Thursday, July 6, 2006

Yet More Aloha Jurisprudence

Pioneeruh I posted a little bit about "aloha jurisprudence" in April.  The basic idea here is that Hawaii's court are taking direction from what the Hawaii statutes call the "aloha spirit": "the working philosophy of native Hawaiians(;) ... 'Aloha' is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence." HRS § 5-7.5(a).

A few weeks ago I wrote a little bit about Makila Land Company v. Heirs of Apaa, which is a recent intermediate court of appeals opinon that dealt with a claim to property from the nineteenth century.  The plaintifs believed they were intestate heirs of Apaa; the court reserved the trial court's dismissal of their claim, in part because the court took testimony on the meaning of a Hawaiian kinship term, "makuakane."  (More evidence of aloha jurisprudence, I think.)

The question that one might have in Makila Land Company is: why would what happened in the late nineteenth century matter?  Wouldn't a claim founded on such old claims be barred by the statute of limitations?  Well, perhaps not.  And that's where the Hawaii Suprme Court's 1999 opinion in Pioneer Mill Company v. Dow comes in.

Pioneer Mill, which was argued by my former colleague Carl Christensen, dealt with a claim to land on Maui that was owned by Thomas Phillips at his death in . . . 1864.  Phillips' wife, Kahoonaeha, and Thomas'his first wife's brother, John White, each ended up with a half interest in the property.  Kahoonaeha left life estates to her daughter and grandson and White transfered the property to his son and grandson in 1880 (apparently without consultation with Kahoonaeha or the life estate holders).  After some more transfers, the property came into the hands of one E.G. Gerreira in 1907 and, ultimately, into Pioneer's hands in 1924.

Pioneer asked for summary judgment against the claim in 1994, arguing that it had "openly, notoriously, continuously and exclusively used the land."  And although the intermediate court of appeals accepted their argument, the Hawaii Supreme Court reversed because Pioneer Mill did not meet its high burden of showing by clear and convincing proof that it adversely possessed the property.  The court reached back to some nineteenth century precedent (as well as some more recent cases) to hold that: if the initial occupation is permissive, then there is a presumption of continued permissive occupation until

such time as the adverse claimant shows, by words or acts sufficient to give notice to the contrary to an ordinarily prudent and vigilant owner, that he, she, or it, the adverse claimant, had changed its character and was thereafter occupying adversely.

Pioneer MIll could still rebut that presumption, obviously--but it needed to show some evidence other than long-term occupation (apparently) to do so.  Mighty nice of Justice Mario Ramil and the rest of the Hawaii Supreme Court to help out the heirs that way.  It's the aloha spirit in action, I think.

You may use other cases to teach the difficulty of adverse possession against co-tenants.  If you teach in Alabama, you might use Ex Parte Walker, 739 S.2d 3 (Ala. 1999).  You might also use some of the cases discussed in Helen Jenkins, Study of the Intersection of DNA Technology, Exhumation, and Heirship Determination as it Relates to Modern-Day Descendants of Slaves in America, 50 Alabama Law Review 39 (1998).  I hope that you'll also think about using Pioneer Mill with your students.  I'm guessing that it might start appearing in some casebooks shortly.

Endnote: The image of a Pioneer Mill building is from the University of Hawaii's Center for Oral  History  page on Pioneer Mill, a company founded in 1862.  More images of abandoned Mill buildings and a story about the Mill here and a really cool 360° one of the Mill here.

Alfred L. Brophy

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This sounds very interesting to me as a Hawaiian. My great great great grandma was given large tracts of land by the king in the form of Royal Patents. Unfortunately, after her death her land started to disappear thru quiet title actions by those in control of the islands and knowledge of the process. I'm just learning about who my ancestors were through old Hawaiian geneology birth chants. It was always a mystery who our ancestors were. Actual proof through birth cirtificates is not there-they didn't have any. However, my question is: Are Royal Patents legal today and how would you go about making claim to the land?

Posted by: Gordon Lee | Oct 19, 2008 6:16:22 AM

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