FAUMUINA SUAFA`I SATELE,v.TAUTOLO GAOSA and AMERICAN SAMOA POWER AUTHORITY

 

FAUMUINA SUAFA`I SATELE, Plaintiff,
v.
TAUTOLO GAOSA and AMERICAN SAMOA POWER
AUTHORITY, Defendants.

High Court of American Samoa
Land and Titles Division
LT No. 09-95
LT No. 31-95
March 18, 2002

ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION OR NEW
TRIAL, CONTINUING STAY OF RENT PAYMENTS, AND
SETTING ASIDE TITLE REGISTRATION
1 In a nutshell, it looks like the services of a qualified surveyor might be
in order to assist the court in resolving the dispute as to situs. Indeed,
Alai`asa had resorted to calling a surveyor in Alai`asa v. Te`o, 5
A.S.R.3d 266 (Land & Titles Div. 2001), a matter not unlike the one
now before us in factual issues.

 

[1] Where two families mutually, peacefully and harmoniously, occupied
and used land in a manner so irregularly intermingled that any areas of
separately owned land could not be defined, Court determined that land
could not be registered as only one family’s communal land.
Before RICHMOND, Associate Justice, ATIULAGI, Associate Judge,
and SAGAPOLUTELE, Associate Judge.
Counsel: For Plaintiff, Charles V. Ala`ilima
For Defendant Tautolo Gaosa, Arthur Ripley, Jr.
For Defendant Am. Samoa Power Authority, Roy J.D. Hall, Jr.
 
