Justia Hawaii Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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This case involves a dispute over property ownership between Rosalinda Ganir Saplan and Recto Ramos Saplan (the Saplans) and U.S. Bank. After the Saplans defaulted on their mortgage, U.S. Bank foreclosed on the property and filed an ejectment action against the Saplans in 2011. However, U.S. Bank failed to schedule a required pretrial conference, leading the circuit court to dismiss the ejectment action for want of prosecution. The Saplans then filed a quiet title action in 2015, arguing that the dismissal of the 2011 action had quieted title in their favor. U.S. Bank moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Saplans had not submitted any evidence in support of their claim of title. The circuit court granted the motion.The Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) held that the 2011 dismissal was on the merits for the purposes of claim preclusion, but it did not preclude U.S. Bank’s later action because the parties across these lawsuits were different. The ICA also held that summary judgment was improperly granted because U.S. Bank had not provided evidence that its foreclosure sale was fair, reasonably diligent, and in good faith, and the price was adequate.U.S. Bank appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Hawai‘i, arguing that the ICA erred in holding that the 2011 dismissal was on the merits for the purposes of claim preclusion and that U.S. Bank had not met its burden of showing there were no genuine issues of material fact for trial. The Supreme Court held that without a final judgment, there cannot be claim preclusion. Here, there was no final judgment, so there can be no claim preclusion against U.S. Bank. The court also held that the ICA incorrectly applied the summary judgment standard when it held that U.S. Bank had not met its burden. Because this is the Saplans’ quiet title action, the Saplans have the burden of proof on the issue of property ownership. The court vacated the ICA’s judgment and affirmed the circuit court’s judgment. View "Saplan v. U.S. Bank" on Justia Law

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The case involves Juan Angel Rubalcaba, a homeowner, who filed a wrongful foreclosure lawsuit against the Association of Apartment Owners of Makakilo Cliffs. The central issue was whether the mortgage debt of the homeowner to a third-party lender, which was discharged by the third-party lender's subsequent foreclosure, should be considered in determining the plaintiff's damages.The Circuit Court of the First Circuit sought guidance on this issue and forwarded a reserved question to the Supreme Court of the State of Hawai'i. The Supreme Court accepted the question, indicating that it would provide an answer through a related case, Wong v. Ass'n of Apartment Owners of Harbor Square, which was then pending before the court.The Supreme Court of the State of Hawai'i, after deciding the Wong case, provided guidance on how a plaintiff may calculate damages in a lawsuit against a condominium association for wrongful foreclosure. The court then remanded the case back to the Circuit Court of the First Circuit for further proceedings consistent with the Wong decision. The court did not provide a specific ruling on the reserved question but indicated that the lower court should follow the precedent set in the Wong case. View "Rubalcaba v. Association of Apartment Owners of Makakilo Cliffs " on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Hawaii addressed the calculation of damages in cases where a condominium association wrongfully forecloses on a unit owner. Stephen Wong, the plaintiff, had bought a condo in the Harbor Square complex, financing his purchase with a mortgage. He fell behind on his association assessments, and the Association of Apartment Owners (AOAO) of Harbor Square non-judicially foreclosed under Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes (HRS) Chapter 667. The foreclosure exceeded the AOAO’s statutory authority, leading Wong to sue for wrongful foreclosure. The court held that damages in such a case are the plaintiff's positive equity in the property, if any, plus lost use arising from the wrongful foreclosure, minus assessments owed to the AOAO. If the plaintiff was "underwater" on their mortgage (owing more than the home's fair market value), they could still potentially pursue a claim if the value of their wrongly taken use exceeds what they owe the AOAO in assessments. In Wong's case, he failed to establish lost use value, leading the court to affirm the lower court's grant of summary judgment to the AOAO. View "Wong v. Association of Apartment Owners of Harbor Square" 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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The Supreme Court denied Petitioner's petition for a writ of mandamus challenging the final approval of the settlement in the underlying class action against the State, holding that Petitioner had no right to compensation.In 1920, the federal government pledged land to native Hawaiian beneficiaries, and while Hawai'i held the homestead land in trust it breached its fiduciary duties. In the underlying class action, trust beneficiaries successfully sued the State for breach of its trustee responsibilities, and the State settled. The Supreme Court accepted a petition for a writ of mandamus, an appeal challenging final approval of the case's settlement, and held (1) because Petitioner was born beyond the statutory period to receive a payout from the settlement he had no right to compensation; and (2) because this decision ended Petitioner's appeal, the appeal before the intermediate court of appeals was moot. View "Rivera v. Honorable Cataldo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) ruling that the circuit court did not err in ordering an appointed commissioner to take possession and collect rents and during the period between summary judgment and confirmation of sale in this foreclosure case.The Association of Apartment Owners of Elima Lani Condominiums (AOAO) foreclosed on the previous owners of a condominium based on delinquent assessments and then PHH Mortgage Corporation, the mortgage lender, foreclosed on AOAO. AOAO appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred when it ordered that AOAO's possessory interest and right to collect rent from the property was extinguished upon entry of the foreclosure decree and erred when it vested the commissioner with legal and equitable title to the foreclosed property prior to the confirmation of sale. The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because the commissioner did not collect any rents, the ICA correctly held that the circuit court did not err in ordering the Commissioner to take possession and collect rents, and there were no rents to allocate under Haw. Rev. Stat. 514B-146(n). View "PHH Mortgage Corp. v. Patterson" on Justia Law

