Willis v. Maepo

JOSEPH L. WILLIS, Appellant

v.

PAUL WILLIS and TINA MAEPO, Appellee

High Court of American Samoa
Appellate Division

AP No. 011-83

March 18, 1986

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The Appellate Division can set aside the findings of the trial court only if they are clearly erroneous.

A Samoan family can own communal land even though they choose to bear the surname of a European ancestor.

Before MURPHY, Associate Justice, presiding: KING,* Acting Associate Justice, and HEEN, **Acting Associate Justice.

Counsel: For the Appellant, Albert Mailo
For the Appellee, Talalelei Tulafono

PER CURIAM:

Appellant Joseph Willis brought an action seeking a judicial determination that certain land belonged to him as opposed to his siblings. His claim was based upon the theory that their mother acquired title to the land pursuant to a deed executed in 1940 arid conveyed her ownership to Joseph by testamentary succession.

The Trial Court found that nothing was conveyed by the deed that the v1illis family had resided upon and cultivated the subject land since 1929. The Court concluded that the subject land is the communal land of the Willis family.

This Court can set aside the findings of the Trial Court only if they are clearly erroneous, United States v. United States Gypsum Co. (1948) 333 U.S. 364. The facts found by the Trial Court are supported by testimony the Trial Court found credible. Hence there is no basis upon which to disturb the findings.

The only issue worthy of appellate review is Appellant's contention that the Willis family cannot own communal land since it is not a traditional Samoan family. The facts showed that Alexander Willis was one half Samoan and his wife Falesau was full blooded Samoan. Their progeny, the litigants herein, are 3/4 Samoan. True, they bear the name of a papalagi grandfather rather than a Samoan name but so do many Samoans. (A member of this Court, Judge Vaivao, is a Fruean.) [2ASR2d103]

According to the Associate Judges there is no reason why a Samoan family cannot own communal land even though they choose to bear the surname. of a European ancestor.

The decision of the Trial Court is affirmed.

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*Honorable Samuel P. King, United States District Judge, District of Hawaii, sitting pro tem by order of Chief Justice Gardner.

**Honorable Walter M. Heen, Associate Justice, Intermediate Court of Appeals, State of Hawaii, sitting pro tem by order of Chief Justice Gardner.