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FANENE S. SCANLAN, v.FANENE FETAIAIGA KAVA and DOES I-X

 

FANENE S. SCANLAN, Plaintiff,
v.
FANENE FETAIAIGA KAVA and DOES I-X, Defendants.
High Court of American Samoa
Land and Titles Division
LT No. 13-00
September 6, 2002

 

[1] The fa`a Samoa or the Samoan way life has twin cornerstones, the
matai system and communal land tenure.
[2] The highest authorities in the territory are the Treaties of Cession and
the Constitution. These resources dictate that we respect the right to
property according to custom.
Before KRUSE, Chief Justice, ATIULAGI, Associate Judge, and
SAGAPOLUTELE, Associate Judge.
Counsel: For Plaintiff, Paul F. Miller
For Defendant, Charles V. Ala`ilima
ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL

This dispute concerns land Lalopua in the village of Pago Pago
belonging to the Fanene extended family. As the consequence of prior
court decisions, the once unitary Fanene family has been split into two
factions who have been fighting ever since for dominion over real family
assets. The latest round in this enduring inter-factional rivalry concerns
the attempt by one faction to altogether oust the other from communal
land, and thereby, effectively disenfranchise the defendants' side not only
as Fanene family members, but as an extended Samoan family unit.1 We
denied the petition for eviction and refused to perpetuate a travesty on
the fa`a Samoa, as it concerns the defendants.
We are cognizant of the fact that the land Lalopua has been fought over
and previously litigated. In fact, our Order & Opinion deals quite
extensively with the previous litigation and contains our related analysis.
As explained in detail in our opinion, the 1945 Lalopua land decision,
Taofi v. Fanene, 2 A.S.R. 197 (Trial Div. 1945), was misinterpreted by
the court in 1971, LT Nos. 1089 and 1154 (Land & Titles Div. 1971),
and this misinterpretation was applied as controlling precedent by later
courts without close review of the substance of the decision. We found,
among other things, that the defendants are in fact members of the
extended Fanene family, the same family that was found to be entitled to
Lalopua in 1945. The problem, essentially, is that the 1945 decision
treated the Fanene family as one, but the 1971 decision treated the 1945
case as precedent in favor of only one side of the by then divided Fanene
family.
1 [1] The fa`a Samoa or the Samoan way life has twin cornerstones, the
matai system and communal land tenure. Fairholt v. Aulava, 1 A.S.R.2d
73, 78 (Land & Titles Div. 1983); Tavai v. Silao, 2 A.S.R.2d 1, 2 (Land
& Titles Div. 1983); Lavata`i v. Pen, AP No. 08-94, slip op. at 8 (App.
Div. 1996). Thus, without communal land, the defendant's side of the
family would simply cease to exist as a Samoan family unit.
[2] Res judicata is, of course, a concern in a situation where the same
land has been previously contested. However, the previous cases not
only misapplied the 1945 decision, they also never addressed the issue of

eviction. It is our opinion that the issue of eviction casts a new light
upon all the issues revolving around the disagreement over this piece of
land. The questions of who is entitled to live on Lalopua and who has
pule over it cannot be properly addressed without considering the full
ramifications of the 1971 decisionC-including possible evictions. The
highest authorities in the territory are the Treaties of Cession and the
Constitution. These resources dictate that we respect the right to
property according to custom. See April 17, 1900 Cession of Tutuila and
Aunu`u (February 20, 1929); July 16, 1904 Cession of Manu`a Islands
(May 22, 1929); REV'D CONST. OF AM. SAMOA art. I, ' 2. We cannot in
good conscience respect the customs and traditions of the Samoan
people and continue to apply the previous wrongly footed decisions
concerning this property. With the issue of eviction, we were forced to
consider fundamental issues, which we outlined in our detailed opinion
and order.
Order
We see no manifest error of law or mistake of fact required to order a
new trial. Accordingly, we deny plaintiff's motion.
It is so ordered.