Hawai'i State Prevails in Multimillion-Dollar Federal Lawsuit Over Big Island Housing Development

In a significant legal victory for the State of Hawai’i, a multimillion-dollar federal lawsuit brought by developer DW Aina Leʻa has been successfully defended, with the state prevailing in a case centered around the reversion of the Waikōloa project – Villages at Aina Leʻa – from an urban to an agricultural district. The lawsuit, stemming from the State of Hawai’i Land Use Commission’s decision in 2011 to alter the district designation, has seen multiple legal proceedings, culminating in a favorable ruling for the state.

The recent ruling, delivered by Judge Susan Oki Mollway of the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawai’i on February 12, 2024, granted summary judgment in favor of the state. This decision follows previous legal actions, including an initial summary judgment in favor of the state in May 2022, which was subsequently sent back to the lower court by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for further proceedings.

The court’s ruling rejected DW Aina Leʻa’s claim of regulatory taking, asserting that the developer could not establish damages as a matter of law. This outcome represents a significant legal triumph for the State of Hawai’i, affirming its authority to enforce land-use regulations while safeguarding the public interest.

Special Assistant to the Attorney General, Dave Day, emphasized the state’s commitment to defending against speculative claims that seek financial gain at the expense of taxpayers. He highlighted the diligent efforts of the Department of the Attorney General’s litigation team in presenting a robust defense, ultimately securing judgment in favor of the Land Use Commission.

Special Deputy Attorney General Sharon Lovejoy echoed this sentiment, characterizing the federal court’s ruling as a decisive affirmation of the state’s ability to uphold legal principles balancing private property rights with the public interest. She emphasized the significance of the victory in maintaining the integrity of land-use regulations and ensuring accountability in development projects.

The litigation surrounding the April 25, 2011, decision by the Land Use Commission has been extensive, with previous federal cases and appeals contributing to the legal landscape. Notably, the Ninth Circuit’s decision in a related case involving Bridge Aina Leʻa, LLC, reaffirmed the state’s position and served as precedent in similar regulatory-taking cases nationwide.

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The outcome of this lawsuit underscores the state’s dedication to responsible land-use management and reinforces the importance of upholding regulatory standards in development projects. As Hawai’i continues to navigate complex legal challenges, this victory serves as a testament to the effectiveness of diligent legal defense in safeguarding the public interest and preserving the integrity of land-use regulations.

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