Justia Hawaii Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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The Supreme Court held that Plaintiff's injury-by-disease was compensable under Hawai'i's workers' compensation law because the employer failed to overcome the presumption in favor of compensability. Plaintiff filed a workers' compensation claim for injury-by-disease. The Labor and Industrial Relations Appeals Board (LIRAB) rejected the claim, concluding that the employer's Independent Medical Examinations (IME) reports provided sufficient substantial evidence to overcome the statutory presumption in favor of compensability. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's judgment and the LIRAB's decision, holding that the employer's IME reports failed to provide substantial evidence to meet its burden to produce evidence that, if true, would overcome the statutory presumption that the injury was work-related. The Court remanded the case to the LIRAB with the instruction that Plaintiff's injury-by-disease was compensable under Hawai'i's workers' compensation law. View "Cadiz v. QSI, Inc." 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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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) dismissing this appeal on the grounds that appellate jurisdiction was lacking, holding that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in finding the existence of "excusable neglect" under Haw. R. App. P. (HRAP) 4(a)(4)(B) to allow an extension of time to file a notice of appeal. Petitioner appealed from the circuit court's judgment in this labor dispute, asserting appellate jurisdiction pursuant to HRAP Rule 4. The ICA dismissed the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction, determining that the appeal was untimely under Rule 4(a)(1) because Petitioner did not establish excusable neglect to extend the time to file the notice of appeal. After clarifying the terms "good cause" and "excusable neglect" for purposes of the current HRAP Rule 4(a)(4)(A) and (B), the Supreme Court vacated the ICA's judgment and remanded this case to the ICA to address the merits of the appeal, holding that "excusable neglect" existed in this case, and therefore, the ICA erred in dismissing Petitioner's appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction. View "Eckard Brandes, Inc. v. Department of Labor & Industrial Relations" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) and the decision of the circuit court affirming the decision of the Board of Trustees of the Employees' Retirement System of Hawai'i (ERS Board) denying Plaintiff's application for service-connected disability retirement benefits, holding that the ERS Board clearly erred in finding that Plaintiff's permanent capacity resulted from an "occupational hazard." Specifically, the ERS Board found that Plaintiff's permanent incapacity did not result from "a danger or risk which is inherent in, and concomitant to," her "particular occupation or particular job," which was "not a risk common to employment in general." The circuit court and ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the lower courts' decisions and remanded the case to the ERS Board for further proceedings, holding that the ERS Board added a requirement to the definition of "occupational hazard" that does not exist in the law. View "Quel v. Board of Trustees, Employees’ Retirement System of Hawai'i" on Justia Law

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In this work injury discrimination case the Supreme Court held that in order for business necessity to constitute a valid defense to a claim of work injury discrimination, an employer must demonstrate that the employee's absence caused a business impairment that could not be reasonably alleviated by means that would not result in discrimination. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment the intermediate court of appeals' judgment on appeal and the judgment of the circuit court reversing the decision of the Director of the Hawai'i Department of Labor and Industrial Relations that the work injury discrimination in this case was contravened by Hawaii law, holding that the decision of the hearing officer that the employer in this case discriminated against the employee solely because of her work injury should have been affirmed. View "BCI Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Los Angeles, Inc. v. Murakami" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether an unwritten policy of the Department of Public Safety precluding from promotion to supervisory positions all employees who have been suspended for violation of the Department’s standards of conduct in the prior two years violates aspects of the merit principle on which the Hawaii civil service system is founded. See Haw. Const. art. XVI, 1 and Haw. Rev. Stat. 76-1. Five employees of the Department applied for promotion to open supervisory positions. Each employee passed the relevant examination and was otherwise qualified for the supervisory position prior to being deemed “unsuitable” under the unwritten policy. The Supreme Court held that the Department’s unwritten policy violated the merit principle of openness and remanded this case to the circuit court with instructions to remand to the Merit Appeals Board for further proceedings. View "In re Kuamoo" on Justia Law

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Haw. Rev. Stat. 386-8, which governs a third party’s liability for workers’ compensation, provides the exclusive remedy for an employer to recover workers’ compensation benefits from a third-party tortfeasor. An employee of Hawaiian Dredging Construction Company, Inc. (HDCC) was injured in a workplace accident, allegedly due to the actions of HDCC’s subcontractor, Fujikawa Associates, Inc. (Fujikawa). HDCC sought reimbursement from Fujikawa, claiming that workers’ compensation benefits were within the scope of the subcontract’s indemnity clause. When Fujikawa refused to indemnify HDCC, HDCC filed a complaint alleging breach of the subcontract. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Fujikawa. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that summary judgment was appropriate because HDCC did not avail itself of the exclusive remedy provided in section 386-8. View "Hawaiian Dredging Construction Co. v. Fujikawa Associates, Inc." 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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Employees may bring defamation and false light claims against their employer because the Workers’ Compensation Law’s (WCL) bar on claims for injuries incurred in the course of employment does not extend to injuries to a person’s reputation. Petitioners, employees of the County of Hawaii, brought this action against the County, certain County officials, and a private investigation company hired by the County (collectively, Defendants), alleging defamation. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Defendants, determining (1) Petitioners’ claims against the County were barred by the WCL because the alleged injury to their reputations arose through the course and scope of their employment; (2) Petitioners failed to adduce evidence raising a genuine issue of material fact that the County officials had made false statements about them; and (3) the third-party investigator had no duty towards Petitioners. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the summary judgment for Defendants, holding (1) whether one County official’s alleged defamatory statements were true involved a disputed question of material fact; (2) Petitioners’ defamation and false light claims against the County and the second County official in his official capacity were not barred by the WCL; and (3) licensed private investigators owe a duty of care to the subjects of their investigations. View "Nakamoto v. Kawauchi" on Justia Law

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Employees may bring defamation and false light claims against their employer because the Workers’ Compensation Law’s (WCL) bar on claims for injuries incurred in the course of employment does not extend to injuries to a person’s reputation. Petitioners, employees of the County of Hawaii, brought this action against the County, certain County officials, and a private investigation company hired by the County (collectively, Defendants), alleging defamation. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Defendants, determining (1) Petitioners’ claims against the County were barred by the WCL because the alleged injury to their reputations arose through the course and scope of their employment; (2) Petitioners failed to adduce evidence raising a genuine issue of material fact that the County officials had made false statements about them; and (3) the third-party investigator had no duty towards Petitioners. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the summary judgment for Defendants, holding (1) whether one County official’s alleged defamatory statements were true involved a disputed question of material fact; (2) Petitioners’ defamation and false light claims against the County and the second County official in his official capacity were not barred by the WCL; and (3) licensed private investigators owe a duty of care to the subjects of their investigations. View "Nakamoto v. Kawauchi" on Justia Law