Thursday, September 22, 2022

Spirit of Aloha Temple v. County of Maui (9th Cir. - Sept. 22, 2022)

Plaintiff Fred Honig challenges the decision of Maui County not to give him a permit; the trial court granted summary judgment to Maui. Given the underlying facts of this case, and the underlying character traits of the plaintiff, who do you think's going to win the appeal? Here are the facts:

"In 1994 Fredrick Honig bought eleven acres located at 800 Haumana Road in Maui. The land is zoned for agricultural use, designated within the state agricultural and conservation district, and subject to environmental protections for coastal lands. Honig developed the land without permits. He cleared and graded the land, cut roads on the property, changed the contours of coastal conservation land, and altered the route of a natural watercourse. He appears to have built illegal structures, including housing structures, and installed cesspools near drinking water wells. Although several Hawaiian archeological sites existed on the property, including an agricultural terrace, burial crypt, and irrigation ditch, Honig failed to provide the requisite monitoring plans for their preservation. Through a nonprofit entity, Honig also used the property as a venue to conduct commercial weddings, vacation rentals, retreats, and events—all without the requisite permits. By late 2015, around 550 weddings were performed on the property.

Honig was repeatedly put on notice that these activities required appropriate permits but continued to violate land use regulations. In 2007 Honig formed a new nonprofit, Spirit of Aloha Temple, as “a branch of the Integral Yoga movement, a modern branch of the ancient Hindu yogic tradition.”

That year Honig applied for a special use permit for a “church, church[-]operated bed and breakfast establishment, weddings, special events, day seminars, and helicopter landing pad.” The County of Maui Planning Commission denied that permit, noting several buildings without proper permits; general problems with the helicopter pad’s location; and potential adverse impacts to surrounding properties from loud music, helicopter noise, and increased traffic."

I couldn't be more certain, by the way, that Mr. Honig's desire to found a church on the property was totally sincere, and not merely a scam to circumvent the usual rules about developing the property.

So, given the facts, who do you think wins?

That's what I thought too.

Wrong. The Ninth Circuit, in an opinion written by Judge Ryan Nelson, not only reverses the grant of summary judgment to Maui County, but also essentially holds that the plaintiff is entitled to win his lawsuit.

Justice. Right?