“The Public Trustee prolonged refusal to obey lawful orders of the Supreme Court was discreditable, and their justification had no legal foundation. Their appeal was misconceived.” – Court of Appeal.
APIA, SAMOA – 20 AUGUST 2020: For over 10 years, The Public Trustee continued to disobey a Supreme Court order to transfer 8 acres of land at Vailima to siblings Filipo and Elisapeta.
The order was made by the former Chief Justice Patu Tiavaasu’e Falefatu Sapolu in 2010 after a hearing the Public Trustee’s application to evict the siblings from the land.
The Supreme Court dismissed the application and the siblings were granted a counterclaim for an order for possessory title by way of adverse possession.
“The 12 year limitation period for bringing a claim for recovery of the land ran from the date when the title was transferred to (sisters) Ana and Agnes on 3 August 1956 and as a result, Ana and Agnes legal ownership of the land was adversely disposed by the siblings from 3 August 1968,” said part of Patu’s decision.
The Public Trustee was also ordered to convey the land to the siblings within 30 days and to pay a cost of $14,000.
“Nothing happened and after 10 years, the siblings in April 2017 applied to the Supreme Court for an order for examination of the Public Trustee for their continuous failure to comply with the 2010 transfer order.”
That 2010 order was reinforced by Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren after another hearing.
Tafaoimalo directed the Public Trustee to transfer the lands to the siblings within 60 days and to bear all costs of transfer, but the Public Trustee appealed Tafaoimalo’s ruling.
The Court of Appeal last week upheld the 2010 order and the Public Trustee was ordered to pay costs of $5000 and all reasonable disbursements to the siblings.
“The Public Trustee prolonged refusal to obey lawful orders of the Supreme Court was discreditable, and their justification had no legal foundation. Their appeal was misconceived,” stated the Court of Appeal.
Background to argument
The land’s original owner was Clement Felix Solia who invited the siblings’ parents to live with him on the land in 1938 and the siblings were both born on this land in 1945 and 1950 and remained on the land ever since.
Solia died in 1955 and was survived by his two daughters Ana and Agnes. The Public Trustee was appointed trustee of Solia’s estate which was later transferred to his daughters as tenants in common in equal shares.
Solia’s daughters both passed on and again the Public Trustee was appointed this time as Administrator of the estate.
Public Trustee after fees owed before execution of order
The Public Trustee’s refusal to obey the 2010 orders to transfer the land to the siblings was basically due to fees of $110,359.65 owed for their commission and administration costs on the estate of Ana and Agnes.
Counsel for the Public Trustee Patrick Fepuleai pointed out to the Court of Appeal that his client is entitled to payment of his outstanding fees before complying with the 2010 order.
Counsel for the siblings, Sarona Ponifasio pointed out that the Public Trustee statutory right to claim for his charges is limited to the property of the deceased person (Solia) whose estate they are administering.
Fepuleai then informed the Court of Appeal that his client has a signed copy of the transfer of the land for registration on agreement that part of the land is mortgaged back to the Public Trustee as security for costs pending.
“In our view, the transfer should be registered and the mortgage discharged immediately so that Filipo and Elisapeta acquire title free of any encumbrance to the Public Trustee,” stated the Court of Appeal.
The appeal was dismissed and the Public Trustee ordered to pay immediately the 2010 costs awarded to the siblings together with the costs of the appeal.