The Hawaii Supreme Court today took the state to task for its mismanagement of the land trust for Native Hawaiians and allowed a class-action lawsuit to proceed to a phase for calculating damages in a major victory for some 2,700 plaintiffs in the case.
In a 5-0 decision, the justices largely ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, permitting the case to go to an administrative process for determining what damages are owed to individual plaintiffs for years-long waits for homesteads.
The justices cited the state’s wrongful conduct in administering the trust and noted over the past 30 years it has “done little to address the ever-lengthening waitlist for lease awards of Hawaiian home lands.”
The class-action lawsuit was filed in 1999 in a case known as Kalima v state. Leona Kalima is the lead plaintiff. Even though a lower court judge ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor in 2009, finding the state in breach of trust and liable for damages, the case has dragged on for years through the court process, and no damages have been paid.
If the justices had ruled in the state’s favor, they could have found no breach of trust, and the case would’ve ended.
Among the issues that was decided in today’s ruling was the process by which individual damages will be determined. Upholding a lower court ruling, a special master will calculate damages, precluding the need to have 2,700 individual trials.