Justia Hawaii Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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In this foreclosure dispute, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming the circuit court's determination of lien priority between the Villages of Kapolei Association's (Association) lien and the Hawai'i Housing Finance and Development Corporation's (HHFDC) competing lien and the valuation of HHFDC's senior lien, holding that the ICA did not err. Specifically, the Court held (1) the ICA did not err by affirming the circuit court's alleged retroactive application of Haw. Rev. Stat. 201H-47 to rule that the HHFDC's lien was senior and superior to the Association's liens; (2) the ICA did not err in determining the appraisal process applied; and (3) the ICA did not err by holding that HHFDC had standing to enforce a shared appreciation or equity agreement between another party and HHFDC's predecessor in interest. View "American Savings Bank, F.S.B. v. Chan" on Justia Law

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In this taxation dispute between the County of Maui and Appellees, which leased land on the island of Maui to operate their wind farms, the Supreme Court upheld the Tax Appeals Court's (TAC) final judgment in favor of Appellees, holding that the TAC properly held that the County exceeded its constitutional authority by amending Maui County Code 3.48.005 to expand its definition of "real property" to include "personal property." The County included the value of Appellees' wind turbine in their real property tax assessments and redefined the term "real property" within section 3.48.005 of the MCC to include wind turbines for that purpose. The TAC concluded that the County exceeded its authority under Haw. Const. art. VIII, 3 because the delegates to the 1978 Constitutional Convention did not intend to grant counties the power to redefine "real property." The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the County exceeded its constitutional power when it amended MCC 6.48.005 to redefine "real property." View "In re Tax Appeal of Kaheawa Wind Power, LLC v. County of Maui" on Justia Law

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In this foreclosure case, the Supreme Court held that the circuit court's award of a forfeited down payment as damages to the Association of the Owners of the Kumulani of the Uplands at Mauna Kea, creditors in the judicial foreclosure action, was an abuse of discretion. In response to a pair of post-judgment motions, the circuit court entered two orders. The first order found OneWest Bank, F.S.B., the foreclosing mortgagee and winning bidder at the foreclosure auction, liable for damages in an amount equal to its down payment for failure to close the foreclosure sale. The second order awarded the down payment as expectation damages to the association, a junior lienholder. On appeal, OneWest challenged the circuit court's jurisdiction to assess damages against OneWest and award them to the association. The Supreme Court held that because, pursuant to Haw. Rev. Stat. 667-3, creditors in a judicial foreclosure action are entitled to payment according to the priority of their liens, the circuit court erred by awarding damages to the Association rather than by applying the down payment amount to reduce the debt owed to OneWest. View "OneWest Bank, F.S.B. v. Ass'n of the Owners of the Kumulani at the Uplands at Mauna Kea" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's conviction on the charge of assault in the third degree, holding that the deputy prosecuting attorney's elicitation of evidence regarding Child Welfare Services' involvement in violation of a defense motion in limine was improper and not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Defendant was charged with assault in the second degree against his minor son. A jury found Defendant guilty of the lesser included offense of assault in the third degree. On appeal, Defendant argued that the family court plainly erred by failing to strike certain improper opening statements made by the deputy prosecuting attorney and by admitting certain x-rays into evidence without the necessary foundation. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court set aside the conviction, holding (1) the prosecutor improperly elicited evidence, and the error affected Defendant's substantial rights and was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) there was insufficient foundation for admission of the contested x-rays into evidence; and (3) the conviction of assault in the third degree was supported by substantial evidence. View "State v. Williams" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's conviction of kidnapping, holding that the circuit court erred in failing to instruct the jury that the "restraint" required to support a kidnapping conviction under Haw. Rev. Stat. 707-720(1)(d) is restraint in excess of any restraint incidental to the infliction or intended infliction of bodily injury or subjection or intended subjection of a person to a sexual offense. Defendant was charged with one count of kidnapping and one count of third degree assault in connection with a single incident. The third degree assault count was dismissed before trial, and, after a trial, Defendant was found guilty on the kidnapping count. