Where plaintiff misrepresented that the house and surrounding land
were for sale and that he had the legal ability to sell them, he clearly
 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.
 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.
Defendant, Asaua Fuimaono
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.
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
 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.
[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.
 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.
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.
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.