Court dismisses lawsuit against Samoa Land Corporation

The Court of Appeal has upheld Supreme Court Justice Leiataualesa Daryl Clarke’s decision dismissing the lawsuit against the Samoa Land Corporation by the Tokuma family.

The decision was delivered by Justice Harrison, Justice Fisher, Justice Tuatagaloa and Justice Leiataualesa on Thursday afternoon.

 “The appeal is dismissed,” the Court of Appeal ruled. 

“The appellants are ordered to pay the respondent costs of $5,000 together with reasonable disbursements.”

The Tokuma family has been fighting the Samoa Land Corporation, which has tried to evict them from land which they claim is their inheritance. 

The family was represented by Unasa Iuni Sapolu and Josephine Fuimaono - Sapolu while the respondent was represented by Tafailagi Peniamina.

According to the decision on the case, the family argued that by descent they are lawfully entitled to a large but unidentified block of land at Sogi, and that their forebears acquired the land many years ago from government officials. 

They brought a claim against the Samoa Land Corporation in the Supreme Court seeking various declarations, which would affirm their legal rights to the land and get an interim injunction preventing their relocation. 

Their claims were ultimately based on pleaded causes of action for unjust enrichment and proprietary estoppel by encouragement or acquiescence where Justice Leiataualesa Daryl Clarke dismissed their claim.

“The appellant appeals against the judgement, and they claim the judge erred in rejecting hearsay evidence tendered in support.”

 

DISCUSSION:

Ms. Fuimaono argued the judgment should be set aside because of the incompetence of the Tokuma’s trial counsel, Pa’u Mulitalo.

She relied on two sources, which were the passages from the judgement and affidavit evidence from family members, who depose to their availability to give relevant evidence and counsel’s unexplained omission to call them.

“Ms. Fuimaono relied on a long line of authorities in the criminal law for her submission that trial counsel’s performance was so incompetent that there was a real risk it may have affected the result of dismissal of the Tokuma’s claim.

“In combination she submitted that his failings prejudiced the Tokuma’s chances of a favorable judgement and caused a miscarriage of justice.”

The Appellate Court accepted that Mr. Mulitalo’s performance was grossly incompetent.

“However, the appeal ground of trial counsel incompetence is unique to the criminal law.

“The reason is that a defendant in a criminal proceeding is exposed to sanctions imposed by the state including conviction for an offense marking society’s condemnation of his or her conduct and a sentence which might interfere with his or her freedom.”

The Appellate Court says the appellant fell well short of satisfying some critical elements of proof.

They failed to provide the necessary factual foundation to support equitable claims of unjust enrichments or proprietary estoppel by encouragement or acquiescence.

“The Samoa Land Corporation’s superior rights of legal ownership of the land were always going to prevail.

“The company had not acted or omitted to act in any unconscionable way that might have benefitted it unfairly at the Tokuma’s expenses or comprised its legal entitlement as registered proprietor.

“Therefore we are not satisfied that the Judge erred.”

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