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Hawaii reaches $328M deal with homelands waitlist plaintiffs

April 27, 2022 GMT

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii Gov. David Ige said Tuesday that the state has agreed to pay $328 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by 2,700 Native Hawaiians who languished on a waitlist to receive homestead leases and suffered other harms from the mismanagement of the Hawaiian homes program.

Ige said the Legislature must approve the funds for the settlement and then a Circuit Court judge must sign off on its terms for it to be final.

The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 was meant to provide economic self-sufficiency to Hawaiians by supplying them land. Those with at least 50% Hawaiian blood quantum can apply for a 99-year lease for $1 a year.

But Hawaii has been slow to award leases. An estimated 28,000 people are on the waitlist.

The lawsuit stems from a 1991 law allowing Native Hawaiians to file claims against the state for losses incurred while waiting for a homestead lease from 1959 to 1988. The Legislature created a panel to address claims but the existence of the panel wasn’t extended past 1999. So the plaintiffs sued.

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The Hawaii Supreme Court in 2020 voted to allow the class-action lawsuit to continue and for damages to be awarded. About 1,000 plaintiffs have died in the two decades since the lawsuit was filed.

Leona Kalima, one of the plaintiffs, said the settlement has the potential “to change thousands of lives for the better.”

“We’re looking forward to it being resolved, finally,” she said in a statement issued by her attorney.

Carl Varady, an attorney for the plaintiffs, thanked the state officials who worked on the agreement.

“Our appreciation is tempered by the knowledge that nearly a third of the class members will not be with us to witness or celebrate the conclusion,” Varady said in a statement. “That conclusion will take some time, to make sure the class members are treated fairly, but we are looking ahead to the final stage when our clients will be compensated for their lost opportunity to obtain a homestead.”