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August 31st, 2016 — By — In News & Events

Hawaii Supreme Court Accepts Certiorari in Eminent Domain Case; Owners’ Counsel and NFIB Filed Amici Brief

On August 22, the Supreme Court of Hawaii accepted the Application for Writ of Certiorari filed July 10, 2016 by the landowner in County of Kauai v. Hanalei River Holdings, Ltd., No. SCWC-14-0000828.  The Owners’ Counsel of America (OCA) joined with the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Legal Center to file an amici curiae brief in the case urging the Court to review and overturn the appellate court’s decision.  

Background of the Case

This eminent domain case involves three privately owned parcels on Kauai which the County seized for the expansion of a beachfront public park. The court of appeals concluded that Hawaii law requires two parcels to touch in order for a jury to consider them part of a larger parcel. Here, the Petitioner’s property was separated from the other parcel he claimed to use and the two were not physically connected. Petitioner argued that he used the two lots together as a boat yard and that the taking of one parcel damaged his use of the other.

The Landowner’s Application for Review

The Landowner applied to the Supreme Court of Hawaii seeking the court’s review on three questions.  (See the Landowner’s Application for Writ of Certiorari here.)

  1. Must two parcels physically abut in order for the jury to consider whether they are part of a larger parcel?
  2. Where there are multiple properties being condemned from different owners, does statutory interest on a conditional deposit only accrue after each condemnee establishes an entitlement to its portion of the deposit?
  3. Does Haw.Rev.Stat. § 101-19 enable a condemnor to withdraw a portion of its estimate of just compensation after deposit with the Court and after taking possession of the property?

The Court has agreed to review all of the questions presented.

OCA & NFIB Amici Brief: The Appellate Court Got it Wrong

The OCA & NFIB brief addresses the first question presented: whether two parcels must physically touch in order for a jury to consider them part of a larger parcel. The brief contends that the court of appeals erred in its analysis of County of Kauai v. Hanalei River Holdings, Ltd., No. CAAP-14-0000828. Amici urge the Hawaii Supreme Court to agree to review the erroneous decision of the court of appeals and overturn it as faulty and contrary to Hawaii law. The OCA-NFIB brief argues that parcels do not need to touch to establish a unified use for property to be considered part of a larger parcel.

“Two parcels do not need to touch in order for an eminent domain jury to consider whether they are components of a larger parent tract,” said Robert H. Thomas, Esq., a Director with Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert in Honolulu.  Thomas, OCA Hawaii Member, authored the brief on behalf of OCA and NFIB.

“The court of appeals was simply wrong in it’s decision that parcels ‘must touch,'” Thomas explained.  “The published opinion is precedential and will have grave consequences for Hawaii property owners in future eminent domain and property rights matters.”

Just Compensation is not One-Size-Fits-All

The determination of just compensation and damages in an eminent domain case is not one-size-fits-all rule, but rather requires the application of legal rules that accommodate the facts specific to each case.  The court of appeals decision in the Hanalei case establishes a hardline rule that would force courts to ignore the unique facts of a case.

“We are in the midst of the Honolulu rail, the largest transportation project in Hawaii’s history, and the condemnation of private property will be necessary,” explained Thomas. “The Hawaii Supreme Court must ensure that the law correctly guides lower courts and protects the rights of property owners who are entitled to just compensation—‘the full and perfect equivalent’ of the property taken.”

We will continue to follow this case as the Court will hear oral argument.

Contact a Condemnation Attorney with Owners’ Counsel of America

Owners’ Counsel of America (OCA) is a nationwide network of leading condemnation attorneys dedicated to representing private owners in eminent domain and property rights matters. If a government agency is attempting to take your private property, an OCA attorney in your state can help you protect your legal rights. For more information, please contact us online or call (877) 367-6963.