A decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court removes a final obstacle blocking release of $286 million to class action plaintiffs

The Hawaii Supreme Court has cleared the way for thousands of Native Hawaiians to receive funds totaling $286 million as part of a class action settlement related to homestead lands. 

The ruling will provide some measure of relief to Native Hawaiian beneficiaries who have waited for years to lease homestead lands held in trust for by the state for their benefit. The decades-long litigation settled in 2022, and the Legislature appropriated funds to pay the claims to 2,515 class members who had been found eligible to receive payment, including 1,164 who had passed away while the litigation was going.

The final, most recent hurdle involved Rickey Rivera, who had been part of the plaintiffs class but deemed ineligible for payment. Rivera appealed. The Supreme Court on Thursday made clear Rivera was entitled to appeal but not for payment, snippy because he was born too late.

“The settlement does not pay anyone who ‘asserted an individual breach of trust that occurred after June 30, 1988,’” the court’s unanimous opinion said. In essence, Rivera was simply too young to meet that deadline.

“He did not become eligible to apply for a homestead lease until he turned 18 on August 21, 1988,” the court said.

Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez applauded the decision.

“The Supreme Court’s decision today acknowledged Mr. Rivera’s right to be heard in an appellate court, while also promptly resolving all outstanding matters,” she said in a statement. “This decision satisfied the remaining condition that needed to be met prior to the release of funds—a final judgment, with all appeals exhausted. We will now work with class counsel to ensure that all funds are released as soon as possible.”

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