Circuit Court judge gives final approval to $328M settlement in lawsuit for delayed Native Hawaiian homestead awards
After more than 20 years of litigation, including two trials and two appeals to the Hawai‘i Supreme Court, Native Hawaiians who have waited decades to receive a homestead award guaranteed to them under the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust will finally be compensated.
Hawai‘i 1st Circuit Court Judge Lisa W. Cataldo on Friday gave final approval to the $328 million settlement with the state of Hawai‘i in the Kalima et al. v. State of Hawai‘i class action breach of trust lawsuit brought by 2,515 beneficiaries against the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. The lawsuit was filed in 1999 after the state suspended a claims process set up under a 1991 statute.
The settlement compensates the beneficiaries for delays in homestead awards and other harm resulting from the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands’ failures to manage the Home Lands Trust properly.
“We and our clients are grateful that the court has approved our plan to move forward to finally and fairly end this dispute by distributing the payments to all class members who have valid claims,” said class co-counsel Carl Varady.
The Hawaiian Home Lands Trust was established in 1923. After the state assumed the trust obligations as a condition of statehood in 1959, it sold trust lands to private parties, leased trust lands at below market rates, removed trust lands to use for public purposes and failed to properly fund the trust. As a result, more than 30,000 Native Hawaiians are currently waiting for homestead awards.
During the 24 years of litigation since 1999, more than 1,100 class members died waiting without receiving any relief, while the state fought against their claims for compensation.
“We want to recognize and thank our class members and their families for their commitment to resolve these long-standing claims,” said class co-counsel Tom Grande. “This has been a long struggle and the resolution of this case has only been possible through our collective efforts.”
Varady said the settlement will provide an economic buffer for many Hawaiian families struggling because they were denied the benefits of a homestead award, which is their birthright.
“Our appreciation is tempered by the knowledge that nearly half of the class members will not be with us to witness or celebrate the court’s ruling,” he said.
Grande said the case sets up a unique probate process that will allow for group resolution of the claims of the deceased class members estates.
“This process will distribute approximately $100 million to the heirs of the 1,100 deceased class members,” he said.
Payments are expected to begin being distributed after Sept. 1.
Class members and relatives of those deceased members can get more information by calling the claims administrator at 808-650-5551 or 1-833-639-1308 or online.
The state currently has nearly 10,000 beneficiaries on Hawaiian homestead lands with another 27,000 on the waitlist.
In June 2020, the Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state breached its trust duty to Native Hawaiian beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust program by not awarding homestead lots in a timely manner. The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of all beneficiaries who filed claims with the Hawaiian Claims Panel between 1991 and 1995.
Then-Gov. David Ige announced the $328 million settlement in April 2022.