Justia Hawaii Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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In a case regarding the timing of appeals, the Supreme Court of the State of Hawaii has clarified the interpretation of Hawaii Rules of Appellate Procedure (HRAP) Rule 4(a)(3). The case arose from a tax dispute between taxpayers Schuyler and Marilyn Cole and the City and County of Honolulu, leading to a consolidated appeal with other similar cases. In July 2017, the Tax Appeal Court granted summary judgment to the City, and the Taxpayers filed a motion for reconsideration. However, the court failed to rule on this motion within 90 days, and the court's clerk did not provide notice of automatic denial of the motion, as required by HRAP Rule 4(a)(3).The Supreme Court held that if the court clerk does not notify the parties within 5 days after the 90th day that a post-judgment motion has been automatically denied, the time to appeal starts either when the clerk provides notice to the parties or when the court enters a nullified order. The Court also held that judicial inaction cannot operate to foreclose a right to appeal. As a result, the Taxpayers' appeal clock started when the court issued its late order on the motion for reconsideration, and they filed their appeal within the 30-day window from that point, therefore the Intermediate Court of Appeals had jurisdiction over the appeal.The Supreme Court expressed concern about the potential for indefinite extension of the appeal deadline due to court and clerk oversight and suggested that the Standing Committee to Review the Hawaii Rules of Appellate Procedure may wish to consider proposing an amendment to HRAP Rule 4(a)(3). The case was remanded to the Intermediate Court of Appeals for further proceedings. View "Cole v. City and County of Honolulu" on Justia Law

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Christopher Wilson was charged with offenses related to carrying a firearm and ammunition in public without the appropriate license in Hawaii. In response, Wilson challenged the constitutionality of the relevant Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) § 134-25 (2011) (pistol or revolver) and § 134-27 (2011) (ammunition), arguing that these laws violated his rights under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and its equivalent in the Hawaii constitution, article I, section 17. The Circuit Court of the Second Circuit dismissed the charges, agreeing with Wilson's argument. The State appealed the dismissal.The Supreme Court of the State of Hawaii concluded that Wilson was only entitled to challenge the constitutionality of the laws he was charged with violating. As such, Wilson could challenge HRS § 134-25 and § 134-27, but not HRS § 134-9, which pertains to licenses to carry firearms and which Wilson had not attempted to comply with.The court found that the text, purpose, and historical tradition of the Hawaii Constitution do not support an individual right to carry firearms in public. The court reasoned that the language of article I, section 17, which mirrors the Second Amendment, ties the right to bear arms to the context of a well-regulated militia. It does not extend this right to non-militia purposes. The court also considered Hawaii's history of strict weapons regulation and the intent of Hawaii's framers.Based on these considerations, the court held that HRS § 134-25 and § 134-27 do not violate Wilson's right to keep and bear arms under article I, section 17 of the Hawaii Constitution and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The court vacated the lower court's dismissal order and remanded the case back to the Circuit Court of the Second Circuit. View "State v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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In the case before the Supreme Court of the State of Hawai‘i, the issue was whether a subrogee insurance company, which timely intervened pursuant to HRS § 386-8(b), has an independent right to continue to pursue claims and/or legal theories against a tortfeasor that were not asserted by the subrogor employee, after summary judgment has been granted against the subrogor employee, on the subrogor employee’s claims. This case involved Hyun Ju Park, a bartender who was shot by an off-duty Honolulu Police Department officer while at work. Park sued the City and County of Honolulu, alleging negligence and other claims. Dongbu Insurance Co., Ltd., the workers' compensation insurance carrier for Park's employer, intervened in the case, alleging additional negligence claims that Park had not raised. The City moved to dismiss all of Park’s claims and some of Dongbu's claims, which the court granted, leaving two of Dongbu's claims - negligent supervision and negligent training - remaining. The City then moved for summary judgment against Dongbu, arguing that since Park's claims were dismissed, Dongbu's claims also failed.The Supreme Court of Hawai‘i held that a subrogee insurance company, which timely intervened, does have an independent right to continue to pursue claims and/or legal theories against a tortfeasor that were not asserted by the subrogor employee, even after summary judgment has been granted against the subrogor. The court reasoned that an affirmative answer protects subrogation, aligns with Hawai‘i’s workers’ compensation subrogation law, and does not undermine employers’ and insurers’ intervention rights. The court also rejected the City's claim preclusion argument, stating that Dongbu's remaining claims for negligent supervision and negligent training had not yet been decided and were not barred by res judicata. Therefore, Dongbu may continue to pursue its non-dismissed claims. View "Park v. City and County of Honolulu" on Justia Law

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In a case before the Supreme Court of the State of Hawai'i, the court ruled on the suppression of text message evidence in a sexual assault prosecution. The defendant, Dylan River James, allegedly admitted to the sexual assault during a text conversation with the alleged victim, who was directed by the police to contact him. The lower court suppressed these text messages, agreeing with James' argument that his rights to self-incrimination and counsel were violated. The lower court reasoned that the alleged victim was acting as a government agent, and thus, James should have been given Miranda warnings.The Supreme Court of the State of Hawai'i vacated the lower courts' decisions. The court ruled that James was not in custody at the time of the text exchange, and thus, Miranda warnings were not required under either the federal or state constitutions. The court also ruled that James' right to counsel had not yet been attached, as adversarial judicial criminal proceedings had not yet been initiated.The court further held that the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) made an error in concluding that it did not have appellate jurisdiction over the lower court's order denying the State's motion for reconsideration. The Supreme Court stated that the State's right to appeal from an order granting a defendant’s motion to suppress includes a right to appeal from a related order denying the State’s motion for reconsideration. The case has been remanded to the lower court for further proceedings. View "State v. James" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between the City and County of Honolulu, acting through the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), and Victoria Ward, Limited, over the amount of just compensation to be paid for two acres of easements on property previously owned by Victoria Ward. The easements were obtained by HART for the construction of a fixed rail system and a proposed Kaka‘ako Station. The Supreme Court of the State of Hawai‘i ruled that the circuit court had erred in granting summary judgment on many of the issues in the case. The supreme court ruled that the circuit court had incorrectly used summary judgment to resolve disputed factual issues including whether Victoria Ward was estopped from seeking severance damages, whether Victoria Ward's claims relating to a "lost tower" were too speculative, and whether Victoria Ward was precluded from seeking severance damages for impacts to non-taken properties. The supreme court affirmed the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment on some issues, but vacated others and remanded the case back to the circuit court for further proceedings. The supreme court affirmed the circuit court's pause of the accrual of "blight of summons" interest during the pendency of the appeal. View "HART v. Ward " on Justia Law

