Lawsuit over “houseless sweeps” at Kanahā advances, County of Maui plans to appeal
March 22, 2022, 10:20 PM HST
* Updated March 24, 8:32 AM
A Maui judge rejected the County of Maui’s request to dismiss a lawsuit filed against it by residents of a “houseless encampment” at Kanahā during “sweeps” conducted late last year.
The ruling, handed down by Judge Kirstin M. Hamman, granted in part and denied in part the defendants’ motion. The County’s motion to dismiss was granted for Lauralee Riedell and Adam Walton because “they were not deprived of any personal property by the defendants,” according to court documents.
Meanwhile, the court denied the County’s motion in regard to plaintiffs Sonia Davis and Jessica Lau.
“It means a lot,” said Lau in an ACLU press release. “It’s a beautiful feeling that we are finally going to be heard.”
The County of Maui conducted the cleanup in September, at one point announcing progress in the removal of 58 tons of solid waste, and 54 derelict vehicles. But the plaintiffs claim many people who were evicted also lost their personal property, which they say was “unlawfully seized and destroyed during the sweep.”
The plaintiffs also argued that the notice to vacate did not have information on how residents could retrieve property, or what procedures were available to challenge the sweep.
“I’m glad to see something is finally being done,” said Davis. “Every time they did a sweep I took a loss and it was really hard.”
Maui County Deputy Corporation Counsel Caleb Rowe tells Maui Now that the County of Maui plans to appeal the ruling.
“Four plaintiffs allege that the County is required to hold evidentiary hearings before it may remove personal items left on County land without the County’s permission,” he said in an email statement. “The Court granted the County’s motion to dismiss two plaintiffs and ruled that the remaining two plaintiffs were entitled to a hearing before their property was removed from County land. The County has asked that this matter be reviewed by the Intermediate Court of Appeals.”
The ACLU reports that more than 40 individuals filed requests for a contested case before the sweep occurred on Sept. 20-24, 2021. A month later, on Oct. 20, 2021, with the help of the ACLU of Hawaiʻi, several residents filed an agency appeal lawsuit in the Second Circuit Court, based on the County’s failure to respond.
“In its order, the court ruled that constitutional due process required Maui County to hold contested case hearings before they conducted the Kanahā sweep, a critical step Maui County failed to take,” according to the ACLU release.
Kia‘i Pu‘uhonua O Kanahā, an all-volunteer advocacy group was formed in response to the situation, saying their efforts were in support of the encampment community and the local nonprofit Share Your Mana, which has served as a longtime advocate as well.