Justia Hawaii Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction for violating a protective order for coming within 100 feet of the complainant while at his place of work, holding that Defendant's place of work was not a "neutral location" under the terms of the protective order. The order for protection at issue prohibited Defendant from coming within 100 feet of the protected party at a "neutral location." Defendant was convicted of violating the order of protection after he encountered the protected party on the steps of the Fifth Circuit courthouse, where he worked as a documents clerk. On appeal, Defendant argued that the courthouse was not a "neutral place" because it was his place of employment. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the order for protection is ambiguous and must therefore be construed in favor of Defendant; (2) in accordance with the rule of lenity, a "neutral location" is a place that is unaffiliated with either party; and (3) because Defendant's workplace was not a neutral location Defendant did not violate the order for protection. View "State v. Bright" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court vacated the intermediate court of appeals' judgment on appeal (ICA) inasmuch as the opinion implicitly affirmed the circuit court's calculation at resentencing of Defendant's credit for time served under his 2001 sentence without accurately applying Haw. Rev. Stat. 706-671(2), holding that Defendant's 2017 resentencing failed to give him full credit for time he served on his 2001 sentence. In 2001, Defendant was convicted and sentenced for seven counts of sexual assault in the first degree and other offenses. Defendant later filed a habeas corpus petition, which the federal district court granted. The court vacated Defendant's 2001 sentence and remanded for resentencing, holding that the 2001 sentence violated Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000). In 2017, Defendant was resentenced. On appeal, Defendant argued that the circuit court erred in calculating his credit for time served. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the circuit court erred in calculating Defendant's credit for time served. View "State v. Thompson " on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) remanding Defendant's criminal case to the circuit court, holding that it was within the circuit court's discretion to dismiss the drug charge against Defendant as de minimis. Defendant was charged with criminal trespass onto state lands and promotion of a dangerous drug in the third degree. Defendant moved to dismiss his drug charge as de minimis pursuant to Haw. Rev. Stat. 702-236. The circuit court granted the motion, concluding that attendant circumstances weighed in favor of dismissal. In addition, the circuit court determined that criminal trespass onto state lands was not a property crime and accordingly did not constitute a "harm" or "evil" with which the drug statute was concerned. The ICA remanded the case. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) it was within he circuit court's discretion to dismiss the charge against Defendant as de minimis; (2) while there were errors of fact in the circuit court's order dismissing the charge, those errors were harmless; and (3) while criminal trespass onto state lands is a property crime, it is not the type of property crime that motivated the legislature to criminalize possession of any amount of a dangerous drug. View "State v. Enos" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming Defendant's conviction for operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant, holding that Defendant's untimely filing of his application for writ of certiorari was due to ineffective assistance of counsel, and therefore, this Court may consider the merits of the issues raised in the application. Defendant sought and received an extension of time to file an application for a writ of certiorari. After the extended due date, Defendant filed his application for writ of certiorari. In his motion to accept the untimely application, Defendant argued that the Court should consider his application on the merits because the failure to file within the deadline resulted from either computer system error or his counsel's mistake. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) certiorari review is a critical stage of criminal proceedings in which a defendant has the constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel; (2) because defense counsel failed to ensure the timely filing of the certiorari application, Defendant was deprived of the constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel, and this Court may consider the merits of the issues raised in the certiorari application; and (3) the ICA did not err in affirming the district court's judgment. View "State v. Uchima" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's conviction and sentence for criminal property damage in the second degree, holding that the risk of unfair prejudice posed by the introduction of four prior incidents of aggressive and erratic behavior by Defendant directed at the complaining witnesses and their home substantially outweighed their limited probative value. Defendant was charged with criminal property damage in the second degree for damaging the complainants' vehicle. During trial, the trial court allowed, over Defendant's objections, the State to introduce evidence of the four prior incidents. The court further permitted the State to adduce evidence of the fear the complaining witnesses experienced experienced as a result of the prior incidents and the countermeasures they undertook in response to the incidents. Defendant was convicted. