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Thursday, December 18, 2014         

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Court dismisses challenge of Hawaiian Homes exemption

By Ken Kobayashi

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The Hawaii Supreme Court yesterday rejected a taxpayer lawsuit by non-Native Hawaiians seeking the same tax exemptions given to Native Hawaiian lessees under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.

The lawyer for the taxpayers, who has filed other challenges alleging race discrimination against non-Hawaiians, said they will now ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

The Hawaii high court ordered the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by John M. Corboy, Earl Arakaki and three others. They argued that the exemptions for the lessees who must be Native Hawaiians constitute racial discrimination in violation of the U.S. Constitution and federal civil rights laws.

In a 46-page opinion written by Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, the high court ruled that the taxpayers did not have the legal standing to challenge the constitutionality of the tax exemption and the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.

The court said the plaintiffs did not show they were interested in participating in the lease program and therefore did not establish that they were harmed to warrant the tax appeal court hearing the case.

The justices ordered the tax appeal court to dismiss the lawsuit.

"We're very pleased with the Supreme Court decision," said Girard Lau, solicitor general in charge of the appeals section of the Attorney General's Office.

"It confirms that plaintiffs had no standing to challenge the tax exemptions for Hawaiian homesteaders and they also did not have standing to challenge the qualifications for becoming a Hawaiian homesteader."

The plaintiffs' lawyer, H. William Burgess, said he hadn't had a chance to carefully review the ruling, but would be asking the U.S. Supreme Court for a review.

His clients maintain that the exemption for Hawaiian homestead lessees increased the amount of taxes they had to pay.

They asserted that for the 2009-2010 year, the city projected that it would receive about $1,817 for each of the 253,000 residential parcels on Oahu, but each Hawaiian homestead residential parcel was assessed $100 a year.

"We remain pretty confident the (U.S. Supreme Court) will give it a good look," Burgess said.

Except for one lawsuit that led to non-Native Hawaiians being able to run for trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Burgess' other cases have been thrown out based on the lack of plaintiffs' standing.

Associate Justice Simeon Acoba agreed with the dismissal, but wrote a separate concurring opinion.

Acoba wrote that he believes the plaintiffs had standing as taxpayers to challenge the exemptions but that the federal Admission Act that made Hawaii a state mandated that any change to the act required "the consent of the United States."

Because the taxpayers failed to name the federal government as a party in the case, they cannot pursue their claims, he wrote.

Associate justices Paula Nakayama and James Duffy and substitute Associate Justice Rhonda Nishimura joined in Recktenwald's opinion.






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