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Ross v. Wahinehookae

Intermediate Court of Appeals of Hawai'i

February 26, 2015

CORRINA PEARL EDNA ROSS, Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant/Appellee,
REUBEN WAHINEHOOKAE, Defendant/Counterclaimant/Appellant, and HEIRS OF KIMO, et al., Defendants

Editorial Note:

This decision is published in table format in the Pacific and Hawai'i reporter.


On the briefs: James Richard McCarty for Defendant/Counterclaimant/Appellant.

Kyle B. Coffman for Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant/Appellee.

Fujise, Presiding Judge, Leonard and Ginoza, JJ.


Defendant-Appellant Reuben Wahinehookae (Reuben) appeals from an April 11, 2012 Judgment of the Circuit Court of the Second Circuit[1] (Circuit Court) determining that Plaintiff-Appellee Corrina Pearl Edna Ross (Ross) is the sole fee simple owner of a certain .26 acre parcel of land. Reuben argues that certain of the Circuit Court's Findings of Fact (FOFs) are clearly erroneous and that its legal conclusion that Ross owns the subject parcel is wrong.

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 Reuben's points of error as follows:

This appeal stems from an action to quiet title and involves two conflicting theories of ownership of " that certain parcel of land, being all of the land described in and covered by Royal Patent Number 4617, Land Commission Award Number 5129, lying and being at Honokohau Valley, District of Lahaina, Island and County of Maui, State of Hawaii, bearing Tax Map Key designation (2) 4-1-002-036, and containing an area of 0.26 acres, more or less free and clear" (the Property). During a bench trial, a title report prepared by Title Guaranty of Hawaii, Inc. was admitted into evidence as (Reuben's) Defendant's Exhibit 1 (Title Report). The Title Report states, and neither party disputes, that the Property was originally granted to " Kimo" as Land Commission Award Number 5129 on July 26, 1853. It is also undisputed that no conveyances appear of record by Kimo, nor is there a probate proceeding of his estate or a judicial determination of his heirs.

Ross claims that her paper title originates with the estate of David Sardin, aka David Sardine (Sardin) who died testate on October 24, 1975. His Last Will and Testament nominated Hawaiian Trust Company, Ltd. (Hawaiian Trust) as executor of his estate. Sardin's estate was probated as Probate No. 6185, and proper notice via publication in local newspapers was given. The Circuit Court found, and Reuben does not challenge on appeal, that Sardin lived on and claimed ownership to the Property. Reuben argues, however, that Sardin did not own the Property.

Ross's father, Raymond Ross (Ray), stated in a declaration[2] that he had purchased the Property from Sardin's estate along with Gene Bagley (Bagley) and Ruel Bell (Bell) in 1977, and that the Property was legally deeded to Bagley in 1977. On March 24, 1977, Hawaiian Trust filed a petition for confirmation of, inter alia, the sale of the Property to Bagley. In a June 2, 1977 order, the Circuit Court confirmed the sale. On July 19, 1977, Hawaiian Trust recorded an Executor's Deed stating that the Circuit Court had confirmed the sale. On November 21, 1977, the Circuit Court approved the final account and distribution of Sardin's estate.

Ray also stated in his declaration that Bagley soon thereafter conveyed to Ray a one-third interest in the Property. On February 6, 1978, a Grant Deed was recorded, evidencing that on January 30, 1978, Bagley conveyed to Ray a one-third undivided interest in, inter alia, " [a]ll of Land Commission Award No. 5129, Tax Map Key 4-1-2-36." Ray moved onto the Property shortly thereafter, cleared the land, and used it in a variety of ways, including storing vehicles and as a " get away." Ray hired people to maintain the Property, created a driveway into the Property, and built three dwellings on the Property, two of which he rented out at various times. Ray paid property taxes on the Property beginning in 1978. Some of the bills and other documents included in the record on appeal to show that Ray paid the property taxes also include references to other " fee owners" of the Property, including Alfred Wahinehookae (Alfred), Reuben's father. The Circuit Court found that in the late 1970's or early 1980's, Bagley and Bell agreed to give Ray " full ownership" of the Property.

On March 22, 2005, Ray executed a quitclaim deed conveying all of his interest in the Property to Ross. The deed was recorded on April 14, 2005 as Document No. 2005-073469. Ross claims paper title to the Property through this quitclaim deed.

Reuben cites the Title Report to support his claim of an interest in the Property. The Title Report states that Moike Wahinehookae (Moike), Reuben's grandfather, was identified in a 1940 Department of Taxation tax route history sheet as an " assessed owne[r]" of an undivided one-half interest in the Property. The Title Report also states that " No conveyance(s) appear of record to or by MOIKE WAHINEHOOKAE[,]" ...

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