Saturday, February 18, 2012

No Contested Case, No Judicial Challenge

In this Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) unpublished disposition, the court reaffirms that an agency hearing is not a "contested case hearing" if it is not required by statute, rule, or constitutional due process.

In Mauna Kea Anaina Hou v. University of Hawaii, No. 30397 (Haw. Jan. 25, 2012) (mem.), the primary question for the ICA was whether the circuit court had subject matter jurisdiction to hear Petitioners' (Sierra Club, et al.) appeal of Respondents' (Board of Land and Natural Resource's (BLNR), et al.) administrative approval of the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) for the Mauna Kea telescope project.

It is settled law that the right to appeal an agency decision is purely statutory and exists only when jurisdiction is given by some constitutional or statutory provision.  In order to invoke the circuit court's jurisdiction under HRS § 91-14 regarding judicial review of contested cases, four requirements must be met:

  1. the proceeding that resulted in the unfavorable agency action must have been a "contested case" hearing-- i.e., a hearing that was (1) required by law and (2) determined the "rights, duties, and privileges of specific parties";
  2. the agency's action must represent "a final decision and order," or "a preliminary ruling" such that deferral of review would deprive the claimant of adequate relief;
  3. the claimant must have followed the applicable agency rules and, therefore, have been involved "in" the contested case; and 
  4. the claimant's legal interests must have been injured-- i.e., the claimant must have standing to appeal.
In the instant case, whether BLNR held a contested case that resulted in a final decision was dispositive.  

The ICA determined that BLNR's hearings on the CMP were not contested case hearings under HRS § 91-14, because BLNR's hearings on the CMP were not required by (1) agency rule, (2) statute, or (3) constitutional due process.  Regarding the constitutional due process prong, the ICA did not agree with Petitioners' assertion that "[t]he public/ including [Petitioners], have a constitutionally protected interest in the lands within the Mauna Kea conservation district." Petitioners contended the CMP interferes with their constitutionally protected rights to traditional and customary native Hawaiian practices.  The ICA wrote that Petitioners "do not demonstrate how the CMP would interfere with such rights," noting that the "CMP does not implicate University's property rights because no property rights are being granted or denied," and the "CMP is not a board permit application and does not propose or approve new land uses."

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