FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 22, 2022
Ryan Leong, 808.392.7455
COURT DENIES MAUI COUNTY’S REQUEST TO DISMISS LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST IT BASED ON HOUSELESS SWEEPS AT KANAHĀ
HONOLULU: On March 16, 2022, a Maui judge rebuffed an attempt by Maui County to dismiss a lawsuit filed against it by residents of a houseless encampment known as Pu‘uhonua o Kanahā, stemming from sweeps of their encampment late last year. 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.
Jessica Lau, a Kanahā plaintiff, said of the ruling against the County, “It means a lot. It’s a beautiful feeling that we are finally going to be heard.”
Maui County forcibly evicted houseless residents of Pu‘uhonua o Kanahā, located on Amala Place near Kanahā Beach Park in Kahului, in September 2021. Many people who were evicted also lost their personal property, which Maui County unlawfully seized and destroyed during the sweep. Many residents had lived there peacefully for months or years, and the possessions they lost included those needed for survival, such as tents and vehicles for shelter, along with cookware and clothing.
Sonia Davis, a Kanahā plaintiff, said of the ruling, “I’m glad to see something is finally being done. Every time they did a sweep I took a loss and it was really hard. Finally, something is being done.”
Before the eviction, Maui County announced via press release on September 1, 2021 that it would be conducting a “clean-up of public lands surrounding the Kanahā Pond Wildlife Sanctuary and Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Treatment Plant.” On September 14, 2021 Maui Police Department officers distributed physical flyers of a “Notice to Vacate County Property” to some of the houseless residents in the area. The notice did not provide any information about how residents could retrieve their personal property, how their property would be stored, or what procedures were available to residents to challenge the sweep.
Over 40 individuals did file requests for a contested case before the sweep occurred on September 20-24, 2021. But Maui County never responded to the requests.
On October 20, 2021, with the help of the ACLU of Hawaiʻi, several residents filed an agency appeal lawsuit in the Second Circuit Court, based on Maui County’s failure to respond to their contested case requests.
Lisa Darcy of Share Your Mana, which has worked alongside the Kanahā community, said “When power is abused by those who are charged with the community’s care, we ultimately have the law.”
Soon after the lawsuit was filed, Maui County moved to dismiss the notice of appeal, and in its March 16 order, the court denied the motion to dismiss. This means the case by the former residents of Pu‘uhonua o Kanahā against Maui County will move forward.
Lauralee Riedell, a Kanahā plaintiff, said of the ruling, “I feel relieved that someone is interested in hearing and learning about the conditions we face. This ruling is a crack in the clouds and light is finally coming through. It provides a little bit of hope.”
Adam Walton, a Kanahā plaintiff, said of the ruling, “Wow. We have a voice.”
In its order denying Maui County’s motion, the court found, among other things, that:
- Not all residents received Maui County’s notice to vacate;
- The notice to vacate did not provide procedures available to challenge Maui County’s actions, nor did it provide information on how people could retrieve their items after Maui County seized them;
- The record does not show that Maui County had any procedures in place to store or return personal property seized during the sweeps;
- The record suggests that Maui County actually did destroy personal property seized during the sweeps;
- Residents did file contested case hearing requests prior to the sweeps being conducted by Maui County;
- Maui County received the contested case requests, but did not respond to them and did not hold any contested case hearings; and
- Constitutional due process required a contested case hearing to be held before Maui County conducted the Kanahā sweep.
ACLU of Hawai‘i Legal Director Wookie Kim said, “We are very pleased that our clients will now have their day in court, after the County wrongfully denied them their constitutional right to be heard. By finding that contested case requests were required before Maui County conducted this sweep of houseless people and their property, the Court confirmed that houseless people do not forfeit their constitutional due process rights simply by existing in public spaces, and also effectively put the County on notice that the kind of slipshod procedure it used here will not be tolerated in the future.”
A copy of the Court’s order on Maui County’s motion to dismiss is attached.
The mission of the Hawai‘i affiliate of the ACLU is to protect the civil liberties contained in the state and federal constitutions through litigation, legislative and public education programs statewide. The ACLU is funded primarily through private donations and offers its services at no cost to the public. The ACLU does not accept any government funds