Justia Hawaii Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The Supreme Court held that the 2021 Hawai'i Reapportionment Commission (the Commission) discharged its obligations under Haw. Const. art. I, 6 and Haw. Rev. Stat. 25-2(b) in developing the 2021 Final Legislative Reapportionment Plan.Petitioners, voters in the state, argued that the plan violated article I, section 6 because it did not reflect that "representative districts shall be wholly included within senatorial districts" and violated Haw. Rev. Stat. 25-2(b)(5) by placing nine O'ahu legislative districts into both congressional districts. The Supreme Court held that the Commission satisfied its obligations under article IV, section 6 and section 25-2(b) by considering the constitutional and statutory district within district guidelines in developing the plan and did not abuse its discretion in adopting the plan. View "Hicks v. 2021 Hawai'i Reapportionment Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that, by and large, Hawai'i's public information law - the Uniform Information Practices Act (UIPA) - required the state Attorney General (AG) to release a report it issued in 2016 documenting deceptive practices, incompetence, and workplace bullying in the Office of the Auditor.After the state AG compiled a record of its investigation a reporter with the Honolulu Civil Beat, an investigative news organization, asked for the investigative reports pursuant to UIPA. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the state AG, concluding that the report was exempt from the UIPA. The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court's final judgment, holding that, regarding the vast majority of the report, the UIPA's presumption favoring disclosure was not overcome. View "Honolulu Civil Beat Inc. v. Department of the Attorney General" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the authority of the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) to issue revocable permits is subject to the environmental review requirements of the Hawai'i Environmental Policy Act (HEPA), Haw. Rev. Stat. ch. 343.At issue was the water rights for 33,000 acres of land in the Ko'olau Forest Reserve and Hanawi Natural Area Reserve. In 2000, the BLNR approved the issuance of four revocable water permits to Alexander & Baldwin, Inc. (A&B) and East Maui Irrigation Co., Ltd. (EMI). The BLNR subsequently continued the permits. Petitioners brought this action alleging that the renewal of the revocable permits required the preparation of an environmental assessment pursuant to the HEPA. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Petitioners, concluding that the continuation decision was not a HEPA action but that the revocable permits were invalid because they exceeded the BLNR's authority under Haw. Rev. Stat. 171-55. The Supreme Court remanded the case, holding (1) the revocable permits were not authorized under section 171-55; and (2) the circuit court erred in holding that there was no "action" within the meaning of Haw. Rev. Stat. 343-5(a) and that HEPA's environmental review process was thus inapplicable. View "Carmichael v. Board of Land & Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving a power purchase agreement (PPA) between Maui Electric Company, Limited (MECO) and Paeahu Solar LLC (Paeahu), holding that the PUC satisfied its public trust duties in this case.Under the PPA, MECO would purchase renewable energy from Paeahu's solar-plus-battery plant located within the Ulupalakua Ranch on Maui. Pono Power Coalition, a Maui community group, challenging the winning bidders' post-selection use of the same counsel to negotiate non-price PPA terms and asserting that the PUC failed to fulfill its public trust duties. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) this Court declines to inject antitrust standards into PPA approval proceedings; (2) the PUC appropriately evaluated the allegations of anticompetitive conduct; (3) the statutes governing the PUC's PPA review reflect the core public trust principles; and (4) the PUC properly approved the PPA. View "In re Maui Electric Company, Ltd." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) did not abuse its discretion in deciding not to reopen a December 2014 order (Order No. 32600) upon allegations raised in 2019 that changed circumstances warranted relief from the order.The order at issue approved a purchase power agreement (PPA) in which Hawaiian Electric Company agreed to purchase wind energy generated by Na Pua Makani on a wind farm to be constructed on the island of O'ahu. Life of the Land (LOL) sought to reopen the order with reference to Hawai'i Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 60(b). The PUC denied LOL's motion for relief, concluding that it was without jurisdiction to consider the motion because LOL had not timely appealed the order under Haw. Rev. Stat. 269-15.5 and, alternatively, that the motion for relief was an untimely motion for rehearing or reconsideration. