Supreme Court hands win to Kauaʻula Valley kuleana family; case continues on Maui
November 30, 2022, 8:58 AM HST
* Updated December 1, 5:10 AM
The Hawai’i Supreme Court on Monday handed a victory to Keʻeaumoku Kapu and his family regarding his claims to a kuleana parcel that his house sits on in Kauaʻula Valley, but the case is not over as it returns to the Circuit Court on Maui.
In 2009, West Maui Land subsidiary, Makila Land, filed suit in Maui Circuit Court claiming that it was the true owner of the parcel known by the name of its Land Commission awardee, Olala. According to court records, Makila Land claimed it received title to the property through Pioneer Mill.
Kapu tells Maui Now that the valley includes 24 loʻi kalo, burials of ancestors, and ancient heiau and homesteads. According to Kapu, his father was raised by his kupuna in the valley that once housed more than 2,400 Native Hawaiians. He disputes the chain of title presented by Makila, saying they are direct descendants of the original owner, and alternatively, because they had gained title by adverse possession.
The case now returns to the circuit court for the parties to begin from the start, and for each side to prove their superior claim to the title.
Persistence continues after years of litigation
When asked how the case is weighing on the family and the ability to live at peace without fear.
Kapu responded saying, “It’s been even more difficult now that my father has passed away in 2019. My father made sure that we were well prepared to care for not just this LCA award where he was raised by his kupuna wahine but also the bounty that came with it–24 loʻi kalo, orchards of ulu, uala, niu–and that’s only within our 4 acre kuleana fed by a prominent and historic auwai known as Pi’ilani.”
Kapu said the area was governed and ruled by Princess Ruth Ke’elikōlani, and today is under the careship of the Kamehameha Trust.
He said the most important reason he came home was to care for the burials of his ancestors, which he said goes back for many generations. “Not just any kupuna but prominent kupuna of a time when life was complicated in 1843 because of foreign intuition and greed up until 1896 when many of these very kupuna fought long and hard for water so they could feed and nurture their ʻohana,” said Kapu, who cited the Supreme Court ruling Kumuli’ili’i vs Horner in which the court reviewed ancient usage of water for irrigation from the Kauaʻula stream.
“Also the many ancient (Heiau) temples and homesteads where once this valley housed over 2400 kanaka many died of measles, smallpox, black plague and the common cold,” Kapu said. “We are still here today, persistent, rock hard like our kupuna before us.”
When asked how he feels, knowing the case is being remanded back to the Second Circuit Court again, Kapu responded:
“It should have never gone that route ever. These matters should not be tried in a de facto illegally occupied State unless it is by jury where we are allowed a fair and due process. My family has been tossed around through this judicial system of cat and mouse by a society that doesn’t know right from wrong which results most times through collateral damage. I hope from this supreme court’s decision that many kanaka out there who seek for redemption have the courage to stand up and continue to seek justice for our land and the protection of our resources. Will we ever have peace is only in the eyes of the beholder,” said Kapu.
In 2012, the Maui Circuit Court ruled in Makila Land’s favor and Kapu appealed. In 2016, the appeals court vacated the circuit court’s decision and sent it back for further proceedings.
In 2017, Makila Land sought summary judgment. Kapu claims there was no notice to the family and members were not in attendance when the Maui Circuit Court granted summary judgement.
Kapu said he learned of the decision the following month from Makila Land attorneys and requested the circuit court reopen the matter and allow him a hearing. The hearing was denied.
Kapu appealed again, and in 2019, the appeals court affirmed the denial. Kapu sought the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court’s review, which held oral arguments in September 2019.
The Supreme Court vacated the 2017 decision and also the 2016 decision of the appeals court. In its opinion, the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court states the Circuit Court not only erred but also abused its discretion in denying Kapu’s request for a hearing and reconsideration.
Kapu was represented by Daniel Gluck as part of the Appellate Pro Bono Program.