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SELNA ROPATI, Appellant,v.AMERICANSAMOA GOVERNMENT(78)
Updated:2012-08-19 Category:

OPINION AND ORDER

On December 17, 2001, Aulava Sauni, sao (senior matai) of the Aulava family of Lauli`i, applied to the Territorial Registrar's office on behalf of the Aulava family to record title in 4.4 acres of land situated in that area of the village commonly referred to as Lauli`ituai. The land is known variously as "Moli" or "Moli Samoa," apparently named because of its unique capacity to sustain the growth of native oranges, or moli Samoa. The Salanoa and Peleafei families, also of Lauli`i, filed separate objections/counterclaims in dispute of Aulava's application. Following the parties' unsuccessful attempts at A.S.C.A. § 43.0302 mediation, the Secretary of Samoan Affairs certified an irreconcilable dispute for referral to this court.

The Peleafei family contends that Aulava's survey overlaps onto a small area of its land, known as "Ululoloa," situated westward of Aulava's claim. The Salanoa family claim, however, relates to alleged communal land of the Salanoa family, pertaining to the heirs of a particular Salanoa titleholder, namely, Salanoa Sa. While the Salanoa family originally claimed all of the area survey by Aulava as their communal land, see Salanoa's Answer and Statement of Case at ¶ 13, their position at trial was changed to exclude Peleafei's claimed overlap.

Discussion

A. Aulava v. Salanoa

With respect to the dispute between the Aulava and Salanoa families, the evidence is largely in agreement that the land was, within living memory, worked principally by the late Fitiaumua Toelei`u ("Toelei`u") and also by another named Taliva`a, who was brought onto the land by Toelei`u. The parties were also in agreement that Taliva`a had cultivated the area extensively before he removed off-island. Where the evidence diverged, however, was on the issue as to whether Toelei`u worked the disputed land on behalf of the Salanoa family or on behalf of the Aulava family.

The Aulavas assert that Toelei`u worked the disputed land on behalf of their family. Aulava himself testified that Toelei`i was a member of the Aulava family who served the Aulava titleholders and that he worked the land under the pule (traditional authority) of the sao of the Aulava family. By way of corroboration, Aulava pointed to the fact that Toelei`u had maintained his primary residence on another area of the Aulava family land known as "Falemalama," located within the village proper. Moreover, Toelei`u's remains were interred at the Aulava family's cemetery located within property known as "Fa`ataualofa." Lastly, the matai title Fitiaumua, which Toelei`u held, is claimed by Aulava as a lesser title of the Aulava family.

Aulava who was born and raised in the Village of Lauli`i, also testified that he is very familiar with the disputed land and that he had personally shown the surveyors its boundaries during his family's survey. Although, acknowledging that the disputed land was principally worked by Toelei`u and others brought onto the land by Toelei`u, including Taliva`a, Aulava testified that his father also grew taro on a part of the land along side Taliva`a. Lastly, Aulava also testified that two of Taliva`a's sons are also buried in the Aulava family cemetery.

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