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AMITUANAI IOSEFA, v.SATAOA KALEUATI, TUIAGAMOA TAVAI TOMASI, and KERETA VAILI

 

AMITUANAI IOSEFA, Plaintiff,
v.
SATAOA KALEUATI, TUIAGAMOA TAVAI TOMASI, and
KERETA VAILI, Defendants.
High Court of American Samoa
Land and Titles Division

LT No 19-00
July 15, 2002

 

[1] Where plaintiff possessed actual knowledge of land claim, failed to
take any steps to counter said claim during pendency of earlier case and
in fact did not act until 13 years after court had ordered registration of
land in other party’s name, the doctrine of laches applied.
[2] Laches is the unreasonable delay in one party’s assertion of its rights
resulting in another party’s undue prejudice.
[3] Claimant to land ownership is charged with actual notice upon
receiving information that would put person of ordinary prudence to
inquiry that would lead to knowledge of adverse title.
Before RICHMOND, Associate Justice, LOGOAI, Chief Associate
Judge, and ATIULAGI, Associate Judge.
Counsel: For Plaintiff, Katopau T. Ainu`u
For Defendants, Marie A. Lafaele
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Amituanai Iosefa (“Amituanai”) brought this action to evict
defendants Sataoa Kaleuati (“Sataoa”), Tuiagamoa Tavai Tomasi
(“Tuiagamoa”), and Kereta Vaili (“Kereta”) from certain land. The
secretary of Samoan affairs held unsuccessful mediation hearings on the
dispute on August 9 and September 27, 2000, and issued a certificate of
irreconcilable dispute on September 28, 2000. Amituanai served a 30-
day eviction notice, dated October 4, 2000, on Tuiagamoa, Sataoa, and
Kereta, and on November 22, 2000, when they did not vacate the land,
he filed this action.
Discussion
Amituanai is the sa`o (head chief) of the Amituanai family of the Village
of Malaeloa, American Samoa. Tuiagamoa is the sa`o of the Tuiagamoa
family of the same village. Sataoa and Kereta are members of the
Tuiagamoa family.
The land at issue is approximately 4.7 acres in Malaeloa, American
Samoa. Kereta constructed a residence on the land in 1990 (“the Kereta
house”). Sataoa and his family presently reside in the Kereta house.
Amituanai claims that the Kereta house is on the Amituanai family’s
communal land named “Olovalu.” Tuiagamoa claims that the Kereta
house is on the Tuiagamoa family’s communal land named “Lefiso.”

A. The Holding of Tuileata v. Amituanai
In Tuileata v. Amituanai, 4 A.S.R.2d 168, 170 (Land & Titles Div.
1987), aff’d, 8 A.S.R.2d 173 (App. Div. 1988), this Court held that the
Amituanai family owned and could register approximately 36.62 acres of
“Olovalu” as the family’s communal land. The approximately 4.7 acres
at issue lie within the 36.32 acres of “Olovalu.” Complying with the trial
Court’s decision in Tuileata, the territorial registrar registered this
portion of “Olovalu” as the Amituanai family’s communal land on June
3, 1987. The boundaries of the registered portion are established by
Amituanai’s survey of November 16, 1985, presented in Tuileata, except
for a small area in the southeast corner not relevant to the present case.
Amituanai discovered that the Kereta house was erected within the
registered portion as a result of a resurvey in 1998.
None of the witnesses during the trial, including two professional
surveyors, contested the location in the field of either the survey of the
approximately 36.62 acres of “Olovalu” registered as the Amituanai
family’s communal land, or of the approximately 4.7 contested acres
within the registered land.
After hearing the testimony and receiving other evidence, the Court
inspected the land in the presence of Amituanai, Tuiagamoa, and their
respective counsel. Clearly, the Kereta house, or a substantial portion of
it, is situated within the registered 36.62 acre portion of the “Olovalu.”
Tuiagamoa has held the sa`o title of the Tuiagamoa family since 1978.
Significantly, Tuileata was initiated when Tuileata Mu Manumaleuga
(“Tuileata”) attempted to register another portion of “Olovalu” as the
Tuileata family’s communal land in 1984. The land Tuileata claimed
was located a considerable distance from the land Tuiagamoa now
claims. The 1984 registration offer was duly noticed, and Amituanai,
Tuiolemotu Fa`aopega (“Tuiolemotu”), and others, but not Tuiagamoa,
objected to the registration. The matter was eventually referred to this
Court for judicial resolution. The Court had several surveys, including
Amituanai’s survey now at issue, to consider. The Court held that the
Amituanai family owned all but a small portion of the land included in
Amituanai’s survey and authorized registration of the land owned as the
Amituanai family’s communal land. Amituanai’s registration, however,
was accomplished without following formal notice and other statutory
requirements.
B. Tuiagamoa’s Claims on Legal Issues

