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ALO LUPEMATASILA WILLIAMS, v.CARL STEFFANY and ISABEL STEFFANY

 

ALO LUPEMATASILA WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
CARL STEFFANY and ISABEL STEFFANY, Defendants.
High Court of American Samoa
Land and Titles Division
LT No. 10-98
August 1, 2002

 

[1] Under A.S.C.A. ' 41.1309, the sa`o is the only person authorized to
bring injunctive actions on behalf of a Samoan family.
[2] Where a dispute over communal lands involves factional rivalry and,
therefore, pule, the court will grant a preliminary injunction to maintain
the status quo even if the action is not brought by the sa`o.
[3] The Attorney General does not have jurisdiction to direct the
registration of a matai title over the objection of the Territorial Registrar.
[4] Just because the Territorial Registrar’s office has, in practice,
functioned administratively under the supervision of the Attorney
General, it does not follow that the Attorney General may thereby
assume the statutory authority specifically vested by the Fono in the
Registrar.
[5] A.S.C.A. ' 4.1104, gives the Territorial Registrar, not the Attorney
General, the authority to reject registration attempts appearing "to be
illegal or not entitled under the law to be registered, filed or recorded."
In the matai registration process, the Registrar, and not the Attorney
General, is charged with maintaining the title register, A.S.C.A. '
1.0401, and may register successors to vacant titles.
[6] When the Attorney General unilaterally asserted jurisdiction and
ordered registration, he intruded on the court's statutorily mandated
authority to resolve the dispute. Such action is an impermissible

extension of executive power in derogation of not only the court's
judicial function but the legislature's law making function as well.
[7] The law of this Territory regulates matai titles. Any matai title
bestowed on any person contrary to the provisions of Title 1, Chapter 4
of the American Samoa Code Annotated may not in any way be
recognized.
Before KRUSE, Chief Justice, ATIULAGI, Associate Judge, and
SAGAPOLUTELE, Associate Judge.
Counsel: For Plaintiff, Katopau T. Ainu`©
For Defendants, Roy J.D. Hall, Jr.
ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT AND DISSOLVING
PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

The parties are members of the Alo family of Fagasa. Plaintiff Alo
Lupematasila Williams ("Williams") holds himself out as the sa`o
(senior matai) of the Alo family and has filed suit seeking injunctive
relief to enjoin the defendants Carl Steffany and Elizabeth Steffany (the
"Steffanys") from certain activity, preparatory to building, on communal
lands of the Alo family.
[1-2] On November 4, 1998, both parties appeared with counsel at a
hearing on Williams's motion for preliminary injunction. An issue arose
at the interlocutory hearing as to the Williams's status as sa`o, and,
therefore, his standing to sue. Under A.S.C.A. ' 41.1309, the sa`o is the
only person authorized to bring injunctive actions on behalf of a Samoan
family. However, we granted a preliminary injunction to maintain the
status quo and exhorted the parties to talk, noting that the dispute
appeared to have little, if any, to do with the Steffanys' entitlement to the
land, but all to do with factional rivalry and, therefore, pule.
The parties however returned to court, apparently unable to resolve
anything through discussion. The Steffanys filed a motion to not only
dissolve the interlocutory injunction issued by the court but to also
dismiss the complaint on the contention that Williams lacked ' 41.1309
standing to sue in the capacity of sa`o. They argue that the registration
of the Alo title in Williams' name was procured unlawfully, at the
direction of the Attorney General, over the objection of the Registrar.
The Registrar had thus initially attempted to deny Williams' registration
application not satisfied as to Williams' eligibility to hold a matai title in

American Samoa, since he was born in Western Samoa.1 Williams
apparently went directly to the Attorney General who intervened and
demanded the Registrar to register the Alo title in Williams' name.2
The Steffany's argue that the Attorney General overstepped the bounds
of his authority in overruling the Registrar's decision to deny Williams'
matai registration application. Williams, on the other hand, contends
that since the Registrar's office is a part of the Department of Legal
Affairs, the Registrar is therefore under the competence of the Attorney
General, who is the director of that department. He argues that the
Attorney General as the head of the department had the authority to
1 A.S.C.A. ' 1.0403(b) requires, among other things, that a claimant to
a matai title "must have been born on American soil." This substantive
requirement has been upheld, US nationality through naturalization
notwithstanding, in In re Matai Title "I`aulualo," 10 A.S.R.2d 116;
recons den. 10 A.S.R.2d 155 (Land & Titles Div. 1994); aff'd In re
Matai Title "I`aulualo," AP No. 06-94 (App. Div. 1995). See also In re
Matai Title Patea, 25 A.S.R.2d 139 (Land & Titles Div. 1994); In re
Matai Title Mulitauaopele, MT No. 04-94 (Land & Titles Div. 1996).
2 The Registrar also alluded to other instances of intervention by the
Attorney General resulting the registration of multiple holders to a single
matai title and the addition of new titles to the register despite the
mandate of A.S.C.A. ' 1.0401(b) closing the matai register as of 1
January 1969 and prohibiting the future adding of titles not previously
registered.

