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Court delivers decision on 1950s land dispute

The Supreme Court has delivered its decision over a dispute that dates back to the 1950s, over an "oral agreement" to purchase a piece of land at Taufusi in 1956.

The plaintiff is the Public Trustee as Trustees of the estate of Aiono Robert Aiono of Vaiala and Fasitoo-uta and former Trustee of the Estate of late Nora Aiono, of Vaiala.

Mrs. Nora Aiono died in 1984.

The defendant is Nu’umoe Duffy of Taufusi, who passed away before the hearing of the matter was finished. Mrs. Duffy is the registered owner as tenant in common in equal shares with her brother, Tuifono Ah Yen, of the piece of land in question at Taufusi.

The documentary evidence of the case shows that it was agreed between Mrs. Duffy and her brother Tuifono that she was to have the eastern half of the land and her brother the western half.

Despite efforts by Mr. Reginald Phillips, one of the solicitors in Apia at the time, to have the land partitioned in equal shares between Mrs. Duffy and Tuifono. But the land in question was never partitioned.

At the heart of the dispute, is whether Mrs. Aiono paid 600 pounds to Mrs. Duffy as the purchase price of the land back in 1956. The second issue is whether there was an oral contract, whereby Mrs. Duffy agreed to sell her share of the land to Mrs. Aiono, and if so should an order of specific performance be made to enforce that oral contract.  

Former Chief Justice His Honour Patu Tiava’asue Falefatu Sapolu delivered his ruling into the civil matter in May. He apologised for the lengthy time it had taken him to deliver his judgment.

In his decision, Justice Patu said the first issue was whether Mrs. Aiono paid 600 pounds to Mrs. Duffy. He ruled in favour of the plaintiff. He also ordered to execute a transfer of the parcel in question to her.  

The background of the case began in an event that took place in 1955. It was alleged by the plaintiff that in 1955 or 1956, Mrs. Duffy entered into an oral agreement to sell her interest in the land to Mrs. Aiono for 600 pounds, as the purchase price of the land.

However, this was denied by Mrs. Duffy in her evidence, who said she never received any money from Mrs. Aiono. She alleged the plaintiff’s action is for specific performance of the alleged oral agreement, relying on the doctrine of part performance.  

"After careful consideration of the evidence, I have decided to accept the evidence of the plaintiff’s witness, Taito, that in 1955 the defendant came to their home at Vaiala and conversed with his mother,” said Justice Patu.

Taito Roy Aiono is the son of the late Mrs. Aiono.

“He was then called by his mother to come and count the cash of £600 being the purchase price for the land. His mother and the defendant then left to see Mr Phillips.

“I disbelieve the defendant’s denial of Taito’s evidence and what she said that she never received any money from such a sale.”

Justice Patu said it is clear from the evidence that in 1952 and 1953, Mrs. Duffy was in a frame of mind to sell her share of the land.  

“Whether the defendant was genuine about selling her share of the land to Mr Rasmussen in 1952 and then to the Hagedorns in 1953 is immaterial,” said Justice Patu. “Her actions manifested a desire to sell her land.

“So when the defendant went to see Mrs Aiono in 1955 and £600 was counted by the witness Taito in her presence as the price of the land, the defendant had already manifested a desire to sell her land.  

“In fact, the land would have been sold in 1952 or 1953 if the defendant’s brother Tuifono had agreed to sign the papers sent to him in New Zealand. But he refused to sign.”

Furthermore, the Court ruled that the evidence was overwhelmingly in support of what Taito said, that Mrs. Duffy came to their family at Vaiala and he counted the cash of 600 pounds in the presence of his mother.

“In respect of the evidence of the defendant, I regret to say that I did not find her evidence credible,” said Justice Patu.

“She said that she at no time entered into any agreement of sale and purchase with Mrs Aiono and she never received any money for such a sale.  

“This is totally inconsistent with the evidence for the plaintiff, which shows that she had entered into an agreement for sale and purchase to sell her land to Mrs. Aiono for £600. It is also so inconsistent with the evidence for the plaintiff, which shows that Mrs. Aiono and her family had been in actual occupation of the land since the late 1950s, up to the time of the hearing to the exclusion of the defendant who had never brought any action to evict Mrs. Aiono or her family.

“Even though the defendant said she asked Mr. Jackson to evict Mrs Aiono and her family from the land, there is no evidence that Mr. Jackson ever took any action to evict Mrs. Aiono or her family.

“I therefore cannot believe that the defendant instructed Mr. Jackson to evict Mrs. Aiono and her family from the land.”

Mr. Jackson was a solicitor for Mrs. Duffy at the time.

In addition, Justice Patu said Mrs. Aiono and her family have also for many years had many tenants on the land paying rent to her, without interference from Mrs. Duffy except for one isolated occasion.

The occasion was when a tenant by the name Fesuiai was told by Mrs. Duffy to leave the land.

However, when Fesuiai contacted Mrs. Aiono about it, she was told by Mrs. Aiono to remain on the land and they had continued to live on the land up until the hearing of the case.

Justice Patu said in a claim for specific performance, the plaintiff must prove the evidence of the contract, that there is compliance with the Contracts Enforcement Act 1956. He added that the order for specific performance sought by the plaintiff is the proper remedy in the case.

“For the foregoing reasons, specific performance is granted against the defendant or the administrator of her estate as she has passed away, and against Tuifono or the administrator of his estate if he has passed away — to execute the appropriate deed to partition the land into parcels 501 and 502 — as the land has already been subdivided,” ruled Justice Patu.

“The defendant or the administrator of her estate is then ordered to execute a transfer of parcel 502 to Mrs. Aiono or the administrator of her estate.”

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