Tuiagamoa asserts that he was not party to Tuileata and is therefore not
bound by that decision as a matter of res judicata. We note at this point
that Malaeloa is divided into two distinct sub-villages. Amituanai
resides in one named Ituau. Tuiagamoa resides in the other named
Aitulagi. The Tuiolemotu title is also appurtenant to the Aitulagi subvillage.
The Tuiagamoa and Tuiolemotu families are related, though no
precise connections are in evidence. Tuiolemotu’s claim in Tuileata was
to land remote from Tuiagamoa’s present land claim. Moreover, in
Tuileata, Amituanai and Tuiolemotu claimed distinct, adjacent lands,
except for part of the same small area in Amituanai’s survey noted
above, which was not included in the Court’s registration authorization
because Amituanai, Tuiolemotu, and other claimants to this small area
asked the court to allow them to settle the boundaries in this area. In
essence, Amituanai and Tuiolemotu were not adversaries with each other
in Tuileata.
Tuiagamoa further maintains that he had no reason to respond to the
notice of Tuileata’s offer to register land remote from his family’s land
claim, and had neither actual nor constructive knowledge of Amituanai’s
land claim in 1984, unnoticed survey in 1985, and unnoticed registration
in 1987. Tuiagamoa argues that he is therefore not prevented from
pursuing his family’s land claim by any notice preclusion.
We agree with Tuiagamoa’s position on the res judicata issue but
disagree with his position on the notice issue.
C. The Res Judicata Issue
Tuiagamoa was not a party to Tuileata. Even though the Tuiagamoa and
Tuiolemotu families are apparently related, Tuiagamoa had no interest in
the land claimed by Tuiolemotu. The connection between the two
families does not constitute privity for res judicata purposes. The
Tuileata decision constitutes neither issue nor party privity preclusion to
Tuiagamoa’s land claim in this case.
D. The Title Registration Notice Issue
Amituanai’s title registration of 32.62 acres of “O1ovalu” in 1987, made
pursuant to judicial authorization, is conclusive as between Amituanai,
on one hand, and Tuileata, Tuiolemotu and other parties to Tuileata, on
the other hand. Tuileata offered to register a large portion of “Olovalu”
in 1984. The offer was processed, in compliance with the notice and
other statutory requirements, but the court’s decision in Tuileata went
largely against him. Tuileata’s offer to register, however, could not
adversely effect Tuiagamoa’s claim to land remotely located from the

