Justia Hawaii Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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In this case alleging violations of Hawaii's Sunshine Law, Haw. Rev. Stat. part of I of chapter 92, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Plaintiff's complaint against the Honolulu Police Commission and the City and County of Honolulu (collectively, Defendants), holding that the circuit court erred in dismissing the complaint. This action arose from three closed meetings the Honolulu Police Commission held in January 2017 concerning then-Chief of Police Kealoha, who was the target of a federal criminal investigation. At the end of the third meeting, the Commission approved an agreement for Kealoha's retirement. Plaintiff brought six counts against Defendants, seeking declaratory rulings interpreting Hawaii's Sunshine Law and alleging violations of the Sunshine Law. Plaintiff also sought an order requiring Defendants to attend Sunshine Law training, releasing the minutes for the closed meetings, and invalidating the Commission's agreement with Kealoha. Plaintiff did not join Kealoha as a party to the action. The circuit court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court resolved questions regarding the Sunshine Law on appeal and remanded Plaintiff's claims regarding alleged violations of the Sunshine Law with instructions to order that Kealoha be made a party. View "Civil Beat Law Center for Public Interest, Inc. v. City & County of Honolulu" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the decision and order of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving an amended power purchase agreement (PPA) between Hawai'i Electric Light Company, Inc. (HELCO) and Hu Honua Bioenergy, LLC, pursuant to which Hu Honua would construct and operate a biomass-field energy production facility and HELCO would purchase energy from the facility, holding that the PUC failed explicitly to consider greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in determining whether to approve the amended PPA and denied Life of the Land due process during the underlying proceedings. LOL, an environmental nonprofit organization, sought to intervene as a party in the PUC's proceeding in order to address the environmental impacts of the proposed facility. The PUC granted LOL limited participation in the proceeding and then approved the amended PPA. The Supreme Court vacated the PUC's order, holding (1) this Court has jurisdiction to consider LOL's appeal; (2) the PUC erred by failing explicitly to consider the reduction of GHG emissions in approving the amended PPA, as required by statute; and (3) the PUC denied LOL due process to protect its interest in a clean and healthful environment by restricting its participation in the proceeding. View "In re Application of Hawai'i Electric Light Co." on Justia Law

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In this water use case, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the State of Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management (Commission) concluding that Appellants waived the right to proceed on the contested case, holding that the Commission’s finding that Appellants waived the right to continue the case was not clearly erroneous or wrong. More than a decade ago, the Supreme Court vacated the issuance of two water use permits and remanded the matter to the Commission. On remand, the parties claiming to be the applicant’s successors in interest submitted a letter to the Commission stating that they did not have the financial resources to continue to pursue the case. Years later, Appellants filed a new water use application. The Commission treated the application as a continuation of the remanded case and then concluded that the letter constituted a waiver of Appellants’ right to continue the original proceedings. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission did not err in finding that Appellants expressly waived their right to proceed with the contested case by their letter. View "In re Contested Case Hearing on the Water Use Permit Application Originally Filed by Kukui, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) authorizing issuance of a Conservation District Use permit (CDUP) for a Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) near the summit of Mauna Kea, holding that the BLNR property applied the law in analyzing whether the permit should be issued for the TMT. Appellants, Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, argued that Mauna Kea, as a sacred manifestation of their ancestors, was desecrated by development of astronomy facilities near its summit. The BLNR authorized issuance of the CDUP of the TMT after Third Circuit judge Riki May Amano conducted a contested case hearing over forty-four days. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the BLNR did not err by refusing to disqualify Amano as the hearing officer, and certain Deputy Attorneys General; (2) the TMT project does not violate religious exercise rights of Native Hawaiians protected by federal statutes; (3) the TMT project does not violate public trust principles, and the conditions of Hawai’i Administrative Rules 13-5-30(c) for issuance of a CDUP were satisfied; and (4) the proceeding was legitimate. View "In re Contested Case Hearing re Conservation District Use Application" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) was not required to hold a contested case hearing prior to consenting to a sublease that the University of Hawai’i intended to enter into with TMT International Observatory LLC for the construction of a thirty meter telescope on the Mauna Kea Science Reserve. E. Kalani Flores requested that BLNR hold a contested case hearing prior to consenting to the sublease. BLNR denied the request and consented to the sublease. The environmental court ruled that BLNR infringed upon Flores’s constitutional rights by rejecting his request for a contested case hearing. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that a contested case hearing was not required by statute, administrative rule, or due process under the circumstances of this case. View "Flores v. Board of Land & Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) did not err in ruling that an injury suffered by Plaintiff that arose while she worked as a Public Health Educator IV for the State Department of Health (DOH) resulted from an “accident occurring while in the actual performance of duty at some definite time and place” and was therefore a covered injury under Haw. Rev. Stat. 88-336. Section 88-336 provides service-connected disability retirement benefits under the Employees’ Retirement System’s (ERS) Hybrid Plan to Class H public officers and employees, such as Petitioner. Petitioner submitted an application for service-connected disability retirement in connection with permanent incapacitating injuries she suffered to her elbow, arm, and hand. A hearing officer concluded that Petitioner’s excessive keyboarding over a period of time did not constitute an “accident” because it did not occur at a “specific time and place.” The ERS denied Petitioner’s application. The circuit court affirmed. The ICA vacated the circuit court’s decision and remanded to the circuit court with directions to vacate the ERS Board’s denial of disability retirement to Petitioner. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner’s injury occurred “while in the actual performance of duty at some definite time and place.” View "Pasco v. Board of Trustees of the Employees’ Retirement System" on Justia Law

