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Court refers land dispute in Nu’uuli road project to Samoan Affairs

reporters@samoanews.com

The High Court of American Samoa has referred a land dispute to the Secretary of Samoan Affairs, namely a Nu’uuli road project which is at the center of a dispute between the Muagututi’a family and the government.

The July 11, 2012 order issuing a preliminary injunction and suspending action for mediation before Secretary of Samoan Affairs was signed by Associate Justice Lyle L Richmond and Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr.

The plaintiff’s motion was filed through their lawyer, Matailupevao Leupolu Jr. in May.

Plaintiffs are Sapela Soi and Fuamatala Savai’i, who are members of the Muagututi’a family, and they filed a request in May for a temporary stop order and injunctive relief for this project, because the Muagututi’a family owns a portion of the communal land called Vaiala in Nu’uuli, on which the government is attempting to construct an access road.

On May 25 the court issued a temporary restraining order on the government project and ordered ASG to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not be issued while this action is pending.

The show cause hearing was continued four times, with the last at the request of a Savusa family member for time to retain an attorney, while the temporary stop order continued, according to the court document.

On July 5, the court granted the Savusa family’s intervention. Intervenors are Logoitinomatagailelei Savusa and Taumailelei Ve’a for Savusa Tauileva and on behalf of the Savusa family.

In its July 11 decision, the court said that “ASG did obtain documents in writing, dated November 9, 2010, entitled an ‘Agreement and License Affecting Real Estate For Nu’uuli Village Road 1 Project’, and a ‘Deed of Easement’ for the project;” and “both documents have the approval ‘X’ mark of Muagututi’a Savaii, the Muagututi’a family’s sa’o.”

However, the court explains that as testified to by Muagututi’a’s wife, Fuatina, her husband suffered then and presently from severe mental illness, “which seriously questions his capacity to enter into these agreements… and that the Muagututi’a family as a whole does not want this proposed access road to cross its family land.”

The ruling further noted that during the evidentiary hearing, it was developed that the road 1 project also crosses the Savusa family’s communal land and they were not a party to the agreements. Further, they oppose the access road across it is family land; and “moreover, the Savusa family’s sa’o is presently off-island for medical treatment and his mental capacity to agree to the project is also questioned.”

The court says that clearly the plaintiffs and interveners have immediately suffered great harm from ASG’s intrusion on each family’s communal land.

“ASG’s construction of this road project will only become increasingly irreparable as the project progresses unless ASG is prevented from going forward before a decision is rendered on issuing a permanent injunction.”

Having sufficiently established that plaintiffs and inventors have met their burden or proving of likely ultimate success in their case and present serious harm to themselves before their case can be heard, the court ruled that a preliminary injunction to stop the road project is issued at this time.

Calling ASG’s approach “ill-considered”, the court encouraged government officials to meet with the two families and “seek the necessary common ground that will allow the project to include use of these two families’ communal lands.”

The court then ordered that “until the court receives a filing of Certificate of Irreconcilable Dispute issued by the Secretary of Samoan Affairs certifying with findings and conclusion that the dispute between the parties to this action cannot be resolved,” further proceedings in this action are suspended.



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