14 ELR 20549 | Environmental Law Reporter | copyright © 1984 | All rights reserved

Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff

Nos. 83-141, -236, -283 (U.S. May 30, 1984)

ELR Digest

The Court rules that condemnation of land for resale to private parties to abate the evils of an oligopoly of land ownership in Hawaii does not violate the Public Use Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Hawaii's history of feudal land tenure has left most of the residential land in the hands of a relatively few owners who prefer to lease rather than sell the land. Finding that this pattern of ownership injured the public, the Hawaii legislature passed an act allowing condemnation of residential land and resale to the current residents. Before the state may condemn land, the act requires a hearing and a finding that the taking would serve the public interest.

Faced with a state administrative proceeding for condemnation, landowners sought to have the act declared unconstitutional in federal court. The district court upheld the act, but the Ninth Circuit reversed, 13 ELR 20534.

The Court holds that the district court was within its discretion in declining to abstain from hearing the case. No uncertain questions of state law that might support Pullman abstention are involved. No state judicial proceedings that might call for Younger abstention were initiated before the suit was filed.

The Court then holds that the act does not violate the public use requirement of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. If a goal is within the state's police power, the power of eminent domain is available as the means to realize that goal. When a legislature mandates a taking to achieve a goal, the court's reviewing role is narrow. If the exercise of eminent domain is rationally related to a conceivable public purpose, it must be sustained.The Hawaiian act is clearly constitutional. Regulating oligopoly is a proper object of legislation, and the act's approach is comprehensive and rational. Given this, whether the act will succeed is not a question to be debated in the federal courts. Examining the concerns of the court of appeals, the Court declares that there is no constitutional requirement that the sovereign take physical possession of condemned land, or that the condemned land be made available for the use of the general public. Also, a federal court should be just as deferential to the findings of a state legislature as it is to findings of Congress, since legislatures, whether state or federal, are better able to choose which public purposes should be advanced using the taking power.

The judgment of the Ninth Circuit is reversed and the cases remanded.

Justice Marshall did not participate in the decision of the case.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (5 pp $1.25, ELR Order No. C-1324).

Counsel for Appellants
Prof. Laurence H. Tribe, Special Deputy Attorney General of Hawaii
Harvard Univ. Law School, Cambridge MA 02138
(617) 495-3100

Tany S. Hong, Attorney General; Michael A. Lilly
State Capitol, Honolulu HI 96813
(808) 548-4747

Dennis E. W. O'Connor, Jerrold K. Guben, Theodore Y. Uyeno
Hoddick, Reinwald, O'Connor & Marrack
P.O. Box 3199, Honolulu HI 96801
(808) 537-1941

Corey Y. S. Park
Paul, Johnston & Alston
P.O. Box 4438, Honolulu HI 96813
(808) 524-1212

James H. Case, A. Bernard Bays, Edward E. Case
Carlsmith, Carlsmith, Wichman & Case
P.O. Box 656, Honolulu HI 96809
(808) 523-2500

Counsel for Appellees
Clinton R. Ashford, Rosemary T. Fazio
Ashford & Wriston
P.O. Box 131, Honolulu HI 96810

G. Richard Morry, Earl T. Sato
Hamilton, Gibson, Nickelsen, Rush & Moore
20th Floor, Hawaii Bldg., 745 Fort St., Honolulu HI 96813
(808) 521-0400

E. Barrett Prettyman Jr., Paul J. Larking Jr., B. Evan Bayh III
Hogan & Hartson
815 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC 20006
(202) 331-4500

O'Connor, J.


14 ELR 20549 | Environmental Law Reporter | copyright © 1984 | All rights reserved