Appeals Court upholds Aumoeualogo title decision
In a Jan. 17 decision, the the Appellate Division of the HIgh Court reaffirmed the Land and Titles Division’s decision in January 2009 awarding the Aumoeualogo chiefly title of Aoa to Te’o J. Fuavai.
The first trial in this dispute — which started in 2006 when Te’o filed a claim to the title — was in 2008, where the court at the time awarded the title to Te’o. However, a retrial was carried out in 2009 after one of the sitting associate judges passed away.
Contesting Te’o’s claim to the title during both trials, are Malagamaali’i L. Misailegalu, Simei Pulu and Fepulea’i Sila Poasa. The matter ended up in court after an unsuccessful mediation by the Office of Samoan Affairs.
After the 2009 decision by the lower court, the appellants moved for reconsideration or new trial, which was denied by the trial court. The appellants thereafter filed appeals with the Appellate Division, who stated in its Jan. 17 order that the lower court found that Malagamaali’i and Fepulea’i prevail equally over Te’o and Simei on the first “criterion of best hereditary right”.
“However, the trial court found that Te’o prevails on the other three criteria, to wit: clan support; forcefulness, character, personality and knowledge of Samoan customs; and value to family, village, and country,” according to the 26-page appellate decision signed by associate justices Lyle L. Richmond and John L. Ward II and associate judges Satele A. Lili’o and Fa’amausili P. Pomele.
The appellate decision outlined the reasons for upholding the trial court’s ruling.
According to appellate judges, the trial court found that all candidates are blood members of the Aumoeualogo family with “Te’o having a 6.25 percent hereditary right to the Aumoeualogo title, as the great-great-grandson of Aumoeualogo Malosi”.
And this hereditary right for Te’o “is supported by substantial evidence”, the judges pointed out.
The trial court found that the Aumoeualogo family recognizes two clans: Fanuatanu and Falealo — but Simei argues that this finding lacks evidentiary; however, the record shows that all four candidates testified that the family is divided into two “sides” or “branches”, which is Fanuatanu and Falealo and this was also the testimony from Salanoa Soli during trial, according to the appellate judges.
Additionally, “we see no clear error in the trial court’s finding that Te’o’s succession to the title was supported by a majority of the Aumoeualogo family.”
According to the appellate judges, the trial court’s finding that “Te’o prevails in terms of forcefulness, character, personality and knowledge of Samoan customs is supported by the evidence” and therefore “is not clearly erroneous”.
“It was the unanimous opinion of the trial court that Te’o ‘better impressed in terms of self-confidence, clarity in his answers, as well as the presence of mind to promptly answer questions correctly’,” the appellate judges said.
“In addition, the trial court found Te’o surpassed the other candidates in knowledge of Samoan customs, ‘indicative of his forty plus years of day in and day out experience as one of the leading matai of Aoa’,” the judges pointed out.
Regarding the value of service to family, village and country, the trial court found that, while the other three started their service to church and country off-island, Te’o devoted his service all his life on-island, and has been a leading chief in Aoa, second only to Aumoeualogo, the appellate decision states.
Therefore the lower court’s finding that Te’o prevails in terms of value to family, village and country is supported by the evidence; it did not abuse its authority in making the decision; and the decision is not clearly erroneous, according to the appellate judges.