Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Hawaii

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Under the circumstances of this case, it was unconscionable to require an employee to pay half the estimated arbitration costs up front in order to access the arbitral forum, and therefore, the requirement was unenforceable. Plaintiff signed and submitted an employment contract that contained an arbitration provision. Plaintiff, however, never did work for Defendant. Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that Defendant refused to hire her in retaliation for her filing a sexual harassment complaint. Defendant filed a motion to compel arbitration. Plaintiff opposed the motion to compel, arguing, inter alia, that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable because it required her to pay for the arbitration costs in a civil rights matter. The circuit court ultimately granted Defendant’s motion to compel arbitration. The court found it would be unconscionable for Plaintiff to pay half the arbitration estimate to access the arbitral forum but nonetheless concluded that the arbitration clause could be enforced by requiring Defendant to pay for all arbitration fees and costs. The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court’s order, holding that the circuit court (1) correctly concluded that the parties entered into a valid arbitration agreement; but (2) improperly reformed the arbitration agreement instead of invalidating the entire agreement. View "Gabriel v. Island Pacific Academy, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case arose out of dispute between the Association of Apartment Owners of Royal Aloha, its former property managers, and its former commercial tenants. The AOAO installed an electricity submetering system and submitted readings of each unit’s electricity submeter to the managing agent, who would bill each owner for electricity. For certain years, some commercial tenants were never billed for electricity, and some were erroneously billed for a portion of those electricity costs. The AOAO sued its former property managers for, inter alia, breach of contract for the billing errors. The AOAO also sued the commercial tenants to recover the unbilled or erroneously billed electricity costs. The circuit court granted summary judgment for all defendants, concluding that all claims were barred under the doctrine of laches. The Intermediate Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the defense of laches applies only to equitable claims. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that laches is a defense to legal and equitable claims alike. View "Association of Apartment Owners of Royal Aloha v. Certified Management, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought a wrongful death action against Kamehameha Investment Corporation (KIC), the developer of a hillside area, and Sato and Associates, Inc. and Daniel Miyasato (collectively, Sato), the civil engineer. KIC tendered defense against Plaintiffs’ claims to Sato pursuant to a hold harmless clause in a project consultant agreement between Sato and KIC. KIC filed a cross-claim against Sato, alleging that Sato had agreed to defend and indemnify KIC against Plaintiffs’ claims. The trial court granted KIC’s motion for partial summary judgment against Sato. Relying on Pancakes of Hawaii, Inc. v. Pomare Properties Corp., the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) affirmed, concluding that Sato had a contractual duty to defend KIC in the wrongful death action. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA’s judgment, holding (1) Haw. Rev. Stat. 431:10-222 renders invalid any provision in a construction contract requiring the promisor to defend “the promisee against liability for bodily injury to persons or damage to property caused by or resulting from the sole negligence of willful misconduct of the promisee, the promisee’s agent or employees, or indemnitee”; (2) Pancakes does not apply to defense provisions in construction contracts; and (3) the scope of a promisor’s duty to defend imposed by a construction contract is determined at the end of litigation. Remanded. View "Arthur v. State, Dep’t of Hawaiian Home Lands" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, Clarence Furuya and Lona Furuya, filed the underlying suit against Association of Apartment Owners of Pacific Monarch, Inc. (AOAO) raising issues related to their interests in an apartment unit located at the Pacific Monarch Condominium (Pacific Monarch) and 106 parking stalls appurtenant to the unit. The circuit court concluded that there was no enforceable contract between AOAO and the Furuyas for the purchase of the leased fee interests associated with the unit and the parking stalls. The Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) ultimately affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Furuyas failed to demonstrate error in the circuit court’s decision; and (2) the circuit court did not err in rejecting the Furuyas’ related claims for injunctive relief, declaratory relief, and ultra vires act. View "Furuya v. Ass’n of Apartment Owners of Pacific Monarch, Inc." on Justia Law

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Lloyd Anastasi loaned $2.4 million to a third party in exchange for a mortgage on a property supposedly owned by that third party. Fidelity Insurance Company insured that the third party had good title, but the warranty deed purporting to give title to the third party was forged. Anastasi was sued by the owners of the property, and Fidelity accepted tender of the claim under a reservation of rights. Anastasi later filed a bad faith and breach of contract claim against Fidelity, alleging that the lawsuit was used by Fidelity to delay paying him under the title insurance policy. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Fidelity. The intermediate court of appeals (ICA) remanded in part and vacated in part. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the ICA’s judgment insofar as it remanded to the circuit court an order allowing Fidelity to withhold certain documents that Anastasi requested during discovery under the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine; and (2) vacated the ICA’s judgment insofar it it concluded that Anastasi failed to show any genuine issue of material fact that Fidelity acted in bad faith. View "Anastasi v. Fidelity Nat’l Title Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Buyers bought a commercial property from Seller. Buyers subsequently filed a complaint against Seller challenging the adequacy of Seller’s disclosures. The circuit court dismissed the action without prejudice to allow the parties to engage in mediation. Because of a dispute between the parties regarding mediation, the mortgage payments were briefly interrupted. Seller subsequently brought a foreclosure action against Buyers. Seller then held a nonjudicial public foreclosure auction at which she purchased the property by submitting the highest bid. After a trial on Buyers’ claims for nondisclosure and misrepresentation, the circuit court ordered judgment in favor of Seller. The court also ordered judgment in favor of Seller and against Buyers on Seller’s counterclaims for breach of the note and mortgage and ejectment. The intermediate court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the lower courts, holding (1) Seller’s failure to disclose certain facts regarding the property’s sewer system was actionable under the nondisclosure and misrepresentation causes of action; and (2) Seller’s nonjudicial foreclosure of the property and ejectment of Buyers was wrongful. View "Santiago v. Tanaka" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a construction contract dispute between homeowners Ramon Romero and Cassie Romero and contractor Noel Madamba Contracting LLC (Madamba). The case proceeded to arbitration. Arbitrator Patrick K.S.L. Yim issued a partial final arbitration award concluding that Madamba breached the construction contract and that the Romeros were entitled to compensatory damages. Following the issuance of the partial final award, the parties learned that the law firm representing the Romeros throughout the arbitration had been retained by the administrator of Yim’s personal retirement accounts. Madamba moved to vacate the arbitration award based on this previously undisclosed information. The circuit court denied the motion, determining that Yim’s failure to disclose this information did not constitute evident partiality. The Intermediate Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the lower courts, holding that Yim’s failure to disclose his relationship with the Romeros’ counsel’s law firm constituted evident partiality requiring vacatur of the arbitration award. Remanded with instructions to vacate the arbitration award. View "Noel Madamba Contracting, LLC v. Romero" on Justia Law