By now, everyone in Hawaii has undoubtedly heard that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who owns a lot of land on Kauai, filed eight “quiet title” lawsuits on Dec. 30, “seeking to force owners of 14 small properties to sell their stakes in their land at public auction,” according to this Jan. 19 Honolulu Star-Advertiser article.
“The 14 parcels are surrounded by roughly 700 acres on Kauai’s north shore that Zuckerberg bought two years ago for about $100 million,” the Star-Advertiser reported. “Under Hawaii law, the owners of these parcels have rights to access their property through Zuckerberg’s land.”
Of course, Zuckerberg insists that there’s nothing unseemly or even unusual about his lawsuits. Here’s an excerpt from a Facebook post he made on the lawsuits:
As with most transactions, the majority owners have the right to sell their land if they want, but we need to make sure smaller partial owners get paid for their fair share too.
In Hawaii, this is where it gets more complicated. As part of Hawaiian history, in the mid-1800s, small parcels were granted to families, which after generations might now be split among hundreds of descendants. There aren’t always clear records, and in many cases descendants who own 1/4% or 1% of a property don’t even know they are entitled to anything.
To find all these partial owners so we can pay them their fair share, we filed what is called a “quiet title” action. For most of these folks, they will now receive money for something they never even knew they had. No one will be forced off the land.
But in a new statement released today, Hawaii Rep. Kaniela Ing, D–South Maui, says he’s not buying any of that. And he says he’ll introduce a bill next week to change the law on quiet title suits.
“Zuckerberg is using the same legal loophole that sugar barons have historically exploited to scoop thousands of acres of Hawaiian lands,” Ing said. “Zuckerberg’s actions may be legal and slightly more transparent, but it doesn’t make them right. We need to look at this issue through the eyes of the families affected. Here we have the world’s sixth richest individual, with a team of the world’s best lawyers, suing you, then asking you to make a deal. Obviously, no matter how expensive, you will lawyer up too. So in the end, you have a mainland billionaire exploiting our legal system, and bullying his way through local residents, all to build his beach playground. This is not the intent of the law.”
Ing lays partial blame for all this on the State of Hawaii because its Kuleana Land title laws are so outdated and records are often hard to find.
“If Zuckerberg truly cared about Hawaiian culture, and these families, he would (1) let them hui together as a trust, rather than fighting them off one by one, then, (2) he would pay for and enter mediation to reach a fair deal without litigation,” Ing said in his statement. “My proposal is fair and will help address this and hundreds of other quiet title cases that are weighted too heavily for the plaintiff. It goes well beyond sympathy for Native Hawaiians, because it could happen to anyone. We must stop mainland billionaires from stacking money to tilt Hawaii’s legal system against local residents.”
Image of Mark Zuckerberg: DonkeyHotey/Flickr