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction, holding that the circuit court plainly erred in not instructing the jury that Defendant's restraint of the complaining witness had to be restraint in excess of restraint incidental to any intended infliction of bodily injury or a sexual offense upon the complaining witness. View "State v. Sheffield" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) in this litigation concerning a dispute arising from a 1999 contract regarding the sale of approximately twenty-three acres of land in Honualua Maui, holding the the ICA erred by holding that Wailea Resort Company was clearly entitled to certain funds but otherwise did not err. The parties in this consolidated appeal were Michael Szymanski, Wailea, and ADOA-Shinwa Development and Shinwa Golf Hawai'i Company (collectively, Shinwa). Szymanski filed this application seeking a writ of certiorari raising seven questions. The Supreme Court held (1) the questions relating to the disqualification of the Honorable Rhonda I.L. Loo were without merit; (2) the ICA did not err in its application of the law of the case doctrine to the issue of whether the ICA gravely erred when it declined to review whether the Honorable Peter T. Cahill's 2015 order entering final judgment improperly dismissed with prejudice Szymanski's third-party complaint against Shinwa; and (3) the ICA erred by holding that Wailea was clearly entitled to certain funds and by affirming the circuit court's disbursal of funds. View "Title Guaranty Escrow Services, Inc. v. Wailea Resort Co., Ltd." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court overruled State v. Hamili, 952 P.2d 390 (1998), which held that prohibited fishing with gill nets was a nonprobationable offense, holding that the underlying offenses at issue in this case were probationable, and therefore, Hamili is overruled. Defendant entered into a plea agreement whereby he agreed to plead guilty or no contest to hunting hours (count III) and artificial light prohibited (count IV), both petty misdemeanors. Defendant filed a motion for a deferred acceptance of no contest (DANC) plea requesting that the circuit court defer acceptance of his no contest pleas pursuant to Haw. Rev. Stat. Chapter 853. The circuit court denied Defendant's motion for a DANC plea. Defendant was subsequently convicted of count III and count IV. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed, concluding that Defendant was ineligible for a DANC plea under Haw. Rev. Stat. 853-4(a)(5) because the offenses to which he pled no contest were nonprobationable. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's judgment on appeal and Defendant's conviction and sentence, holding that the district court erred in denying Defendant's motion for a DANC plea. View "State v. Medeiros" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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At issue was whether Defendant could be convicted of homicide if the victim's death was the immediate result of the victim's family's choice to withdraw medical care. The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's conviction of manslaughter and remanded the case for a new trial, holding that the circuit court committed plain error by failing to instruct the jury on causation and culpability pursuant to Haw. Rev. Stat. 702-215 and 207-216. After Defendant severely beat the victim, the victim was comatose for more than a week. Twelve days later, the victim was removed from life support and declared dead. A jury found Defendant guilty of manslaughter. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Haw. Rev. Stat. 327E-13(b), a provision in the Uniform Health-Care Decisions Act, which prohibits designated as a homicide any "[d]eath resulting from the withholding or withdrawal of health care" under the Act, did not shield Defendant from conviction; and (2) the jury should have been given instructions on causation pursuant to sections 702-215 and 702-216, which would have enabled the jury to consider whether the intervening volitional conduct of the medical team and family interrupted the chain of causation between Defendant's actions and the victim's death such that it would be unjust to convict Defendant of homicide. View "State v. Abella" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's conviction of attempted murder in the second degree arising from the stabbing of Defendant's friend, holding that the jury's discovery of "stains" during an improper examination of Defendant's clothing to search for evidence of blood during deliberations was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. During deliberations, the jurors requested scissors to cut open the packaging containing Defendant's clothing, and three of the jurors examined the clothing for blood. The jurors found small spots on the inside of the pants and determined that the spots must be blood. The stains had not been introduced as evidence during trial. The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's conviction, holding that the jurors' discovery of the stains constituted an outside influence that may have tainted the jury's impartiality, and the jury's exposure to the stains was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "State v. Pitts" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming Defendant's conviction and sentence, holding that the deputy prosecuting attorney (DPA) improperly referenced a pathologist's testimony as a defense expert in two of the most well-publicized murder trials in Hawai'i within the last decade, which affected Defendant's substantial right to a fair trial. Defendant was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to twenty years of incarceration. On appeal, Defendant challenged the DPA's cross-examination of James Navin, N.D., who had testified in the murder trials involving Kirk Lankford and Matthew Higa, and closing arguments about that testimony. The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's judgment on appeal and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that the DPA committed misconduct in referencing Navin's testimony, and the error deprived Defendant of her right to a fair trial. View "State v. Udo" on Justia Law