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Molfino v. Yuen

Intermediate Court of Appeals of Hawaii

August 28, 2013

GEOFFREY MOLFINO, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
CHRISTOPHER J. YUEN, in his capacity as Planning Director, County of Hawai'i; COUNTY OF HAWAI'I; JOHN DOES 1-10; JANE DOES 1-10; DOE PARTNERSHIPS 1-10; DOE CORPORATIONS 1-10; DOE GOVERNMENTAL UNITS 1-10; and DOE ENTITIES 1-10, Defendants-Appellees

NOT FOR PUBLICATION IN WEST'S HAWAII REPORTS AND PACIFIC REPORTER

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE THIRD CIRCUIT (CIVIL NO. 07-1-0378)

Peter Van Name Esser for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Laureen L. Martin Michael J. Udovic Deputies Corporation Counsel for Defendants-Appellees.

Leonard, Presiding Judge, Reifurth and Ginoza, JJ.

SUMMARY DISPOSITION ORDER

Plaintiff-Appellant Geoffrey Molfino (Molfino) appeals from a January 11, 2011 judgment in favor of Defendants-Appellees Christopher J. Yuen (Yuen), in his capacity as Planning Director for the County of Hawai'i, and the County of Hawai'i (County) (collectively, Appellees), entered by the Circuit Court of the Third Circuit (Circuit Court)[1]

Molfino's Opening Brief fails to include a "concise statement of the points of error set forth in separately numbered paragraphs", as required by Hawai'i Rules of Appellate Procedure (HRAP) Rule 28(b)(4), but appears to primarily contend that the Circuit Court erred in granting summary judgment on his negligence claim because Appellees had a duty to maintain accurate, relevant, timely and complete subdivision records.[2]

Upon careful review of the record and the briefs submitted by the parties and having given due consideration to the arguments advanced and the issues raised by the parties, we resolve Molfino's points of error as follows:

"It is well-established that, in order for a plaintiff to prevail on a negligence claim, the plaintiff is required to prove all four of the necessary elements of negligence: (1) duty; (2) breach of duty; (3) causation; and (4) damages." Kaho'ohanohano v. Dep't of Human Servs., State of Haw., 117 Hawai'i 262, 287 n.31, 178 P.3d 538, 563 n.31 (2008) (citation omitted).

HRS § 662-2 (1993) provides:

§662-2 Waiver and liability of State. The State hereby waives its immunity for liability for the torts of its employees and shall be liable in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances, but shall not be liable for interest prior to judgment or for punitive damages.

"The basic principle of governmental tort liability in Hawai[']i now is that the State and its political subdivisions shall be held accountable for the torts of governmental employees in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances[.]" Cootey v. Sun Inv., Inc., 68 Haw. 480, 483, 718 P.2d 1086, 1089 (1986) (citation, internal quotation marks, ellipses, and brackets omitted; block quote format altered). However, not all negligent acts of government employees result in governmental liability. Cootey, 68 Haw. at 483-84, 718 P.2d at 1090.

"A prerequisite to any negligence action is the existence of a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff." Cuba v. Fernandez, 71 Haw. 627, 631, 801 P.2d 1208, 1211 (1990). This element of negligence is "[a] duty, or obligation, recognized by the law, requiring the [defendant] to conform to a certain standard of conduct, for the protection of others against unreasonable risks[.]" Knodle v. Waikiki Gateway Hotel, Inc., 69 Haw. 376, 383, 742 P.2d 377, 385 (1987) (citation omitted; block quote format altered). "Whether such a duty exists is a question of law." Cuba, 71 Haw. at 631, 801 P.2d at 1211 (citation omitted).

In determining whether there was a duty owed by the County to Molfino, "our task is to balance the policy considerations supporting recovery by the injured party against those favoring a limitation of the County's liability." Cootey, ...


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