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Kualoa Ranch, Inc. v. Mitchell

Intermediate Court of Appeals of Hawaii

July 31, 2019

KUALOA RANCH, INC., Plaintiff/Counterclaim-Defendant/Appellee,
v.
KUULEI N. MITCHELL, Defendant/Cross-Claim Defendant/Appellant, and NAHOLOWAA(k) aka NAHOLOAA(k); LAYLA U. KAEHU, et al., Defendants/Cross-Claim Defendants/Appellees

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FIRST CIRCUIT (CIVIL NO. 13-1-0038)

          Walter R. Schoettle, for Defendant/Cross-Claim Defendant/Appellant.

          Philip J. Leas, W. Keoni Shultz, Nathan T. Okubo, (Cades Schutte LLP) for Plaintiff/Counterclaim-Defendant/Appellee .

          GINOZA, CHIEF JUDGE, FUJISE AND REIFURTH, JJ.

          OPINION

          GINOZA, C.J.

         This appeal arises from a quiet title action. Defendant-Appellant Kuulei N. Mitchell (Mitchell) appeals from the "Taxation of Costs as to Defendants Stella R. Maka; Amelia Gora; Mary Ellen K. Malabey; Layla U. Kaehu; Phoebe P. Lopes; Madeline L. Maiava; Gail H. Watts; Filsann K. Kamakeaina; Clara Gonzaga; May Warren; Linda K.H. Kamai; Lily Burke; Kuulei N. Mitchell; Layla U. Burke; Darlene K. Vaai; Lyle K. Rodrigues; Melvin K. Rodrigues; Leilehualani K. Kane; Wincyceslau D. Lorenzo aka Kamehameha VI; and Dawn K. Wasson" (Taxation of Costs), entered by the Clerk of the Circuit Court of the First Circuit (Circuit Court Clerk) on September 11, 2015, in favor of Plaintiff-Appellee Kualoa Ranch, Inc. (Kualoa Ranch) in the amount of $26, 088.96. Pursuant to the Taxation of Costs, the Circuit Court of the First Circuit (Circuit Court)[1] subsequently entered a Judgement for Costs on October 19, 2015, in the amount of $26, 088.96 in favor of Kualoa Ranch and against the twenty defendants identified in the Taxation of Costs, including Mitchell (Judgment for Costs).

         On appeal, Mitchell asserts that this court should recognize plain error by the Circuit Court in awarding costs in the amount of $26, 088.96 against her. Mitchell acknowledges that she did not object to the award of costs in the Circuit Court. Thus, the Circuit Court was not presented with Mitchell's arguments that have been raised on appeal and did not have an opportunity to consider those arguments. However, Mitchell contends and we agree that given the circumstances of this case, equity and fairness require that under the plain error standard we vacate the Taxation of Costs and Judgment for Costs against Mitchell.[2]

         We hold that it was plain error to enter the Taxation of Costs and the Judgment of Costs against Mitchell in the amount of $26, 088.96 because the existing record clearly demonstrates that: (1) some of the costs taxed against Mitchell were related to defendants against whom default judgment was obtained and thus Kualoa Ranch was required to bear those costs under Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) § 669-6 (2016);[3] and (2) significant cost items taxed against Mitchell are unrelated to her involvement in the case, where she was one of over two hundred defendants ultimately identified in the judgment for this quiet title action. We remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Background

         A. Procedural History Regarding Claims

         This case arises from a quiet title action brought by Kualoa Ranch, in which it named one hundred sixty-two defendants in its First Amended Complaint, seeking to establish its fee simple title to three parcels of land at Hakipu'u, Ko'olaupoko, City and County of Honolulu, State of Hawai'i. The three parcels identified in Kualoa Ranch's First Amended Complaint were: "Apana 1 of Land Commission Award No. 6118, to NAHOLOWAA (k), within the land identified as Tax Map Key No. (1) 4-9-003-008" (Parcel 8); "Apana 2 of Land Commission Award No. 6118, to NAHOLOWAA (k), within the land identified as Tax Map Key No. (1) 4-9-001-010" (Parcel 10); and "Apanas 1 and 2 of Land Commission Award No. 3059 to KAUI (k), within the land identified as Tax Map Key No. (1) 4-9-001-013" (Parcel 13).

         Mitchell was not named in the First Amended Complaint, but she appeared in the case in response to a summons by publication. Mitchell made her first appearance at a return hearing held by the Circuit Court on April 30, 2013. Also on April 30, 2013, Mitchell along with several other individuals described as "Sovereign NAHOLOWAA (k) aka NAHOLOAA and heirs including: . . Kaui (K) and hiers [sic]" filed a joint response to Kualoa Ranch's First Amended Complaint.