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In a case before the Supreme Court of Hawaii, the defendant, Kumulipo Iwa Coyote Sylva, was charged with second-degree murder for killing Eduardo Alejandro Cerezo. Sylva admitted to the killing but asserted the affirmative defense of insanity. In a jury trial, three medical examiners testified regarding Sylva's mental state at the time of the killing. Two of the examiners opined that Sylva lacked capacity due to a mental disease, disorder, or defect, thus excluding criminal responsibility. However, parts of the testimony of one of these examiners were struck by the circuit court. Sylva was ultimately convicted of manslaughter based on extreme mental or emotional disturbance (EMED).The Supreme Court of Hawaii held that the circuit court erroneously struck parts of the examiner's testimony which should have been admitted to clarify his opinion under Hawai‘i Revised Statutes § 704-410(4). The court found that a reasonable juror could have believed the circuit court instructed them to disregard the examiner's entire answer explaining his opinion that Sylva lacked capacity under the legal standard for insanity. The error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because Sylva's insanity defense turned largely on the medical examiners’ testimonies. Therefore, the court vacated the circuit court’s judgment, conviction, and sentence, as well as the Intermediate Court of Appeal’s judgment on appeal, and remanded the case to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "State v. Silva " on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court of the State of Hawai'i affirmed the judgment of the Intermediate Court of Appeals upholding the conviction of Michael Pickell for operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant. The case centered around the legality of a traffic stop initiated by a Maui County police officer who observed Pickell executing a U-turn at a highway intersection with left turn only markings and signage but no signage explicitly prohibiting U-turns. Pickell argued that in the absence of an express sign prohibiting U-turns, as required by Hawai'i Revised Statutes (HRS) § 291C-82(c), the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to make the traffic stop. The court held that the Maui County ordinance, which requires drivers to follow the directional movements exhibited on markings and signage at intersections, was neither preempted by HRS § 291C-82(c) nor in conflict with it. Therefore, the officer had reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop based on a violation of the Maui County ordinance, and the motion to suppress evidence from the stop was properly denied. View "State v. Pickell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) reinstating the jury's verdict and judgment for Tiare Franco's family (the Francos) after granting Sabio Reinhardt's motion to set aside the jury verdict and judgment, holding that the ICA erred.The Francos brought a wrongful death lawsuit against Reinhardt for negligently crashing a truck and killing Tiare. National Interstate Insurance Company (NIIC), the truck's insurer, filed a declaratory judgment action claiming it had no duty to defend and indemnify Reinhardt under the policy. The circuit court granted summary judgment for NIIC, and the Francos successfully appealed. Before the ICA resolved the declaratory action appeal, the circuit court held a jury trial, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Francos. Counsel for Reinhardt moved to set aside the jury's verdict. The trial court granted the Francos' ensuing motion to disqualify counsel and Reinhardt's motion to set aside the jury verdict and judgment. The ICA reinstated the jury's verdict and judgment, holding that Reinhardt's counsel lacked authority to act as his lawyer. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's judgment and affirmed the circuit court's orders, holding that the circuit court correctly denied the Francos' motion to disqualify counsel and did not abuse its discretion by granting Reinhardt's motion to set aside. View "Franco v. Reinhardt" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that, under Hawai'i law, an insurer may not seek reimbursement from an insured for defending claims when an insurance policy contains no excess provision for retirement, and furthermore, a reservation of rights letter will not do.At issue was whether an insurer may seek equitable reimbursement from an insured for defense fees and costs when the relevant insurance policy contains not express provision for such reimbursement but the insurer agrees to defend the insured under a reservation of rights, including reimbursement of defense fees and costs. The Supreme Court answered the question in the negative, holding that an insurer may not recover defense costs for defended claims unless the insurance policy contains an express right to reimbursement. View "St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co. v. Bodell Construction Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the orders of the circuit court denying Defendants' motions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim in this action brought by the City and County of Honolulu and the Honolulu Board of Water Supply (collectively, Plaintiffs) against a number of oil and gas producers (collectively, Defendants), holding that there was no error.Plaintiffs sued Defendants alleging public nuisance, private nuisance, strict liability failure to warn, negligent failure to warn, and trespass. Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants engaged in a deceptive promotion campaign and misled the public about the dangers and environmental impact of using their fossil fuel products. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing, among other things, that Plaintiffs' claims were preempted by the Clean Air Act (CAA). The Supreme Court denied the motions, holding (1) Defendants were subject to specific jurisdiction in Hawai'i; (2) the CAA displaced federal common law governing interstate pollution damages suit, and following displacement, federal common law did and does not preempt state law; and (3) the CAA did not preempt Plaintiffs' claims. View "City & County of Honolulu v. Sunoco LP" on Justia Law