Hawaii to pay $328 million from surplus in 23-year-old lawsuit settlement

(The Center Square) - A 23-year-old class action lawsuit is ending with a $328 million settlement between the state of Hawaii and the plaintiffs, pending legislative approval.

A joint legislative conference committee recommended approval of the expenditure as part of Senate Bill 3041. The money will come from the state's revenue surplus, Sen. Sylvia Luke, D-Honolulu, said during the meeting. The appropriation will need approval of the full House and Senate.

The lawsuit filed in 1999 involved 2,721 claimants who were beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920, according to court documents. The plaintiffs alleged that the State of Hawaii breached the trust obligations from when it became the state's responsibility in 1959 until June 1988, when Hawaii first began to address the mismanagement, court documents show.

The plaintiffs were seeking damages from incidents between August 21, 1959, and June 30, 1988, according to a news release from Gov. David Ige's office.

The governor said that the $328 million is meant to secure full, global release of all claims, including damages, attorneys' fees, and litigation costs. It will also cover claims administration costs and pay a court-appointed special master to oversee the distribution of the funds.

"This necessary resolution fairly compensates the Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries and brings this litigation to a close, but it is not the end of the story," Ige said. "I remain committed to developing and delivering homes for the Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries."

The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 was meant to administer certain public lands for homesteads to native Hawaiians who had at least 50% Hawaiian blood, according to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL). It was incorporated into the State Constitution when Hawaii was granted statehood in 1959. The state assumed responsibility for the land trust, which DHHL said consists of over 200,000 acres.

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