Family disputes ASG Nu'uuli Village Road project
A road in Nu’uuli labeled as Nu’uuli Village Road 1 Project, is at the center of a dispute between the Muagututi’a family and the American Samoa Government.
According to Sapela Soi and Fuamatala Savai’i, who filed a temporary stop order and injunctive relief for this project, with the Court’s Lands and Titles, 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, which goes through their family land.
The plaintiff’s motion was filed through their lawyer, Matailupevao Leupolu Jr on May 23, 2012. The plaintiffs allege this road is to be connected to the Fanene family land, for their access.
Sapela Soi and Fuamatala Savai’i filed three motions with the high court, for a restraining order against the government to stop this road project.
According to the plaintiff’s motion, the title Muagututi’a was vacant and the family does not have two lesser chiefs presently and Sapela Soi and Fuamatala Savai’i are blood members of the Muagututi’a who have filed the restraining order against the defendants on behalf of the Muagututi’a family of Nu’uuli.
The plaintiffs allege the government has already started their project, they have placed signs in the area in question and marked the road. “Our family absolutely does not want such road to go through our land and hereby requests the court for a restraining order directing the defendants to cease and stop any such construction of a road on our family land” says the restraining motion.
According to the motion by plaintiff, the government has already entered into an “Agreement and License Affecting Real Estate For Nu’uuli Village Road 1 Project”, on November 8, 2010 with Chiefs Fanene V. So’oto, Pu’u Iakopo and Muagututi’a Savaii and the government have begun this road project.
The plaintiffs are strongly objecting contending that the Agreement was signed by Chief Muagututi’a Savaii based on material misrepresentations by government.
Also at the time of signing the agreement, “Chief Muagututi’a was somewhat under disillusion, schizophrenia or that his mental capacity was not 100% in that he basically did not really understand what he was signing.
Fuamatala Savai’i is quoted in the motion saying that his father Muagututi’a Savaii began to develop early signs of disillusionment, schizophrenia, and memory loss in 2005 until his death.
The plaintiffs allege their lawyer, Matailupevao, had written to the government to halt any attempts to build or construct a road on their land without getting the necessary approval from their family however, it appears the government is proceeding with their construction of the project, ignoring the Notice given to them.
According to the plaintiff at the time of the signing of the agreement, Chief Muagututi’a’s wife held his hand forcing Muagututi’a to sign the agreement.
The plaintiff goes on to say that the road project would cover about 300 to 500 feet of their land inwardly and that one of the markings of the Road Project is set to the right on the foundation of one of the plaintiffs’ house “and that is even more reason to restrain the Defendants from constructing this Road Project.”
“That unless a restraining order is issued by this court restraining the defendants from construction of this Road Project they will forever lose their land.
“That we are entitled to the quiet use and enjoyment of our land without the unnecessary use of other people who are not members of our Family including the noise from traffic, trash from cars passing through” according to the restraining order motion.
The plaintiffs note that the government is responsible for the company that won the bid to construct the road project, but their identities are not fully ascertained at the moment.
Assistant Attorney Generals Jay Sayles and Marian Rapoza, on behalf of the government, have responded to the plaintiffs motion by filing an opposition to the temporary restraining order.
The government’s opposition motion has it that the plaintiffs are asserting the easement and license received by the government are invalid, however they have failed to provide medical records demonstrating the mental incapacity of Muagututi’a Savai’i.
The government noted the Muagututi’a family of Nu’uuli continued to allow Muagututi’a Savai’i to serve in his capacity as matai which therefore creates an apparent authority argument under agency law and the law of Samoa Customs.
The government noted the validity of Muagututi’a Savai’i’s signature is also bolstered by a notary and signatures of two witnesses Fuatino Savai’ia/Sophie Savai’i and the plaintiffs have failed to show the presumptions of a signed and notarized interest in land are overcome.
According to the government, the plaintiffs also failed to demonstrate that misrepresentations by the government or others induced that Muagututi’a Savai’i agreed to sign the easement and license by a preponderance of the evidence.
According to the government, the plaintiffs have not engaged in the dispute resolution proceedings required under ASCA 32.0302 and therefore their request for an injunctive relief is not properly before the court.
“Plaintiffs failed to properly serve the government or provide sufficient notice under the Trial Court Rules of Civil Procedure (TCRCP). “Further, the plaintiffs have not demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that their claims will succeed at trial and therefore the injunctive relief is not proper at this time”. According to the government a dispute involving communal land is under the authority of the Court’s Land and Titles Division.
The government quoted, ASCA 43.0305 (a) which has it that the court can hear a controversy involving communal land after the Secretary of Samoan Affairs issues a Certificate of Irreconcilable Dispute and with the issuance of that specific certificate the jurisdictional prerequisite to proceed to the high court.
According to the government the plaintiff has yet to file a complaint with the Secretary of Samoan Affairs regarding this land controversy, therefore the high court proceedings would be a violation of the ASCA 43.03029(a).
The government asked the high court to stay the proceedings on this matter until the statutory requirements are met through the Secretary of Samoans Affairs issuing a Certificate of Irreconcilable Dispute. The government also pointed out that a Trial Court Rules of Civil Procedure (TCRCP) set a specific scheduled for service and response to request for injunctive relief. According to the government TCRCP 65.a Rule 65 states that no preliminary injunction shall be issue without notice being provided to the adverse party within 48 hours prior to the preliminary injunction, however plaintiff filed their motions on May 23, 2012 and the government was only served on June 5, 2012.
The government claims this service failed to meet the 48 hours of notice, the government was not properly served with the proper documentation until after the hearing into this matter was held on June 5, 2012.
The government appeals to the court that without proper notice a preliminary injunction cannot be issued. The government moves for the court to deny their request for a temporary stop order and preliminary injunction. The hearing for this matter is yet to be scheduled in the High Court.