Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Hawaii
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The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving an application for a rate increase submitted by Hawai'i Gas (HG) and remanded this case to the PUC for further proceedings, holding that the PUC did not fulfill its statutory obligations under Haw. Rev. Stat. 269-6(b). Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) as "persons aggrieved" who participated in the contested case, Appellants had standing to appeal; (2) PUC failed to carry out its mandate under section 269-6(b); (3) the PUC's limitations in sub-issue No. 1h violated Appellants' due process rights by improperly curtailing Appellants' substantive participation; and (4) the PUC did not abuse its discretion in adjudicating HG's rate case rather than proceeding through rule-making. View "In re Application of The Gas Company, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Land Use Commission of the State of Hawai'i erred in a 2017 by interpreting a condition of an administrative order issued almost thirty years earlier prohibiting a resort (Resort) from irrigating its golf course with "potable" water to mean that brackish water is per se "non-potable" but that the Commission did not err in determining that the Resort did not violate the condition under its plain meaning. In 1991, the Commission issued an order approving the Resort's petition seeking to effect district reclassification of a large tract of rural and agricultural land sort that the Resort could build an eighteen-hole golf course. The Commission approved the Resort's petition subject to the condition stating that the Resort was not allowed to use potable water to irrigate the golf course. In 2017, the Commission determined that the Resort's use of brackish water from two wells for golf course irrigation was allowable under the condition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Commission erred in interpreting the condition to mean that brackish water is per se non-potable; but (2) the Commission did not clearly err in concluding that the water from the two wells was non-potable under county water quality standards. View "Lana'ians for Sensible Growth v. Land Use Commission" 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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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the circuit court modifying and affirming the decision of the Zoning Board of Appeals, which affirmed the decision of the Director of the City and County of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting approving an application for a Waikiki Special District (WSD) permit for PACREP to develop the second phase of a condo-hotel at 2139 Kuhio Avenue, holding that, under the circumstances, the due process rights of Local 5, a union representing hotel and restaurant employees, were violated. In appealing the permit, Local 5 argued that the Director abused his discretion by approving the permit without certain restrictive covenant conditions. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that, when the Director removed certain conditions from a WSD permit for the first phase of the condo-hotel project, conditions he knew Local 5 had advocated for, Local 5 should have had an opportunity challenge the removal of those conditions from the permit. Because Local 5 did not receive notice that the Director had removed these conditions, Local 5's due process rights were violated. View "Unite Here! Local 5 v. Department of Planning & Permitting/Zoning Board of Appeals" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's determination that the State breached its constitutional trust duties by failing reasonably to monitor or inspect trust land at issue in this case, holding that an essential component of the State's duty to protect and preserve trust land is an obligation to reasonably monitor a third party's use of the property, regardless of whether the third party has in fact violated the terms of any agreement governing its use of the land. The State leased three tracts of ceded land to the United States for military purposes. Plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging that the State, as trustee of the state's ceded lands, breached its trust duty because it was aware of the possibility that the land leased to the United States contained munitions and explosives but had not taken concrete steps to investigate or ensure the United States's compliance with the lease. The trial court entered judgment in favor of Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court primarily affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court correctly determined that the State did not reasonably monitor the trust property, including the United States' compliance with the lease terms that protect trust property; and (2) the injunctive relief ordered by the circuit court was not entirely suited to remedy the breach. View "Ching v. Case" on Justia 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