Appeals court ruling has broad ramifications for quiet title land cases

Yesterday's Maui News had this very interesting article about a state Intermediate Court of Appeals decision that "will require a trial on genealogical land claims posed by a Hawaiian family challenging the quiet title action..." and which according to an attorney involved "could have broader ramifications."
The state Intermediate Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court ruling that granted a West Maui land development group clear title to former Pioneer Mill sugar cane land at Kauaula Valley.

The appeals court decision will require a trial on genealogical land claims posed by a Hawaiian family challenging the quiet title action filed by Makila Land Co. in 2nd Circuit Court three years ago.

The action not only gives hope to Ke'eaumoku Kapu, who claims to be a true heir of the property, but to other Native Hawaiians who have had parcels of land granted to their ancestors taken over by ranches, plantations and other large landowners.

The legal process allows a landowner applicant to go to court asking the court to find that there are no other legal claimants to a property to "quiet title" in favor of the applicant. It has been commonly used on parcels that were granted to Hawaiian families after the Great Mahele of 1848 and the Kuleana Act of 1850. Under the Kuleana Act, a Land Commission awarded fee simple title to Native Hawaiian tenants who were using parcels within an ahupuaa, with more than 7,500 kuleana awards granted around the islands.

But as the economy of the islands changed, many of the original tenants left their kuleana parcels and their descendants may not have known they had an interest in the land or did not notice when another landowner claimed the parcel.

Quiet title applications, most of which have been filed in the past half-century, seek to dissolve rights of any descendants of the original kuleana owner, to clear the title for a landowner applicant to sell or develop a property.
The 31-page opinion, released last Friday, was marked "for publication," which [Kapu’s attorney Richard] McCarty said means that the three judges who signed it intended that it be used for citation by others pleading similar cases. [...]

"The court took a very hard look at this and said that if families have legitimate ties to the property, they must be given the same consideration as the people who are trying to take their property away," said McCarty.

There are many families in East Maui who have lost land this way, and up to this point the whole land court process has been used to strip land from the traditional heirs. Perhaps finally this may be changing...

There's a Maui News letter from Francis K. Kamakawiwo’ole Jr. regarding the decision as well.

Update 5/7: Micah Kawaguchi-Ailetcher comments in her blog.

Update 5/30: Alfred L. Brophy comments in his PropertyProf Blog.

Here is the court's actual opinion.

Posted: Sat - May 6, 2006 at 08:09 AM    
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Published On: May 30, 2006 08:22 AM
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