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After recording a notice of default and intention to foreclose for unpaid assessments and costs, AOAO, a homeowners’ association, acquired the property by quitclaim deed in July 2015 after a non-judicial foreclosure sale. In September 2017, MTGLQ filed a complaint for foreclosure of the property and moved for summary judgment and an interlocutory decree of foreclosure, asking that a commissioner be appointed to take possession of the property, rent it out, and sell it. AOAO objected to MTGLQ’s request for possession and rents, arguing that Hawai͑i Revised Statutes 514B-146(n) referenced “any excess rental income received by the association” after a bank foreclosure, which meant the statute “clearly contemplated” that the association would continue in possession and collect rents. The court granted MTGLQ’s requests. In a January 2020 report, the Commissioner stated that he had conducted a public auction of the property and had collected $3,275.00 in rent for three months in 2019. The court confirmed the sale and awarded the rent to MTGLQ.The Supreme Court of Hawaii vacated the allocation of rent. Although AOAO’s right to rent and possession was terminated by the foreclosure judgment, section 514B-146(n) entitles it to the subsequent income to the extent that it has not already recouped its losses through rent previously collected. View "MTGLQ Investors, L.P. v. Association of Apartment Owners of Elima Lani Condominiums " on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court denying Appellant's Haw. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6) motion for relief from a judgment of foreclosure, holding that the lender, James B. Nutter Company (JBNC), committed fraud on the court and that the balance of equities weighed against foreclosure.JBNC brought the underlying foreclosure proceeding against Appellant for allegedly defaulting in the observance and performance of the terms, covenants and conditions of his mortgage by failing to make $500 worth of repairs. The circuit court granted JBNC's motion for summary judgment and decree of foreclosure, after which Appellant brought this motion for relief. The circuit court denied relief. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there were grounds for relief both on a fraud on the court theory and under the equitable principles governing foreclosure. View "James B. Nutter & Co. v. Namahoe" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) holding that a plaintiff may not recover attorneys' fees under the private attorney general (PAG) doctrine from a private defendant even where the State voluntarily participated as a co-litigant in the case, holding that the ICA erred.Petitioners prevailed against Defendant Haleakala Ranch Company (HRC) in procuring the circuit court's judgment that the State of Hawai'i and not HRC owned a portion of the Haleakala Trail that ran over HRC's property. At issue before the Supreme Court was Petitioners' attempt to recover attorneys' fees from HRC under the PAG doctrine. The Supreme Court held (1) plaintiffs who recover attorneys' fees and costs under the PAG doctrine may also recover fees and costs reasonably incurred in litigating their initial claim for fees; and (2) a plaintiff may recover attorneys' fees under the PAG doctrine from a private defendant where the State voluntarily participated as a co-litigant in the case. View "Public Access Trails Haw. v. Haleakala Ranch Co." on Justia Law

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In this case challenging the constitutionality of administrative rules governing access to Mauna Kea's summit under Haw. Const. art XII, 7, the Supreme Court answered questions reserved by the Circuit Court of the Third Circuit by holding (1) in a challenge to the constitutionality of administrative rules based on a violation of Haw. Const. art. XII, 7, the burden of proof does not shift to the government agency defendant and instead remains with the challenging party; and (2) the framework set forth in Ka Pa'akai O Ka'Aina v. Land Use Comm'n, 7 P.3d 1068 (Haw. 2000), applies to challenges to the constitutionality of an administrative rule based on an alleged violation of article XII, section 7, in addition to contested case hearings. View "Flores-Case 'Ohana v. University of Haw." on Justia Law