Court of Appeal rules in lawsuit against Samoa Observer
The Court of Appeal has delivered its decision in an appeal brought by the Samoa Observer against a 2019 Supreme Court decision by Justice Mata Tuatagaloa against the newspaper.
The Samoa Observer has succeeded in two of three grounds it appealed. The decision in question was Justice Tuatagaloa's ruling in a lawsuit brought by Reverend Opapo Soanai Oeti and his daughter, Toaipuapuaga Patrick, against the newspaper for a letter to the editor it had printed.
Dated 30th August 2019, Justice Tuatagaloa’s decision found that “certain statement or words” in a letter to the editor published by the Samoa Observer in relation to the complainants, were “defamatory.” She dismissed the newspaper’s affirmative defence of fair comment.
However, in the Court of Appeal presided by Justice Sir Peter Blanchard, Justice Rhy Harrison and Justice Vui Clarence Nelson they concluded that “the appeal is allowed in part”.
The Court of Appeal stated that findings in two paragraphs of the letter in question are set aside.
“The proceeding is remitted to the Supreme Court to enter judgment on liability for Reverend Oeti and Ms. Patrick in terms of this judgment and to fix damages and costs,” the judgment states.
The Samoa Observer was represented by lawyers, Su'a Hellene Wallwork and Travis Lamb, of Lamb & Wallwork Lawyers.
Representing Reverend Opapo and his daughter was lawyer, Muriel Lui.
The letter in the middle of the dispute was an online comment, in response to a story titled “Church stigmata row deepens.” It was titled “Stop this madness” written by pseudonym M.R. and printed in the Samoa Observer’s edition of 29 March 2017.
At the time of publication, Rev. Opapo's daughter claimed she was carrying the marks of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, also commonly referred to as the stigmata.
In the lawsuit, Rev. Opapo and his daughter had asked for general damages of $400,000, aggravated damages of $200,000, punitive damages of $100,000 and costs.