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Court allows Fuata family to proceed with burial

The Land and Titles Division of the High Court has ruled that Senator Fuata Dr I’atala may continue with his mother's burial, which is planned for today at the Mataava land in Amouli. The ruling came after a three day hearing, which started on Tuesday, for a temporary restraining order, banning the Fuata family from further construction of a grave in a cemetery, which the Utu clan claims, belong to their family.

On Wednesday, the High Court initially sided with the Utu clan to discontinue the construction of the grave of the Senator’s mother. Richmond approved the preliminary injunction halting Fuata and his family members from further construction of his mother's grave. However, Senator Fuata's lawyer Sunia, asked the court to reconsider its decision.

Sunia argued there is a legal issue that needs to be addressed before in the court. He said the 1990 court decision did not make a ruling on the issue, regarding the graves in the cemetery, that belonged to the Fuata family, which were there before the 1990 ruling was issued. He asked what will happen to the Fuata graves, that have been on Utu’s side of the Mataava land, before the 1990 court decision.

The 1990 court decision divided the Mataava land between the Utu and Fuata clans. That same decision found that the Utu family, owned land in the eastern part where the Utu cemetery is now located, and it is occupied with Utu titleholder’s graves and CCCAS Church and homes of the Utu families. While the Fuata family owned a portion of the western part of the Mataava land.  

During the Wednesday hearing, Richmond noted that the court understood the frustration that Senator Fuata has, in his attempt to communicate with (Utu titleholder) Utu Abe Malae, who is currently off island. “It’s another example of the problems you would encounter when you have a communal family Sa'o living off island and having to deal with problems here”, said Richmond.

The lawyers for both sides were told to provide legal briefs Thursday morning, in regards to Sunia’s motion. Charles Ala’ilima represented the Utu clan, while Fiti Sunia represented Senator Fuata.

In rendering its final decision regarding the reconsideration motion that was submitted by Sunia, Richmond stated that “whether it’s called reconsideration or any other name, I think the court has an inherent authority to modify a preliminary injunction anytime during court proceedings. Having considered the situation further, that’s what we’re going to do.  We now dissolve the Preliminary Injunction and deny the application for it.”

Richmond continued “I’m satisfied now, as I was not entirely satisfied before, that Fuata does have a legal interest -- descriptive easement and, or by any other name -- in the grave site.  And any present harm can be corrected at a later time at the conclusion of this case, even if that involves the removal of the grave or other consequences.  Fuata may continue with the burial as planned.”

Richmond was accompanied on the bench by associate judges Suapaia Pereira and Fa’amausili Pomele.