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Historic $328M settlement reached in class-action suit over Hawaiian homestead lands

A historic $328 million settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit filed against the state in 1999 on behalf Native Hawaiians waiting for land.
Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 2:35 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 26, 2022 at 5:13 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A historic $328 million settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit filed against the state in 1999 on behalf Native Hawaiians who spent years waiting for Hawaiian homestead land, the governor announced Tuesday.

State House and Senate leaders approved the settlement on Tuesday afternoon.

It still must go before the full Legislature before heading to the governor’s desk.

The class-action suit was filed on behalf of 2,700 Native Hawaiians, and part of the settlement includes the cost to retain a court-appointed special master to oversee and account for the funds.

Weeks of intensive negotiations and a settlement judge brought the two sides together.

The suit accuses the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands of breach of trust for not awarding leases on a timely basis. Qualified applicants must be part Hawaiian to receive the 99-year lease at $1 a year.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the settlement helps make up for the cost of paying rent, “To compensate them for the lost benefits of homesteading that they would have had over the last 20 years,” said attorney Carl Varaday.

“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,” Gov. David Ige said, in a news release.

“I remain committed to developing and delivering homes for the Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries.”

The class-action suit is open to those who filed claims with the Hawaiian Claims Office between 1991 and 1995, and who applied or attempted to apply for a homestead before June 30, 1988.

State Rep. Sylvia Luke said a surplus in tax revenue will help fund the settlement.

“That really prompted the discussion between state and claimants to come to a resolution because of added revenues,” Luke said.

Officials said of the original 2,700 Native Hawaiians who were part of the suit, 953 have since died. Their families can seek compensation.

“While this is a joyous occasion for everyone both the living clients and the relatives of the deceased clients, it’s also a sad occasion for those individuals who passed and couldn’t see the conclusion of the lawsuit,” said Thomas Grande, another attorney for the plaintiffs.

The settlement also comes as the Legislature considers a $600 million cash infusion for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands aimed at building nearly 3,000 homes statewide.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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