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Hawaii’s use tax, Haw. Rev. Stat. 238-2, does not violate the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution notwithstanding that the 2004 amendment to the statute eliminated the application of the tax to in-state unlicensed sellers. CompUSA Stores, L.P. filed claims for refund of its 2006, 2007, and 2008 use tax payments. The Department of Taxation (Department) denied the request. CompUSA appealed, arguing that the tax discriminates against out-of-state commerce, cannot be justified by a legitimate local purpose, and thus violates the Commerce Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. The Tax Appeals Court granted the Department’s motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the current version of the use statute establishes a classification between in-state and out-of-state sellers; but (2) the statute satisfies rational basis review because the classification of out-of-state sellers bears a rational relationship to the legitimate state interest of leveling the economic playing field for local businesses subject to the general excise tax. View "CompUSA Stores, L.P. v. State" on Justia Law

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The circuit court erred by engaging in a comprehensive inquiry into the amount the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) actually needed for its administrative and operating expenses. In the first appeal in this case, the Supreme Court held that the political question doctrine did not bar a judicial interpretation of the meaning of “sufficient sums” for the DHHL administrative and operating expense, pursuant to Haw. Const. art. XII, 1. On remand, the circuit court concluded that DHHL’s actual need for its administrative and operating expenses was more than $28 million and that the legislature was constitutionally obligated to make such an appropriation to DHHL for fiscal year 2015-16. The court also enjoined the State and its director of finance from violating the constitution or breaching their fiduciary duties to Hawaiian Homelands trust beneficiaries. The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court’s final judgment and underlying orders, holding that the circuit court exceeded this court’s mandate in Nelson I when it determined the amount DHHL actually needed for its administrative and operating expenses. View "Nelson v. Hawaiian Homes Commission" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether Sierra Club’s concern regarding the “public health and visibility impacts of burning coal” rose to the level of property within the meaning of the due process clause and whether the protections of the due process clause apply to the right to a clean and healthful environment. This case involved a power purchase agreement between Maui Electric Co., an electric utility company, and Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S), a producer of electricity. Maui Electric filed an application with the Public Utilities Commission seeking approval of the agreement, under which Maui Electric would continue to purchase energy generated at HC&S’s facility located in Pu’unene, Maui. Sierra Club filed a motion to intervene, arguing that the Pu’unene plant relied too heavily on coal to meet its power obligations. The Commission denied the motion to intervene and then granted the application to approve the agreement. Sierra Club appealed. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) dismissed the appeal, concluding that no appellate jurisdiction existed over the appeal. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA’s judgment, holding that a due process hearing was required to protect the asserted property right to a clean and healthful environment guaranteed by the article XI, section 9 of the Hawai’i Constitution and defined by Haw. Rev. Stat. 269. View "In re Application of Maui Electric Co., Limited" on Justia Law

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In this case raising two questions concerning Hawaii law of workers’ compensation as it relates to permanent partial disability (PPD) awards, the Supreme Court held (1) a PPD award for an unscheduled injury that is not comparable to a scheduled injury must be supported by some factual finding of a determinate percentage of impairment of a physical or mental function of the whole person; and (2) a PPD determination may be based on a claimant’s post-injury inability to perform the usual and customary work activities in the position the claimant occupied prior to the injury. In the instant case, the Labor and Industrial Relations Appeals Board (LIRAB) awarded Employee $250 in PPD benefits. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) vacated LIRAB’s ruling and remanded for a determination of whether Employee had suffered a permanent impairment and, if so, the percentage of the impairment and the award of PPD benefits based on that percentage. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated the Board’s $250 lump sum award and remanded to LIRAB for it to determine the relevant percentage of Employee’s impairment, as well as an award of PPD benefits based on that percentage. View "Ihara v. State" on Justia Law