Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Hawaii

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At issue was whether an unwritten policy of the Department of Public Safety precluding from promotion to supervisory positions all employees who have been suspended for violation of the Department’s standards of conduct in the prior two years violates aspects of the merit principle on which the Hawaii civil service system is founded. See Haw. Const. art. XVI, 1 and Haw. Rev. Stat. 76-1. Five employees of the Department applied for promotion to open supervisory positions. Each employee passed the relevant examination and was otherwise qualified for the supervisory position prior to being deemed “unsuitable” under the unwritten policy. The Supreme Court held that the Department’s unwritten policy violated the merit principle of openness and remanded this case to the circuit court with instructions to remand to the Merit Appeals Board for further proceedings. View "In re Kuamoo" on Justia Law

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Haw. Rev. Stat. 386-8, which governs a third party’s liability for workers’ compensation, provides the exclusive remedy for an employer to recover workers’ compensation benefits from a third-party tortfeasor. An employee of Hawaiian Dredging Construction Company, Inc. (HDCC) was injured in a workplace accident, allegedly due to the actions of HDCC’s subcontractor, Fujikawa Associates, Inc. (Fujikawa). HDCC sought reimbursement from Fujikawa, claiming that workers’ compensation benefits were within the scope of the subcontract’s indemnity clause. When Fujikawa refused to indemnify HDCC, HDCC filed a complaint alleging breach of the subcontract. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Fujikawa. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that summary judgment was appropriate because HDCC did not avail itself of the exclusive remedy provided in section 386-8. View "Hawaiian Dredging Construction Co. v. Fujikawa Associates, Inc." on Justia Law

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The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) did not err in ruling that an injury suffered by Plaintiff that arose while she worked as a Public Health Educator IV for the State Department of Health (DOH) resulted from an “accident occurring while in the actual performance of duty at some definite time and place” and was therefore a covered injury under Haw. Rev. Stat. 88-336. Section 88-336 provides service-connected disability retirement benefits under the Employees’ Retirement System’s (ERS) Hybrid Plan to Class H public officers and employees, such as Petitioner. Petitioner submitted an application for service-connected disability retirement in connection with permanent incapacitating injuries she suffered to her elbow, arm, and hand. A hearing officer concluded that Petitioner’s excessive keyboarding over a period of time did not constitute an “accident” because it did not occur at a “specific time and place.” The ERS denied Petitioner’s application. The circuit court affirmed. The ICA vacated the circuit court’s decision and remanded to the circuit court with directions to vacate the ERS Board’s denial of disability retirement to Petitioner. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner’s injury occurred “while in the actual performance of duty at some definite time and place.” View "Pasco v. Board of Trustees of the Employees’ Retirement System" on Justia Law

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Employees may bring defamation and false light claims against their employer because the Workers’ Compensation Law’s (WCL) bar on claims for injuries incurred in the course of employment does not extend to injuries to a person’s reputation. Petitioners, employees of the County of Hawaii, brought this action against the County, certain County officials, and a private investigation company hired by the County (collectively, Defendants), alleging defamation. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Defendants, determining (1) Petitioners’ claims against the County were barred by the WCL because the alleged injury to their reputations arose through the course and scope of their employment; (2) Petitioners failed to adduce evidence raising a genuine issue of material fact that the County officials had made false statements about them; and (3) the third-party investigator had no duty towards Petitioners. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the summary judgment for Defendants, holding (1) whether one County official’s alleged defamatory statements were true involved a disputed question of material fact; (2) Petitioners’ defamation and false light claims against the County and the second County official in his official capacity were not barred by the WCL; and (3) licensed private investigators owe a duty of care to the subjects of their investigations. View "Nakamoto v. Kawauchi" on Justia Law

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Haw. R. Civ. P. 56O(e) does not preclude an affidavit from being self-serving, nor does it require an affidavit to be corroborated by independent evidence. Further, an affidavit is conclusory if it expresses a conclusion without stating the underlying facts or reaches a conclusion that is not reasonably drawn from the underlying facts. In this case involving a claim brought by an employee against her former employer alleging that she was terminated on the basis of her gender, the Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the employer, holding that the circuit court (1) erred in rejecting the employee’s declarations as uncorroborated, self-serving, and conclusory; (2) erred in striking a declaration submitted by an employee in opposition that complied with the circuit court’s order allowing supplemental briefing; and (3) erred in granting summary judgment because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the employer’s proffered reasons for the employee’s termination were based on pretext. View "Nozawa v. Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3" on Justia Law

