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American Samoa utility wants parcel back

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Nov. 19, 2010) - The High Court has ruled in favor of the American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA), which is seeking to evict StarKist Samoa from its property in Satala, a property ASPA is hoping to utilize for rebuilding the new Satala Power plant, to replace the one destroyed following last year’s tsunami.

The 1.024 acre parcel of land was leased in March 2000 to StarKist and used by the cannery for a cold-storage facility. The lease was for nine years and the cannery had the option to renew the lease, provided StarKist notified ASPA in writing of its intent to renew at least 90 days before expiration of the initial lease term.

However, StarKist failed to give ASPA written notice to renew the lease, which expired Feb. 28, 2009 and ASPA made a demand for possession in writing and served the same on StarKist around Aug. 10, 2010, according to the court ruling, which also states that StarKist continues in possession of the premises.

Unable to remove StarKist from the premises, ASPA filed a petition with the High Court to evict the cannery. The matter went to trial on Nov. 9, where testimony was heard and evidence presented, including testimonies that StarKist has been making monthly lease payments since the lease expired and that StarKist has invested some $2 million in the facility.

When the term of the lease expired, ASPA was no longer bound by the terms of the expired lease, according to the Nov. 16 court ruling which also pointed out that the lease agreement between ASPA and StarKist is a lease between ASPA — in the name of the American Samoa Government — on the one part, and StarKist on the other part.

"As such, the agreement was a valid lease binding not only on the signatory parties, but the American Samoa Government as well; however, the term of the lease having expired, ASPA is no longer bound by the terms of the expired lease, including the mandatory arbitration clause in the lease that StarKist posits as depriving this court of subject matter jurisdiction," the judges say.

The demand for possession of the premises served on StarKist met requirements of local statute and StarKist continued possession of the premise without legal right, the ruling states.

In accordance with local statute, "ASPA is entitled to judgment for possession of the premises" and "ASPA is entitled to the issuance of a writ of possession restoring the premises unto ASPA," the judges point out.

Accordingly, judgment is entered in favor of ASPA and against StarKist, it says.

Pursuant to local law, "unless a motion for a new trial is sooner filed and an appeal is taken, a writ shall issue no earlier than 10 days from the date of entry of judgment herein, commanding an officer authorized to serve the process of this court, to cause ASPA to be restored and put in full possession of the premises," says the court order.

The four-page order was signed by Chief Justice Michael Kruse and associate judges Save Liuato A. Tuitele and Fa’asua P. Pomele. ASPA was represented by Marshall L. Ashley and StarKist by Jennifer L. Joneson.

There was no immediate reaction from StarKist Company headquarters on the impact the court decision will have on the company’s local operations.

Samoa News understands StarKist local officials have met with the governor to ask for help with this issue. However, it is not known if any assistance was offered to resolve the problem.

According to a fishery source, who wishes to remain anonymous, the StarKist cold storage facility is a key component to "loin processing" at the American Samoa StarKist cannery, and this eviction will definitely have an impact on its continued presence in the Territory.

It should be noted that the Fono, during its last session, called for the government (and governor) to do as much as possible to help StarKist stay in American Samoa

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