Native Hawaiians can sue over funding, high court rules

Posted on May 9, 2012 in Department of Hawaiian Home Lands

But they cannot sue over money for homestead lot development

The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled today that Native Hawaiian beneficiaries can press the state for sufficient money for administrative and operating expenses for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

But the high court said beneficiaries cannot press the state to give the department money for the development of the homestead lots.

Joshua Wisch, spokesman for the Attorney general’s Office, said the decision is “largely a victory for the state.”

“With this ruling, the state and its taxpayers are shielded from potentially tens of millions of dollars in annual liability,” he said.

But David Frankel, Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. attorney who represented Native Hawaiian beneficiaries, hailed the ruling as a “victory” for all beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Home Lands trust.

“The under funding or lack of funding has led to people dying on the wait list,” he said.

The number of Native Hawaiians applicants waiting for residential, ranch and agriculture lots had been growing over the years from 5,300 in 1978 to 23,000 last year, Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. lawyers have said.

They said the department repeatedly had not asked the state for general funds over the past 30 years.

The high court issued a 47-page unanimous decision written by Associate Justice Sabrina McKenna.

The lawsuit by the beneficiaries seeking sufficient funding for the department had been dismissed by Circuit Judge Bert Ayabe.

He ruled that the funding issue is a “political question” that the courts cannot decide.

The Intermediate Court of Appeals last year reinstated the lawsuit.

The state asked the high court to review the appeals court decision.

Today’s ruling said the “political question” doctrine does not bar the beneficiaries from requesting sufficient funding for administrative and operating expenses.

But the doctrine bars the courts from determining what would be adequate funding for development of home, agriculture, aquaculture and farm lots, the ruling said.