land claimed by Tuileata.
Amituanai’s 1985 survey and 1987 judicially authorized registration of
most of his surveyed land were done without compliance to the notice
and other prescribed statutory procedures with respect to non-parties to
Tuileata. Therefore, Tuiagamoa is not precluded, on the basis of
constructive notice of Amituanai’s registration, from claiming that the
Tuiagamoa family is the true owner of the land occupied by the Vaili
house. See Faleafine v. Suapilimai, 7 A.S.R.2d 108, 113 (Land & Titles
Div. 1988).
Tuiagamoa’s claim that he was without actual knowledge of Amituanai’s
survey or title registration, however, borders on the incredible. Sataoa
has cultivated areas within the land surveyed by Amituanai for many
years, first alongside of his parents beginning in 1962, and then in his
own right beginning in 1968 after his marriage to the daughter of
Tuiagamoa’s predecessor to the sa`o title. As a perennial planter in the
area, Sataoa must have known about the survey that Amituanai had made
of the portion of “Olovalu” now registered as the Amituanai family’s
communal land and Tuileata while that case was pending. As a loyal
member of the Tuiagamoa family, providing tautua (traditional service)
to the sa`o of the family, Sataoa would have informed Tuiagamoa of
Amituanai’s survey and the Tuileata judicial proceedings.
[1] Tuiagamoa must have known about the survey and the Tuileata
judicial proceedings, at least from Sataoa as his informant, and most
likely from other sources as well. Involving the families of several
Malaeloa matai, the Tuileata case would have been common knowledge
in the village while the case was ongoing. Tuiagamoa failed in his duty
to timely investigate the impact of the Tuileata case on his perception of
the Tuiagamoa family’s communal land interests. He did not take any
steps to counter Amituanai’s claim during the Tuileata proceedings,
which were commenced in 1984, approximately 16 years before the
current action was filed, and were not concluded until 1987, about three
years later. Despite his inaction, Tuiagamoa more than likely knew at
the time of the Tuileata decision, and we find he did know, that the
Tuileata court authorized Amituanai to register the surveyed 32.62 acres
as the Amituanai family’s communal land and that the territorial registrar
then complied with Amituanai’s request to register this land in this
manner. Tuiagamoa also did not take any steps to invalidate the
registration until he was called upon to defend this action some 13 years
later. A classic example of laches is presented.
[2-3] Laches is unreasonable delay of one party’s assertion of rights
resulting in the other party’s undue prejudice. Siofele v. Shimasaki, 9

A.S.R.2d 3, 14-15 (Trial Div. 1988); see also Simmons Creek Coal Co.
v. Duran, 142 U.S. 417 (1892). A claimant to land ownership is charged
with actual notice upon receiving information that would put a person of
ordinary prudence to an inquiry that would lead to knowledge of adverse
title. See Faleatua v. Tauiliili, 19 A.S.R.2d 122, 123-24 (Land & Titles
Div. 1990).
Tuiagamoa had actual knowledge of Amituanai’s claim. He did not
exert his own claim for a time period of at least 13 years and as much as
16 years. This time frame constituted unreasonable delay under the
circumstances. The delay injured Amituanai by forcing multiple
litigation of the same issue, as well as leading to Amituanai’s reliance on
Tuiagamoa’s non-assertion of alleged rights.
Based on Tuiagamoa’s actual knowledge, the registration, pursuant to
the Court’s decision in Tuileata, of approximately 32.92 acres, including
the approximately 4.7 acres at issue, as the Amituanai family’s
communal land is also valid as against Tuiagamoa and his family.
Order
1. As between Amituanai and all other Amituanai family members of the
Amituanai, on one hand, and Tuiagamoa, Sataoa, Kereta, and all other
Tuiagamoa family members, on the other hand, the registration on June
3, 1987, of approximately 32.62 acres of “Olovalu,” encompassing the
approximately 4.7 acres at issue, as the Amituanai family’s communal
land is valid and effective.
2. Tuiagamoa, Sataoa, Kereta, and all other Tuiagamoa family members
are evicted from the approximately 4.7 acres.
3. Tuiagamoa, Sataoa, and Kereta shall remove the Kereta house from
the 4.7 acres within 90 days after the entry date of this order. The Kereta
house shall become the property of the Amituanai family if it is not
removed from the 4.7 acres within the 90-day period.
4. Tuiagamoa, Sataoa, Kereta, and all other Tuiagamoa family members
shall cease farming any portion of the 4.7 acres after 90 days from the
entry date of this order, unless Amituanai permits them to continue this
activity. During the 90-day period, they may harvest their agricultural
produce. After the 90-day period, the agricultural crops and trees
planted by them within the 4.7 acres shall become the property of the
Amituanai family.
It is so ordered.