Thursday, December 11, 2008

No Private Right of Action to Enforce Hawaii's Land Use Law or Community Plans

Pono v. Molokai Ranch, Ltd., 119 Haw. 164 (2008).  Concurring Opinion by J. Foley.  ICA Order Denying Motion for Reconsideration, filed 11/06/2008.  Application for Writ of Certiorari (Haw. S. Ct.), filed 11/20/2008.

Background.  This appeal arises from a proposed development by Molokai Ranch, Ltd. of fifteen commercial overnight campgrounds on lands within the state designated agricultural district boundary on the island of Molokai, County of Maui.

In June 1995, the Ranch wrote to Linda Crockett Lingle (then-mayor of the County of Maui) and other County officials to inquire whether the campgrounds could be developed on agricultural lands and to determine what regulatory permits would be needed for the campgrounds.  The County responded to the Ranch by letter that the campground was a permitted use on non-prime agricultural lands and that the only permits required for the campgrounds were building permits for the camping facilities to be constructed as part of the campgrounds. The Ranch obtained necessary building permits, began construction of camping facilities at different campgrounds, and began marketing the various campgrounds to prospective visitors to the island of Molokai.

Procedural Background.  Pono, an unincorporated association, and several individuals who were members of Pono, began their challenge of the Project by filing a petition for a declaratory ruling or order with the state land use commission (“LUC”) on February 27, 1997.  The LUC held in favor of Pono on the grounds “that overnight campgrounds are not permitted uses on agricultural lands rated C, D, E, or U.”  However, the LUC’s order was subsequently found to be “void and of no legal effect” by the Circuit Court because the LUC failed to comply with the state’s Sunshine Law (HRS chapter 92).

On June 25, 1997, Pono brought an action for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against the Ranch in Circuit Court, challenging the campgrounds on multiple grounds including whether the permits granted by the County were in violation of HRS Chapter 205, Hawaii’s land use law.  The Circuit Court ruled in the County’s favor and Pono appealed the following issues to the ICA:

Appellants maintain that: (1) the circuit court erred in concluding that it lacked jurisdiction to determine whether [the Ranch's] Project on agricultural land violates HRS chapter 205; (2) [the Ranch's] Project on agricultural land violates HRS chapter 205 as a matter of law; and (3) [the Ranch's] Project violates the [Molokai Community Plan] as a matter of law.

Holding.  Pono did not have authority to privately enforce HRS chapter 205 or the Molokai Community Plan against the Ranch and, therefore, lacked standing to invoke the circuit court's jurisdiction to determine their HRS chapter 205 and Molokai Community Plan claims.

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