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Oral Argument Before the Hawaii Supreme Court–SCWC-16-0000559

No. SCWC-16-0000559, Friday, September 17, 2021, 2 p.m.

PUBLIC ACCESS TRAILS HAWAII, a Hawaii Nonprofit Corporation, and DAVID BROWN, JOE BERTRAM, III; KEN SCHMITT; for themselves individually, and on behalf of the certified class members, Petitioners/Plaintiffs-Appellants, vs. HALEAKALA RANCH COMPANY, a Hawaii Corporation; STATE OF HAWAI I, WILLIAM AILA JR., in his official capacity as the Director of the State of Hawaii DEPARTMENT OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES and chair of the State of Hawaii BOARD OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES, Respondents/Defendants-Appellees. DEPARTMENT OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES, State of Hawaii, Respondent/Cross-Claimant-Appellee, vs. HALEAKALA RANCH COMPANY, a Hawaii Corporation, Respondent/Cross-Claim Defendant-Appellant.

The above-captioned case has been set for argument on the merits at:

The oral argument was held remotely and live streamed for public viewing via the Judiciary’s YouTube channel at YouTube.com/hawaiicourts.

Attorneys for Petitioners Public Access, et al.:

Peter N. Martin of Peter N. Martin, Attorney at Law, LLLC, and Tom Pierce of Tom Pierce, Attorney at Law, LLLC

Attorneys for Respondent Haleakala Ranch:

Michael W. Gibson, Francis P. Hogan, and Benjamin M. Creps of Ashford & Wriston

NOTE: Order accepting Application for Writ of Certiorari, filed 07/19/21.

COURT: Recktenwald, C.J., Nakayama, McKenna, Wilson, and Eddins, JJ.

Listen to the entire audio recording in mp3 format  ]

Brief Description:

In 2011, Petitioners/Plaintiffs-Appellants Public Access Trails Hawai i (“PATH”); David Brown; Joe Bertram, III; and Ken Schmitt (collectively “Petitioners”) filed a complaint against Respondent/Defendant-Appellee Haleakal Ranch Company (“HRC”) and the Director of the State of Hawai i Department of Land and Natural Resources (“DLNR”) and Chair of the State of Hawai i Board of Land and Natural Resources (“BLNR”) in the Circuit Court of the Second Circuit (“circuit court”) seeking to restore public access to Haleakal Trail on the island of Maui, and contending, in relevant part, that the State of Hawai i (the “State”), not HRC, owned a portion of Haleakal Trail that ran over HRC’s property. Shortly thereafter, in exchange for Petitioners dismissing their claims against the State, the State entered into a joint prosecution agreement (“JPA”) in which Petitioners and the State agreed to jointly prosecute Petitioners’ claim against HRC to quiet title of Haleakal Trail and Petitioners’ claim that Haleakal Trail was a public right of way under the Highways Act of 1892. Petitioners ultimately prevailed in establishing not only that Haleakal Trail was a public right of way under the Highways Act of 1892 and that the State had not abandoned Haleakal Trail, but also that the State owned Haleakal Trail in fee simple. Petitioners entered into a mediated settlement agreement with HRC and the State.

This appeal stems from Petitioners’ attempt to recover attorneys’ fees from HRC under the private attorney general (“PAG”) doctrine. On certiorari, Petitioners present four questions: (1) whether, under the PAG doctrine, Petitioners may recover attorneys’ fees from HRC, a private defendant, where Petitioners co-litigated the case against HRC with the State pursuant to a JPA; (2) whether, under the PAG doctrine, Petitioners may recover those fees and costs reasonably incurred in litigating the initial claim for attorneys’ fees (“fees on fees”); (3) whether the settlement agreement between Petitioners, HRC, and the State precluded Petitioners from filing a motion seeking fees on fees; and (4) whether the circuit court clearly erred by finding that HRC’s ownership claim of Haleakal Trail was not frivolous or maintained in bad faith under Hawaii Revised Statutes § 607-14.5.