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the lower courts' judgments, holding (1) the circuit court abused its discretion in its application of Haw. R. Evid. 403; and (2) the court's error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "State v. Gallagher" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court held that the Land Use Commission of the State of Hawai'i erred in a 2017 by interpreting a condition of an administrative order issued almost thirty years earlier prohibiting a resort (Resort) from irrigating its golf course with "potable" water to mean that brackish water is per se "non-potable" but that the Commission did not err in determining that the Resort did not violate the condition under its plain meaning. In 1991, the Commission issued an order approving the Resort's petition seeking to effect district reclassification of a large tract of rural and agricultural land sort that the Resort could build an eighteen-hole golf course. The Commission approved the Resort's petition subject to the condition stating that the Resort was not allowed to use potable water to irrigate the golf course. In 2017, the Commission determined that the Resort's use of brackish water from two wells for golf course irrigation was allowable under the condition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Commission erred in interpreting the condition to mean that brackish water is per se non-potable; but (2) the Commission did not clearly err in concluding that the water from the two wells was non-potable under county water quality standards. View "Lana'ians for Sensible Growth v. Land Use Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the intermediate court of appeals' (ICA) judgment affirming the judgment of the circuit court in favor of Dr. Robert Mastroianni on Plaintiff's claim that Dr. Mastroianni's negligence was the cause of Robert Frey's death, holding that the circuit court erred in holding that Plaintiff failed as a matter of law to present sufficient evidence of causation to make out a claim. Among other things, the circuit court held that it had no jurisdiction over Plaintiff's "loss of chance" claim - a claim that Dr. Mastroianni's negligence caused Frey to lose a chance of recovery or survival - because the claim was not raised before the medical claim conciliation panel (MCCP). The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the lower courts' judgments, holding (1) while a "loss of chance" is not a separate compensable injury under Hawai'i law, it may be considered in determining legal causation; (2) Plaintiff asserted a medical negligence claim that met the requirements of the MCCP statute, and therefore, the circuit court had jurisdiction over Plaintiff's negligence claim, including its loss of chance arguments; and (3) the circuit court erred in granting judgment as a matter of law to Dr. Mastroianni. View "Estate of Frey v. Mastroianni" on Justia Law

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In this nuisance action, the Supreme Court vacated the circuit court's final judgments and the intermediate court of appeals' (ICA) judgment affirming in part, holding that the ICA erred by concluding that damages are not recoverable for common-law public nuisance actions absent a statute designating the activity as a public nuisance. Plaintiffs alleged that by allowing individuals to live in one of its storage units in violation of land use and public health laws Allied Storage property maintained a public nuisance and that Chung Partners, as a lesser/sub-lessor of the property, had a duty not to maintain the nuisance on the property. The circuit court granted Defendants' motions for summary judgment. The ICA affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs were foreclosed from recovering damages as a matter of law in the absence of a statutory duty. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the matter for further proceedings, holding that, as a matter of law, a claim for common-law public nuisance is cognizable when the plaintiff has suffered individualized harm. View "Haynes v. Haas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeal (ICA) and the Labor and Industrial Relations Appeals Board's (LIRAB) award of attorney's fees to Stanford Masui for his representation of Reginald Botelho in a workers' compensation case, holding that the ICA erred to the extent it held that Haw. Rev. Stat. 386-94 authorizes LIRAB to predetermine an attorney's hourly rate and erred in holding that LIRAB provided an adequate explanation for its reduction of Masui's requested attorney's fee. Masui submitted a request for attorney's fees requesting an hourly rate of $325. LIRAB approved the request but reduced Masui's hourly rate to $165. The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's judgment, holding (1) under section 386-94 LIRAB is not authorized to predetermine a workers' compensation attorney's authorized houry rate to be applied to that attorney's future cases; (2) the ICA did not err in interpreting section 386-94 as granting LIRAB discretion to vary the requesting attorney's hourly billing rate to arrive at an award of reasonable attorney's fees; and (3) the ICA erred in concluding that LIRAB provided an adequate explanation for its reduction of the requested attorney's fees, as required by McLaren v. Paradise Inn Hawai'i LLC, 321 P.3d 671 (2014). View "Botelho v. Atlas Recycling Center, LLC." on Justia Law

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In this divorce proceeding, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) concluding that Father's motion to amend findings of fact and conclusions of law and motion for new trial pursuant were untimely and concluding that the family court's orders denying Father's motion to amend and motion for new trial were void for lack of jurisdiction, holding that the family court did not abuse its discretion in denying Father's motions. The family court denied Father's motions to amend and for new trial the ICA determined that the family court's orders were void and that both motions were untimely. The ICA remanded with instructions for the family court to enter orders denying both motions on that basis. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the ICA erred in holding that Father's motion to amend and motion for new trial were untimely and in holding that the family court's orders denying the motions were void for lack of jurisdiction because the family court had jurisdiction to enter the orders. Further, the family court did not abuse its discretion in denying Father's motion to amend and motion for new trial. View "DL v. CL" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law