direct registration accordingly, notwithstanding the Registrar's contrary
position on the matter.
Discussion
[3-4] We hold that the Attorney General had no jurisdiction to direct the
registration of the matai title Alo in Williams' name, over the objection
of the Registrar. Statutorily, the Registrar does not appear to be a part of
the Department of Legal Affairs nor under the sort of supervisory
authority necessarily claimed by the Attorney General. Just because the
Registrar's office has, in practice, functioned administratively under the
supervision of the Attorney General, it does not follow that the Attorney
General may thereby assume the statutory authority specifically vested
by the Fono in the Registrar.
Both the Department of Legal Affairs and the Territorial Registrar's
office were separately created by statute, A.S.C.A. '4.0301 and
A.S.C.A. ' 4.0325 respectively. Being separately created at the same
level of lawmaking and within the same chapter of the code, we fail to
see why the Department of Legal Affairs should therefore occupy an
encompassing or more primary role to that of the Registrar, Williams's
allusion to cabinet positions notwithstanding.

[5] Additionally, we could not find any source, whether within the
American Samoa Code Annotated or the American Samoa
Administrative Code, which places the Registrar within or under the
authority of the Department of Legal Affairs. Rather, the Fono has
clearly proscribed the Registrar's role and duties under Title 4, Chapter
11 of the American Samoa Code Annotated, A.S.C.A. '' 4.1101 et seq.,
and, more specifically in the context of matai title registration, under
Title 4, Chapter 4, A.S.C.A. '' 1.0401 et seq. The role is not that of
mere "rubber stamp." Among other things, A.S.C.A. ' 4.1104, gives the
Registrar, not the Attorney General, the authority to reject registration
attempts appearing "to be illegal or not entitled under the law to be
registered, filed or recorded." In the matai registration process, the
Registrar, and not the Attorney General, is charged with maintaining the
title register, A.S.C.A. ' 1.0401, and may register successors to vacant
titles. See A.S.C.A. ' 1.0405-0408. In the course of this process, the
Registrar "if not satisfied with the validity of information offered in the
petition," may require further information from the petitioner. A.S.C.A.
' 1.0405(c). In addition, conditions the public advertisement of a
succession claim upon "the territorial registrar [being first] satisfied
[that] the claim, certificate, and petition are in proper form." A.S.C.A. '
1.0406. There is no mention of the Attorney General in either chapter 11
or chapter 4 of Title 4.
[6] Furthermore, the statutory scheme clearly intends for disputes
regarding matai registration to proceed directly from the Registrar to the
High Court. A.S.C.A. ' 4.1106 unambiguously provides that anyone
taking issue with a decision of the Registrar can at any time apply to the
High Court for "redress." In addition, ' 4.1106 also states that "the
Registrar . . . may at any time, apply to the High Court for direction."
Likewise, with the matai registration process, A.S.C.A. ' 1.0409
provides that "[t]he High Court shall hear and determine any disputed
claim." Thus, when the Attorney General unilaterally asserted
jurisdiction and ordered registration in this case, he intruded on the
court's statutorily mandated authority to resolve the dispute. Such action
is an impermissible extension of executive power in derogation of not
only the court's judicial function but the legislature's law making
function as well.
[7] Matai titles are regulated by law. A.S.C.A. ' 1.0401-0414; In re
Matai Title Mulitauaopele, MT No. 04-94 (Land & Titles Div. Feb. 6,
1996). The registration of the Alo title in Williams' name was not in
accordance with law. "[A]ny matai title bestowed on any person
contrary to the provisions of [chapter 4] may not in any way be
recognized." A.S.C.A. ' 1.0413 (emphasis added). We accordingly
conclude that Williams does not have ' 41.1309 standing to sue in the
capacity of sa`o.


Order
For reasons given, we grant the motion to dismiss and dissolve the
interlocutory injunction heretofore entered.
It is so ordered.