Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Hawaii

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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

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Commercial aquarium collection pursuant to permits issued under Haw. Rev. Stat. 188-31 and the Department of Land and Natural Resource’s (DLNR) administrative rules is subject to the environmental review procedures provided in the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act (HEPA). The circuit court determined that, as a matter of law, aquarium collection is not an applicant “action” that triggers HEPA. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the lower courts with respect to commercial aquarium collection permits, holding that aquarium collection pursuant to commercial and recreational permits issued by DLNR is a HEPA “action” and thus subject to HEPA environmental review. The court remanded this case to the circuit court for further proceedings to resolve the issue of whether recreational aquarium collection under section 188-31 and DLNR’s administrative rules is also subject to HEPA. View "Umberger v. Department of Land & Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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Lanric Hyland appealed from a county clerk decision to the local board of registration for the County of Hawaii. The local board determined that Hyland mailed his appeal within ten days of service of the county clerk’s decision based in part on its determination that October 13 was a holiday, thus tolling his appeal deadline for that day. Nevertheless, the board ruled that his appeal was untimely because the board did not receive his appeal until after the deadline, and therefore, it was without jurisdiction to review the appeal. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed, but also determined that Hyland did not mail his letter within the ten-day filing period because the second Monday in October - recognized by the federal government as Columbus Day - is not a Hawaii state holiday. The Supreme Court vacated the decisions below, holding (1) the board had jurisdiction to consider the merits of Hyland’s appeal because the appeal letter was mailed within ten days of service of the county clerk decision; and (2) the second Monday in October is a holiday for purposes of the computation of time as to when an act is to be done under Haw. Rev. Stat. 1-29. Remanded. View "Hyland v. Gonzales" on Justia Law

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The Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) granted a permit for the University of Hawaii to construct the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope at an area set aside for astronomical observations located within a conservation district near the summit of Haleakala on the island of Maui. Kilakila 'O Haleakala (Kilakila) challenged BLNR’s approval of the permit. Both the circuit court and the Intermediate Court of Appeals affirmed BLNR’s decision. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the permit approval process was not procedurally flawed by prejudgment or by impermissible ex parte communication; and (2) BLNR validly determined that the telescope met the applicable permit criteria and was consistent with the purposes of the conservation district. View "Kilakila 'O Haleakala v. Bd. of Land & Nat. Res." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was a proposed project for constructing a new telescope at an area set aside for astronomical research located within a conservation district near the summit of Haleakala on the island of Maui. The University of Hawaii (UH) prepared a Management Plan containing guidelines applying to facilities within the astronomical site area. UH found that the Management Plan would not have a significant environmental impact and, therefore, that an environmental impact statement was not required. Kilakila ‘O Haleakala (Kilakila) brought a court action to challenge UH’s finding. During discovery, Kilakila sought to obtain documents and admissions from UH and the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) relating to the environmental assessment. UH and DLNR sought a protective order regarding Kilakila’s discovery request, contending that judicial review was restricted to the administrative record. The circuit court granted the protective order. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) while judicial review of the agency’s determination was not restricted to the administrative record, the circuit court did not err because the parties were permitted to submit documents beyond those contained within the agency record, and the court did not foreclose further discovery requests; and (2) UH’s conclusion that the Management Plan would not cause significant environmental impacts was not clearly erroneous. View "Kilakila 'O Haleakala v. Univ. of Hawaii" on Justia Law

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In 2010 and 2012, the Commission issued charges against William Boyd, a charter school employee, for alleged violations of Haw. Rev. Stat. 84-14 that occurred in 2006 and 2007. Boyd filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the Commission lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate proceedings against him because he was not an employee of the State subject to the code of ethics contained in Haw. Rev. Stat. Chapter 84. The Commission denied Boyd’s motion and concluded that Boyd was an “employee” as defined in Haw. Rev. Stat. 84-3. The Commission then concluded that Boyd committed several violations of Chapter 84 and imposed a total administrative fine of $10,000. The circuit court affirmed the Commission’s determination that Boyd as an “employee” under section 84-3 and was thus subject to the code of ethics in Chapter 84. The Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) affirmed the determination. The Supreme Court vacated the lower courts’ judgments and the Commission’s decision and order, holding (1) in accordance with Haw. Rev. Stat. 302B-9(a), charter school employees were exempt from Haw. Rev. Stat. 84-14 at the relevant time period in this case; and (2) therefore, the Commission did not have the authority to adjudicate the proceedings against Boyd. View "Boyd v. Haw. State Ethics Comm’n" on Justia Law