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the PUC did not abuse its discretion in declining to turn to HRCP Rule 60(b) to reopen Order No. 32600. View "In re Application of Hawaiian Electric Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) vacating the circuit court's judgment affirming the decisions of the Maui Planning Commission approving an application for a special management area (SMA) use permit to build affordable housing and denying a petition to intervene in the SMA use permit application proceedings, holding that further proceedings were necessary.The SMA use permit was sought by Stanford Carr Development, LLC's (Carr), which sought to build affordable housing within the County of Maui's SMA. The Protect and Preserve Kahoma Ahupua'a Association (PPKAA) filed a petition to intervene in the proceedings. The Commission denied PPKAA's petition on the grounds that PPKAA failed to demonstrate that its interests were different from those of the general public and then approved the SMA use permit application. The ICA vacated the judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) PPKAA had standing to intervene as a matter of right and was denied procedural due process to protect its constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment; and (2) the Commission was required to make findings on the project's consistency with the general and community plans pursuant to Haw. Rev. Stat. 205A-26(2)(C). View "Protect & Preserve Kahoma Ahupua'a Ass'n v. Maui Planning Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming the Labor and Industrial Relations Appeal Board's (LIRAB) denial of Petitioner's request to reopen her workers compensation claims pursuant to Haw. Rev. Stat. 386-89, holding that the LIRAB's finding that Petitioner failed to provide substantial evidence of a mistake was clearly erroneous.After her employment was terminated Petitioner was diagnosed with a disease known as multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Petitioner filed multiple claims for workers' compensation benefits. At issue was the LIRAB's denial of Petitioner's request to reopen her claims and the ICA's affirmance of the denial. The LIRAB determined that Petitioner failed to produce substantial evidence to support her allegations of a mistake in fact related the the LIRAB director's determination that Petitioner had not suffered a compensable illness because MCS is not an "injury per se." The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's affirmance of the LIRAB's finding that Petitioner failed to provide substantial evidence of a mistake, holding that there was substantial evidence supporting Petitioner's contention that it was a mistake to dispose of her claims on the basis that MCS is not a legitimate diagnosis. View "Porter v. Queen’s Medical Center" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming the circuit court's order affirming the final decision of the Employees' Retirement System (ERS) Board and dismissing Appellant's appeal, holding that Appellant was entitled to present argument on his exceptions to the ERS Board and to have the Board consider the merits of his exceptions.The ERS denied Appellant's application for service-connected disability retirement benefits after suffering a back injury. ERS subsequently received a document filed by Appellant entitled "Petitioner's Proposed Decision." The ERS Board later issued a final decision concluding that Appellant's filing did not constitute exceptions and confirmed its denial of his application. On appeal, Appellant argued that the ERS Board's proposed decision did not automatically become a final decision because he had timely filed exceptions. The circuit court and ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court remanded this case to the ERS Board for further proceedings, holding that Appellant's "Petitioner's Proposed Decision" filing satisfied the standard for exceptions and that Appellant was entitled to present argument on his exceptions. View "Watanabe v. Employees’ Retirement System" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated appeals arising from Kenneth Skahan's claims for workers' compensation benefits against his former employer and its insurance carrier (collectively, Employer), the Supreme Court vacated in part the judgments of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming Labor and Industrial Relations Appeals Board's (LIRAB) decisions, holding that the ICA erred in part.Skahan injured his back while working for Employer, and Employer accepted workers' compensation liability. After Skahan's employment with Employer ended, he experienced mid and low back pain and was diagnosed with diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) and filed multiple claims for additional workers' compensation benefits. LIRAB determined that Skahan's DISH injury was compensable because it was causally related to his work injury but that his low back injury was not compensable. The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated in part, holding (1) the ICA erred in holding that Employer rebutted the Haw. Rev. Stat. 386-85 presumption that Skahan's low back claim was for a covered work injury; (2) LIRAB's finding that Skahan's injury was permanent and stationary and at maximum medical improvement by April 19, 2013 was clearly erroneous; and (3) LIRAB's conclusion of law ending Skahan's temporary total disability benefits on April 19, 2013 was clearly erroneous. View "Skahan v. Stutts Construction Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the ICA's judgment on appeal except that part of the judgment relating to an additional revocation period for having three or more prior alcohol enforcement contacts, holding that the procedures used by the Administrative Driver's License Revocation Office (the ADLRO) denied Defendant due process.The ADLRO sustained the automatic revocation of Defendant's driver's license for ten years, determining that Defendant was subject to a mandatory ten-year revocation period for operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant because he had three or more prior alcohol enforcement contacts. The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's decision in part, holding that the ADLRO erred in considering two prior alcohol enforcement contacts in determining the length of Defendant's revocation period because Defendant was unable to challenge those convictions at the revocation hearing. View "Wolcott v. Administrative Director of the Courts" on Justia Law