         On May 16, 2013, Mitchell filed another document in the Circuit Court asserting that she is a descendant of the Kaui lineage and one of the heirs to the Kaui land. This indicated a claim with respect to Parcel 13.

         On August 8, 2013, Kualoa Ranch filed a Motion for Summary Judgment as to Parcel 13, stating, inter alia, that "[a]11 persons have defaulted and thereby relinquished possible claims, except for Pro se Defendants August K. Cambra, Jr., Stella R. Maka, Amelia Gora, John H. Kahele, Mary Ellen K. Malabey, Loren Andrade, May Villacruzes, Verna Schubert, Juliana Sampoang, Layla U. Kaehu, Phoebe P. Lopes, Madeline L. Maiava, Gail H. Watts, Filsann K. Kamakeaina, Clara Gonzaga, Lizzie Raima Kaina Davis, May Warren, Linda K.H. Kamai, Lily Burke, Kuulei N. Mitchell, Layla U. Burke, James Pua Kaai, Darlene K. Vaai, Lyle K. Rodrigues, Melvin K. Rodrigues, Leilehualani K. Kane, Wincyceslau D. Lorenzo aka Kamehameha VI, Dawn K. Wasson, Priscilla Luka Ululani Kahele, Karen Lehia Nihipali, Shirley Nalani Vasquez and Herbert Paku[.]" (Emphasis added). Mitchell and other defendants filed documents in opposition to the summary judgment motion.

         On December 31, 2013, Kualoa Ranch filed a motion for summary judgment regarding Parcels 8 and 10. Mitchell opposed this motion as well.

         On January 16, 2014, the Circuit Court issued an order granting summary judgment in favor of Kualoa Ranch and against those claiming title to Parcel 13, including Mitchell. Mitchell filed two motions for reconsideration of the January 16, 2014 summary judgment order, both of which were denied.[4]

         On March 28, 2014, the Circuit Court issued an order granting summary judgment in favor of Kualoa Ranch regarding Parcels 8 and 10 and against most remaining defendants, including Mitchell. The order indicated that the claims of two other defendants, Priscilla L.U. Kahele and Hiram K. Kahele, Jr., would be resolved at a later time. Subsequently, the record reflects that the Circuit Court resolved the claims regarding Priscilla L.U. Kahele and Hiram K. Kahele, Jr.

         On November 26, 2014, the Circuit Court entered its "Final Judgment" in favor of Kualoa Ranch and against two hundred nine defendants who were specified by name in the judgment, including Mitchell. Mitchell did not appeal from the Final Judgment.

         B. Taxation of Costs and Judgment for Costs

         On September 4, 2015, over nine months after entry of the Final Judgment, Kualoa Ranch filed a Notice of Taxation of Costs against twenty specified defendants, including Mitchell, seeking costs in the amount of $26, 088.96. Attached to the Notice of Taxation of Costs was an Exhibit "A", which consists of a table summarizing and describing the costs sought by Kualoa Ranch, as well as numerous pages of supporting documentation. The requested costs, as summarized in Exhibit "A", included such items as: multiple entries for sheriff's fees related to service, or attempted service, upon identified individuals; a publication fee for notice of summons in the amount of $2, 413.61; copying and other fees to obtain documents at various locations such as the Bureau of Conveyances, the Circuit Court, and the State Archives; fees to obtain certified copies of death certificates from the Hawaii Department of Health; translation services fees; multiple invoices for sheriff's fees related to evictions; costs related to searches for defendants' addresses; and copying and postage costs for numerous items, including the return of service and proof of service on numerous defendants. The Notice of Taxation of Costs did not specify or seek to apportion the costs related to or among the defendants named in the notice. A declaration by Kualoa Ranch's counsel in support of the Notice of Taxation of Costs states that the case is a quiet title action under HRS Chapter 669 and that under HRS § 669-6, costs shall not be awarded against defendants who disclaim or allow entry of default by not answering. Counsel for Kualoa Ranch thus asserted that Kualoa Ranch "seeks taxation of costs only against the following defendants who appeared and opposed [Kualoa Ranch's] claims in this case", and identified by name twenty defendants, including Mitchell.[5]

         On September 11, 2015, the Circuit Court Clerk entered the Taxation of Costs against the twenty defendants identified in Kualoa Ranch's Notice of Taxation of Costs, including Mitchell, in the requested amount of $26, 088.96. Like the Notice of Taxation of Costs submitted by Kualoa Ranch, the Taxation of Costs entered by the Circuit Court Clerk does not specify any apportionment of the costs among the defendants identified therein, and simply states: "[p]ursuant to [Kualoa Ranch's] Notice of Taxation of Costs and Bill of Costs ...


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