I. Motions for Reconsideration or New Trial and Stay of Judgment
On December 13, 2001, defendant Tautolo Gaosa (“Tautolo”) timely
moved for reconsideration or new trial with respect to the court’s opinion
and ordered entered on November 30, 2001. Tautolo also moved to stay
execution of the judgment, pending the outcome of the first motion and
the existing and any further appeal of this action. The court heard the
motions on January 25, 2001. All three counsel were present.
During the hearing, we granted by bench order the motion to stay
execution of the judgment with respect to payment by defendant
American Samoa Power Authority (“ASPA”) of the rentals for its leases
of the well site and waste disposal site on the total land at issue. We
have now considered the issues raised by Tautolo’s motion for
reconsideration or new trial. Tautolo’s concerns are without merit. This
motion will therefore be denied. However, the present stay of execution
of the judgment will remain in effect pending the existing appeal and any
subsequent appeal. We will also address two other matters.
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II. Ownership of Land “Lepue”
We need to clarify our decisions regarding ownership of the land called
“Lepue.” For purposes of the discussion of this and the second matter,
we will refer to three parcels of land by name: “Agaoleatu,” “Lepue,”
and “Anaoleatu.” “Agaoleatu” consists of approximately 6.301 acres at
the western end of the total land at issue. ASPA’s well site is within
“Agaoleatu” but outside of the portion of this parcel now determined, as
noted below, to be the Faumuina family’s communal land. “Lepue”
embraces approximately 3.291 acres immediately east of “Agaoleatu.”
Part of the disposal site is within “Lepue.” “Anaoleatu” covers
approximately 23.333 acres and encompasses the entire land in dispute,
including both “Agaoleatu” and “Lepue.” The disposal site is entirely
within “Anaoleatu.”
Plaintiff Faumuina Safa`i Satele (“Faumuina”) offered to register the title
to both “Agaoleatu” and “Lepue” as the Faumuina family’s communal
land. Both offers went through the formal registration process, which
generated Tautolo’s objections and claim to “Anaoleatu.” The
unresolved title disputes to “Agaoleatu” and “Lepue” were sent to this
court for judicial determination. Though surveyed as of the trial in July
2000, Tautolo had not offered to register the title to “Anaoleatu” as
Tautolo family’s communal land.
Our original decision entered on August 3, 2000, expressly adjudicated
title to “Agaoleatu” in Tautolo’s favor. We directed the Territorial
Registrar to register the title to “Agaoleatu” as the Tautolo family’s
communal land. We also held that as between Faumuina and Tautolo,
the portion of “Anaoleatu” outside of “Agaoleatu” was also the Tautolo
family’s communal land. This portion also encompasses “Lepue.”
However, because Tautolo had not offered “Anaoleatu” for registration,
we advised the parties that Tautolo must offer the area in “Anaoleatu”
outside of “Agaoleatu” for registration in order to provide notice to other
potential claimants before the title to this area could be adjudicated.
“Lepue” is located within “Anaoleatu,” and though properly before us
for title determination, we clearly, in hindsight, but inadvertently
overlooked definitively deciding this title issue, except implicitly with
respect to Faumuina and Tautolo, in our August 3, 2000 decision.
We modified our decision on ownership of “Agaoleatu” in the order of
November 6, 2000, partially granting reconsideration, to hold that a
portion of the western side of “Agaoleatu” is the Faumuina family’s
communal land. This modification was confirmed in our decision of
November 30, 2001.
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In the decision of November 30, 2001, we also modified our findings
with respect to the title to “Anaoleatu” outside of the portion in
“Agaoleatu” held to be the Faumuina family’s communal land, deciding
that we could not determine by a preponderance of the evidence
presented the titleholder(s) to this entire area as between Faumuina and
Tautolo, and for that matter any other still unidentified claimants not yet
before the court. This change was based on out inspection of the land
and other abundantly clear evidence showing that, for many years, the
Tautolo family and Fa`i family, a subfamily of the extended Faumuina
family, had mutually, peacefully and harmoniously, occupied and used
“Anaoleatu,” outside of the portion of “Agaoleatu” now recognized as
the Faumuina family’s communal land, and in a manner so irregularly
intermingled that any areas of separately owned land by the Tautolo
family and, as the case may be, the Fa`i family or Faumuina family could
not be defined.
[1] “Lepue” is within “Anaoleatu” outside of the portion of “Agaoleatu”
owned by the Faumuina family as communal land. Thus, under the
modification now in effect, we have still implicitly held that “Lepue”
could not yet be registered as between Faumuina and Tautolo. We stand
by that implicit finding.
III. Territorial Registrar’s Registration of October 25, 2000
The Territorial Registrar registered title to land as the Tautolo family’s
communal land, and recently an amended version, both dated October
25, 2000. In the present motion for reconsideration or new trial and
during the hearing on the motion, Tautolo expressly noted the Registrar’s
initial registration. We advised counsel that we would examine the
Registrar’s registration files.
Tautolo states that the initial registration pertains to approximately
23.333 acres, the area contained in “Anaoleatu.” Apparently, Tautolo
justifies this interpretation on the timing of the registration. He followed
our admonition and offered his survey of “Anaoleatu” for registration
shortly after entry of our decision of August 3, 2000, and the required
60-day notice period expired shortly before the registration was issued
on October 25, 2000. However, Tautolo’s conclusion ignores the facts
that three timely objections, one by Faumuina, were filed with the
Registrar, and the controversy thus framed has not yet gone through the
dispute resolution proceedings before the Secretary of Samoan Affairs,
let alone ultimate judicial determination.
Recently, the Territorial Registrar recognized the ambiguity in the first
registration issued on October 25, 2000, and reissued an amended
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registration, specifically for the 6.301 acres in “Agaoleatu.” The
amended registration is consistent with our original adjudication of
August 3, 2000, and the Registrar’s corrective action is understandable.
The Registrar has not yet received official notice of the revision of our
original adjudication to recognize that a portion of “Agaoleatu” is the
Faumuina family’s communal land, and that title to “Anaoleatu,”
including “Lepue,” outside of the portion of “Agaoleatu” held by the
Faumuina family as communal land, is presently undeterminable. The
corrective action is, of course, insufficient in light of the revision.
Accordingly, we will set aside the initial and amended registrations,
pending final determination of the title to areas within “Agaoleatu.” We
will also keep the Registrar fully informed about judicial developments
in this action.
Order
1. Tautolo’s motion for reconsideration or new trial is denied.
2. The stay of execution of the judgment shall remain in effect pending
the existing and any subsequent appeal. The stay applies specifically
and only to ASPA’s payment of rentals for the leases of the well site and
waste disposal site on the land at issue.
3. The original and amended versions of the Territorial Registrar’s
registration of Tautolo’s title, both dated October 25, 2000, are set aside
pending final resolution of the title to the areas within “Agaoleatu.”
4. The clerk of the court shall cause delivery to the Territorial Registrar
of certified copies of the court’s orders: (a) order partially granting
motion for reconsideration and denying new trial of November 6, 2000;
(b) order granting motion for reconsideration or new trial of March 1,
2001; (c) opinion and order of November 30, 2001; and (d) this order.
When appropriate, we will direct the clerk to transmit to the Registrar
future court orders in this action.
It is so ordered.