Satele files motion to dismiss Lopa lawsuit
The Land and Titles Court has given Fiti Sunia, attorney for Availopa “Lopa” Seti five days to respond in writing to the dismissal motion filed by Matailupe Leupolu, attorney for Paramount Chief Satele Galu Teutusi Satele.
The dismissal motion was made in response to a lawsuit filed by Lopa, seeking the High Court to order Satele to account for the $20,000 entrusted to his custody for the Western District Capital Improvements Fund (CIP) and allegedly spent by him, his wife Joyita and their son Galu Satele.
According to the lawsuit which Samoa News reported on in July, Lopa was banned from the Vailoa Village Council and then he filed a lawsuit. The 10-page lawsuit had six counts: Accounting, Negligent Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Conversion, Defamation, Civil Conspiracy and Declaratory Judgment.
In response, Satele filed a dismissal motion through his attorney pointing out the lawsuit filed had lack of subject matter jurisdiction and “no matter how the plaintiff tries to stretch this matter”, it remains clear that he does not allege sufficient facts to give the court subject matter jurisdiction.
“Just because the plaintiff (Lopa) alleges he was defamed … does not mean that the court has jurisdiction in this matter, because the allegations allege that the plaintiff is damaged for over $15,000.”
(Samoa News notes the above is a direct quote from the dismissal motion.)
The dismissal motion filed by Satele's attorney further states that in matters involving matai titles, that statute was always understood to refer to matai title successions or removal of matai titles. However, the defendants are not aware of any case in this court or this jurisdiction of a matai that was banished from his village who then filed an action in court to have the court determine his rights, as was done by the plaintiff in this case.
Therefore, this court has no subject matter to hear this case.
In summary, the motion asks “the court to dismiss this matter for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and … every allegation and count in the complaint fails to state a claim. Further, matters within any Village Council are best left to the village council to resolve. (E fofo lava e le alamea ia le alamea) and that is the place where the plaintiff should get some resolution of his claims, not the court.”
The dismissal motion explains the background of Lopa’s lawsuit, pointing to an alleged meeting of the Vailoatai Village Council, where the plaintiff made some derogatory comments against Satele regarding an article from Samoan News, which listed checks from the American Samoa Government (ASG) and specifically the CIP Funds designated for the Western District. These funds had come from a Retirement Fund Loan by ASG which (then) Governor Togiola had allocated to each of the three Districts $1 million per District.
It also states that Lopa also questioned the financial statement of the Vailoatai Village for when it traveled to Samoa to attend the Samoa Independence Day, despite it being discussed and explained by the committee that handled the said money, yet Lopa continued to question the spending.
Something Lopa said angered Satele, who then ousted and banished Lopa from the village, a decision the Village Council unanimously approved until such time that Lopa formally asks for forgiveness before the Village Council through the proper Samoan custom and traditions.
The motion says, “The customs of the Samoan people not in conflict with the laws of American Samoa or the laws of the United States concerning American Samoa shall be preserved. The village, county, and district councils consisting of the hereditary chiefs and talking chiefs shall retain their own form… of meeting together to discuss affairs of the village, county, or district according to their own Samoan customs.”
The lawsuit further quotes the Revised Constitution of American Samoa, Section 3: Policy Protective Legislation. “It shall be the policy of the Government of American Samoa to protect persons of Samoan ancestry against alienation of their lands and the destruction of the Samoan way of life and language, contrary to their best interests.”
In response to the counts filed in the lawsuit, the dismissal motion states as follows:
COUNT ONE: ACCOUNTING
Lopa has “absolutely no standing to demand an accounting” in his individual belief. Lopa alleges that the $1 million was from CIP Funds. “If any entity needs an accounting it should be the American Samoa Government (ASG) and the plaintiff is not an employee of ASG, nor an administrator of CIP Funds and therefore he absolutely fails to state a claim herein. He (Lopa) cannot demand accounting of the CIP Funds in his individual capacity because that would mean everyone in American Samoa would be entitled to an accounting.”
COUNT TWO: NEGLIGENT BREACH OF FIDUCIARY DUTY
Lopa alleges in Count Two of his complaint that Satele breached his fiduciary duty to protect the $20,000 given to the village, and for the same reason as articulated under Count One, the complaint fails to state a claim.
COUNT THREE: CONVERSION
Given the reasons stated under Counts 1 and 2, Lopa absolutely fails to state a claim. The conversion alleged in the complaint arose out of the village council meeting and to preserve and protect the fa’asamoa and/or the Samoan custom, culture and traditions, it is best to leave the village council and their decisions ‘as is’ and the court should stay out because such matters will resolve themselves under the fa’asamoa.
COUNT FOUR: DEFAMATION
The letters alleged by Lopa that defamed him were of the subject matter that happened in this April 23, 2013 meeting that banished him and therefore the plaintiff absolutely fails to state a claim.
COUNT FIVE: CIVIL CONSPIRACY
Lopa alleges that Satele conspired to implement his personal resolve to ban Lopa from the Council of Chiefs and Village of Vailoa. In reply, the motion points out that this April 23, 2013 meeting that banished Lopa from the village council was a Council Meeting, and as stated above, the fa’asamoa or Samoan culture must be preserved.
The plaintiff knows how to get reinstated to the Council because he is a “Fetalaiga a le Faletolu” and he should ask for forgiveness and humble himself before the village and Satele.
COUNT SIX: DECLARATORY JUDGEMENT
Count Six of the complaint asks the court for declaratory judgment to declare that Satele has no unilateral authority to oust Lopa from the Vailoatai Village Council.
“Again, that is a matter left to the village council and/or the chiefs of Vailoatai and Satele, and under the statute for declaratory relief, the plaintiff is not entitled to declaratory relief.”