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In this case raising two questions concerning Hawaii law of workers’ compensation as it relates to permanent partial disability (PPD) awards, the Supreme Court held (1) a PPD award for an unscheduled injury that is not comparable to a scheduled injury must be supported by some factual finding of a determinate percentage of impairment of a physical or mental function of the whole person; and (2) a PPD determination may be based on a claimant’s post-injury inability to perform the usual and customary work activities in the position the claimant occupied prior to the injury. In the instant case, the Labor and Industrial Relations Appeals Board (LIRAB) awarded Employee $250 in PPD benefits. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) vacated LIRAB’s ruling and remanded for a determination of whether Employee had suffered a permanent impairment and, if so, the percentage of the impairment and the award of PPD benefits based on that percentage. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated the Board’s $250 lump sum award and remanded to LIRAB for it to determine the relevant percentage of Employee’s impairment, as well as an award of PPD benefits based on that percentage. View "Ihara v. State" on Justia Law

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Under the facts of this case, the doctrine of sovereign immunity did not protect the State from an arbitrator’s award of prejudgment interest. This case arose from Grievant’s termination from her job as a public school teacher. The Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) filed a grievance on Grievant’s behalf, and an arbitration hearing was held pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement between HSTA and the Hawaii State Department of Education (State). The arbitrator sustained the grievance and ordered that Grievant be restored to her former position. The arbitrator also determined that Grievant was entitled to interest on unpaid backpay. Before the circuit court, the State argued that Grievance was not entitled to the awarded interest. The circuit court vacated the portion of the award that gave Grievant prejudgment interest. The Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) reversed the circuit court’s order vacating the prejudgment interest award, concluding that the doctrine of sovereign immunity was not implicated in this case. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the ICA did not err in concluding that the State waived its sovereign immunity in the arbitration proceedings, even as to the issue of interest. View "In re Arbitration between Hawaii State Teachers Association and State of Hawaii, Department of Education" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated cases (Garner and Kawashima), the Supreme Court held that the circuit court erred in determining that Regulation 5203 was a Haw. Rev. Stat. chapter 91 rule and in granting summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs for their hourly back wages contract claims. Further, the court erred in finding in the Garner case that Plaintiffs were entitled to interest on their per diem and hourly back wages under Haw. Rev. Stat. 103-10. Plaintiffs in both cases - substitute and part-time temporary teachers (PTTs) who were employed by the State, Department of Education (DOE) - claimed they were underpaid by the State. In Garner, the circuit court awarded hourly back wages to Plaintiffs who worked in a part-time capacity and also awarded interest on both the per diem and hourly back wages owed. In Kawashima, the circuit court awarded the PTTs hourly back wages but ruled that the PTTs were not entitled to interest on their unpaid hourly wages. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment in Garner and affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment in Kawashima, holding that Plaintiffs were not entitled to hourly back wages or interest on any back wages, whether per diem or hourly, under section 103-10. View "Kawashima v. State, Department of Education" on Justia Law

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John Hasircoglu was an employee of a subcontractor to FOPCO, Inc., the general contractor on a tunnel construction project on Molokai. In response to a request by the State, FOPCO identified Donald Clark and Michael Estes, neither of whom were FOPCO employees, as “project superintendent and key personnel.” The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of FOPCO on all claims. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed on the grounds that Estes and Clark were not agents of FOPCO, and therefore, FOPCO could not be held vicariously liable for their alleged negligence. The Supreme Court vacated in part and otherwise affirmed, holding (1) there existed a genuine issue of material fact as to whether there was an agency relationship between FOPCO and Estes and/or Clark based on actual express or implied authority; and (2) summary judgment was proper as to Plaintiffs’ remaining claims. View "Hasircoglu v. FOPCO, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed this class action suit individually and on behalf of employees (and their dependent-beneficiaries) who began working for the State or its political subdivisions before July 1, 2003 and who had accrued or will accrue a right to post-retirement health benefits as a retiree a retiree’s dependent. Plaintiffs alleged that the State, the City and County of Honolulu, and the Counties of Kaua’i, Maui, and Hawai’i impaired Plaintiffs’ accrued retirement health benefits in violation of Haw. Const. art. XVI, 2. Specifically, Plaintiffs claimed that the State and Counties violated their statutory rights under Haw. Rev. Stat. 87 by not providing retirees and their dependents with dental and medical benefits that were substantially equal to those provided to active workers and their dependents. After a lengthy procedural history, the Supreme Court held that Plaintiffs’ accrued retirement health benefits have been diminished or impaired in violation of article XVI, section 2. Remanded for further proceedings. View "Dannenberg v. State" on Justia Law