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Mahuka v. Aila

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

August 26, 2019

WILLIAM ALIA, Deputy Director, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, et al., Defendants.



         On May 31, 2019, Defendant the United States of America (“the Government”) filed its Motion to Dismiss (“Motion”). [Dkt. no. 26.] Pro se Plaintiffs Franklin Mahuka, Jr. and Joakim Mahuka (“Plaintiffs”) filed their memorandum in opposition on June 5, 2019, and the Government filed its reply on June 14, 2019. [Dkt. nos. 32, 34.] On June 14, 2019, Defendants Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (“DHHL”), State of Hawai`i (“the State”); William Aila (“Aila”), Deputy Director, DHHL; Jobie Masagatani (“Masagatani”), Director, DHHL; Dean T. Oshiro (“Oshiro”), Acting Administrator, Homestead Services Division, DHHL; Hawaiian Homes Commission (“HHC”); Michael P. Kahikina (“Kahikina”), Commissioner, HHC; Wren Wescoat, III (“Wescoat”), Commissioner, HHC; Randy Awo (“Awo”), Commissioner, HHC; Pauline Namu`o (“Namu`o”), Commissioner, HHC; Zachary Helm (“Helm”), Commissioner, HHC; Wallace A. Ishibashi (“Ishibashi”), Commissioner, HHC; and David B. Ka`apu (“Ka`apu”), Commissioner, HHC, filed their statement of no opposition to the Motion. [Dkt. no. 35.] The Court finds this matter suitable for disposition without a hearing pursuant to Rule LR7.2(d) of the Local Rules of Practice for the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii (“Local Rules”). On June 28, 2019, an entering order was issued informing the parties of this Court's ruling on the Motion. [Dkt. no. 36.] This Order supersedes that entering order. The Government's Motion is hereby granted in part and denied in part for the reasons set forth below.


         Plaintiff filed their Verified Complaint for Declaratory and Injunction Relief (“Complaint”) on April 8, 2019. [Dkt. no. 1.] The Complaint alleges Plaintiffs are brothers who are native Hawaiians, as defined by the Hawaiian Homes Commissions Act of 1920, who seek to challenge the homestead lease program administered by the DHHL and HHC. [Complaint at pg. 2.] The Complaint names as defendants the DHHL, Aila, Masagatani, Oshiro, HHC, Kahikina, Wescoatt, Awo, Namu`o, Helm, Ishibashi, and Ka`apu. [Id. at pgs. 3-6, ¶¶ 6-17.] In addition to the Government, the Complaint also names the State as a defendant, and alleges they are both “vital part[ies] to this action.” [Id. at pg. 6, ¶¶ 18-19.] Plaintiffs allege all of the defendants are sued in their official capacities. See id. at pgs. 3-6, ¶¶ 6-19.

         Plaintiffs allege that they live in a “historical family home” in Waianae (“the Property”) pursuant to a DHHL lease. [Id. at pg. 7.] On an unspecified date, Plaintiffs were notified by their sister, Eyvette K. Mahuka, of a letter that she received from Oshiro dated January 15, 2019, titled “Surrender Acceptance and Order to Vacate, ” which directed Plaintiffs to vacate the Property by no later than March 19, 2019 (“Notice to Vacate”). [Id. at pg. 7, 9.[1] After requesting an extension, Plaintiffs received a letter dated March 5, 2019 signed by Masagatani, granting Plaintiffs a thirty-day extension. [Id. at pg. 7.] Plaintiffs allege they were never provided notice of the applicable rules, regulations, and processes pertaining to their DHHL lease and the return of the Property to DHHL that would require them to vacate the residence. [Id. at pg. 7-8, ¶¶ A-F.] Plaintiffs allege DHHL and HHC do not have any policies, procedures, or administrative rules that would protect the due process rights of native Hawaiians living on Hawaiian Home Lands such as the Property that Plaintiffs resided on pursuant to the DHHL lease. [Id. at pg. 8.] In addition, Plaintiffs allege they were never offered any just compensation for the taking of the Property, [id. at pg. 10, ] and that they “were never afforded the right to a Notice, Hearing, Right to Defend against the taking of their historical home, a decision or the Right to Appeal the adverse decision, ” id. at pg. 11.

         Plaintiffs allege claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for: a violation of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution (“Count I”); and a due process violation under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution (“Count II”). In addition, Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief. [Id. at pg. 12-13.]

         The Government argues that all of Plaintiffs' claims against the Government must be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and (6), because it fails to allege any claim against the Government, or in the alternative, that the Complaint be dismissed with prejudice.


         I. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         First, because Plaintiffs are pro se, this Court must liberally construe their pleadings. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam) (“a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers” (citation and quotation marks omitted)). Although the Government argues the Complaint fails to present “a cause of action against the United States based on statute or case law, ” see Mem. in Supp. of Motion at 3, to the extent the Complaint alleges a violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, the Complaint raises a federal question over which this Court has subject matter jurisdiction. See Bishop Paiute Tribe v. Inyo Cty., 863 F.3d 1144, 1151 (9th Cir. 2017) (“Under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, federal district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Accordingly, the portion of the Government's Motion based on Rule 12(b)(1) is denied.

         II. Failure to State a Claim

         Next, the Government argues Plaintiffs' Complaint must be dismissed because it is not supported by allegations detailing the basis of their claims against the Government. This Court agrees. Plaintiffs' Complaint appears entirely devoid of any factual allegations, which, if accepted as true, would state a plausible claim for relief against the Government. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). The only allegations that specifically pertain to the Government are found on pages 2 and 6 of the Complaint. On page 2, Plaintiffs allege this action is based in part on the Government's “violat[ion of] their rights to DUE PROCESS” when Plaintiffs were notified to vacate the Property, and allege “[b]oth the [State] and the [Government] are indispensable parties to this action.” [Complaint at pg. 2 (emphasis in original and some emphases omitted).] On page 6, Plaintiffs allege “[the Government] is a vital party to this action of Hawaii is [sic] being sued in its OFFICIAL CAPACITY, ” and repeat without any supportive factual allegations that the Government is an “indispensable part[y] to this action.” [Id. at pg. 6 (emphasis in original).]

         Other than these assertions, Plaintiffs fail to plead any factual matter from which this Court could reasonably infer that the Government is an indispensable party, or that it is liable for the harm alleged. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” (citation omitted)). Instead, the Complaint only presents “naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement” that the Government is somehow involved in, and is an indispensable party to, the instant action. See id. (brackets, citation, and internal quotation marks omitted). This “unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation, ” see id. (citation omitted), is insufficient to meet the well-settled pleading standard required by Iqbal, and presents only conclusory statements which need not be accepted as true. See Id. (“[a]lthough for the purposes of a motion to dismiss we must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation” (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). Excluding these conclusory statements, there are no allegations remaining in the Complaint that plead sufficient factual matter to assert a plausible claim against the Government.

         To the extent the Government is included in Plaintiffs' allegations pertaining to acts common to all of the defendants, these allegations also fail to demonstrate sufficient factual matter to state a plausible claim for relief. Rule 12(b)(6) is read in conjunction with Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), [2] which provides that: “A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Where the allegations fail to identify which acts were undertaken by specific defendants, it fails to state a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” See Rule 8(a)(2); Sebastian Brown Prods., LLC v. Muzooka, Inc., 143 F.Supp.3d 1026, 1037 (N.D. Cal. 2015) (“A plaintiff must ...

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