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Greer v. State

Intermediate Court of Appeals of Hawaii

February 21, 2019

MARK H.K. GREER, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ROSALYN H. BAKER, Defendant-Appellant, and STATE OF HAWAI'I, Defendant-Appellee, and DOES 1-10, Defendants

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FIRST CIRCUIT (CIVIL NO. 14-1-2004-09)

          On the brief: James E. Halvorson, Maria C. Cook, Deputy Attorneys General, State of Hawai'i, for Defendant-Appellant.

          FUJISE, PRESIDING JUDGE, LEONARD, REIFURTH, JJ.

          OPINION

          LEONARD, J.

         Plaintiff-Appellee Mark H.K. Greer (Greer) filed a tort action, in the Circuit Court of the First Circuit (Circuit Court), [1] against Defendant-Appellant State of Hawai'i Senator Rosalyn H. Baker (Senator Baker}.[2] Greer alleged that Senator Baker improperly used her position as Chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee to eliminate his position as the (now former) Chief of the General Medical & Preventive Services Division at the Hawai'i State Department of Health (DOH), due to his whistleblowing activities.

         The issues before this court are whether Senator Baker is entitled to absolute legislative immunity for her allegedly tortious actions and, relatedly, whether the Circuit Court erred when it considered Senator Baker's alleged motive or intent when she proposed the budget legislation that abolished Greer's position. We hold that Senator Baker was entitled to absolute legislative immunity for actions taken in the exercise of her legislative functions, under article III, section 7, of the Hawai'i Constitution, and the Circuit Court erred in considering her alleged motivation for such actions. We vacate in part and remand.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 23, 2014, Greer filed a non-vehicle tort complaint against Senator Baker. The Complaint alleged that: (1) Senator Baker introduced a budget amendment to eliminate Greer's position in retaliation for his whistleblower activities regarding alleged Medicaid fraud; and (2) Senator Baker colluded with the head of DOH to have Baker fired. The Complaint included three claims for relief: (1) Count I, which alleged that Senator Baker violated the Hawai'i Whistleblower Protection Act, Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) §§ 378-61 to 378-70 (2015) (HWPA); (2) Count II, which alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED); and (3) Count III, which alleged negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED).

         Senator Baker filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint, primarily on the ground that she is immune from suit based on legislative immunity. Senator Baker also argued that the HWPA claim should be dismissed based on the applicable statute of limitations and because she was not Greer's employer. Senator Baker further argued that the IIED and NIED claims should be dismissed based on the applicable statute of limitations and the lack of an underlying cognizable claim.

         After a November 26, 2014 hearing, on December 24, 2014, the Circuit Court entered an order granting in part and denying in part Senator Baker's motion to dismiss the complaint (Order re Dismissal). In the Order re Dismissal, the Circuit Court granted Senator Baker's motion as to Counts I and III, and denied the motion as to Count II. As relevant to Senator Baker's motion, in the Order re Dismissal the Circuit Court: (1) rejected Senator Baker's claim of legislative immunity; (2) dismissed Count I against Senator Baker because she was not Greer's employer; and (3) dismissed Count III against Senator Baker, apparently because Greer failed to allege an underlying cognizable claim against Senator Baker.

         Senator Baker then filed, inter alia, a notice of appeal from the Order re Dismissal. After this court initially dismissed the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction, [3] the Hawai'i Supreme Court concluded that the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) has jurisdiction to hear Senator Baker's appeal as an immediately appealable collateral order. Greer v. Baker, 137 Hawai'i 249, 258, 369 P.3d 832, 841 (2016) (Greer v. Baker II). The suprem'e court held that" [t] he denial of Baker's absolute legislative immunity claim conclusively determined the disputed question, resolved an important issue separate from the merits of the action, and would be effectively unreviewable on appeal," and remanded the case to the ICA for a determination of Senator Baker's appeal on the merits. Id. at 251, 369 P.3d at 834 (citation omitted).

         II. POINT OF ERROR ON APPEAL

         Senator Baker raises a single point of error. In her Opening Brief, Senator Baker framed her point as follows: "The circuit court erred when it denied Senator Baker absolute legislative immunity considering Senator Baker's subjective intent in performing a quintessential legislative act in determining whether legislative immunity applies." In her Amended Opening Brief, which was filed after the supreme court's remand of this case to the ICA, Senator Baker restated her point of error as follows: "The circuit court erred when it considered Senator Baker's motive or intent in performing a legislative function in deciding whether absolute legislative immunity applies."

         III. APPLICABLE ...


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