Tataii v. Cronin (HSC December 16, 2008)
Background. Tataii ran as a Republican against Neil Abercrombie in the 2008 election. Tataii lost and filed a complaint in the HSC challenging the election pursuant to HRS §§ 11-172 and 174.5 on November 24, 2008 at 4:32 p.m.--twenty days after the election. Abercrombie filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that it failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and that the filing of the complaint was untimely.
A Directory "shall" and a Mandatory "shall." A complaint alleging an election challenge "shall be filed not later than 4:30 p.m. on the twentieth day following the . . . election." HRS § 11-174.5(a). When it comes to a specific time provision in a statute is generally, "mandatory and not merely directory." Coon v. City and County of Honolulu, 98 Hawai'i 233, 255, 47 P.3d 348, 370 (2002). However, while the word "shall" is generally mandatory, it may be given a directory (or not-so-mandatory) meaning. Id. at 256, 47 P.3d at 371. In determining whether a statute is mandatory or directory, "the intent of the legislature must be ascertained." State v. Himuro, 70 Haw. 103, 105, 761 P.2d 1148, 1149 (1988). Legislative intent can be gleaned from "a consideration of the entire act, its nature, its object, and the consequences that would result from construing it one way or the other." Id. However, "the primary duty in interpreting statutes is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature, which, in the absence of a clearly contrary expression is conclusively obtained by the language of the statute itself." Id.
Tataii's complaint was filed on the twentieth day after the general election at 4:32 p.m. Abercrombie argued the complaint was untimely. The HSC, however, disagreed. The deadline in HRS § 11-174.5(a), according to the HSC, is actually divided into two parts: the day and the time. The twenty-day deadline is mandatory because it is clear and unambiguous. However, the 4:30 p.m. deadline is "tantamount to 'the close of business'" and interpreting that portion to extend to the end of the mandatory-twentieth business day would not distort the legislative intent to keep these complaints to the twenty-day deadline. Thus, Tataii's complaint was timely.
So Hawai'i's Business ends at 4:30 p.m.? This statute is not the only one with a clear time provision. The HRS has several deadlines that end at a specific time on a specific day. Does this suggest that they too are directory? Probably not. A deadline at high noon is certainly not "tantamount to the close of business" and, would thus appear to be a mandatory cutoff point. So where does this notion that 4:30 in the afternoon signifies the end of the workday? Although the HSC did not discuss it, this could be one of those only-in-Hawai'i sort of things. Where else but Hawai'i does the business day wind down at 4:30 p.m.? Certainly the Dolly Parton song "Working Nine to Five" doesn't really apply here. Then again, working 7:45 to 4:45 is a lot harder to put into a country music song.
The Other Matter (the Merits). As for the merits of the complaint, the HSC agreed with Abercrombie that the complaint did not state a claim for relief. An election challenge "shall set forth any cause or causes . . . that could cause a difference in the election results." HRS § 11-172. The complaint challenging the results of an election fails to state a claim unless "the plaintiffs demonstrate errors that would change the outcome of the election[.]" Akaka v. Yoshina, 84 Hawai'i 383, 387, 935 P.2d 98, 102 (1997). Tataii's complaint alleged that because Abercrombie refused to debate him he lost the election. The HSC concluded that Tataii did not show that Abercrombie was required to debate. The refusal to debate was, therefore, not an "error, mistake, or irregularity that would change the results of the election" and did fail to state a claim for relief in the HSC.