One Judgment to rule them all.

Carlisle v. One Boat (ICA February 27, 2008)
Background. One night off the Waianae Coast, DLNR agents spotted a fishing boat with gill nets. The agents told the people on the boat to pick up the nets with a diver in the water to ensure that no coral would be harmed. There was no such diver. Even if there had been, the agents saw several pieces of broken coral stuck in the net. The prosecutor’s office, under the aegis of the State, brought forfeiture proceedings to seize the boat that was used in the commencement of the intentional taking of live coral or live rocks in violation of HAR §§ 13-95-70 and 13-95-71. The claimants, fishermen, in a motion to dismiss, argued that these offenses are not covered by the forfeiture law. The circuit court agreed and ordered that the case be dismissed. It took almost three years, however, for the court to enter a final judgment on December 6, 2004. The State filed a notice of appeal shortly after entry of the judgment.

Appealing from Judgment, NOT an Order. According to the claimants, there was no jurisdiction because the State failed to file a notice of appeal within 30 days after the entry of the 2002 order. See Hawai'i Rules of Appellate Procedure (HRAP) Rule 4(a)(1). The ICA firmly rejected this. First, this is a civil forfeiture thus the rules of civil procedure apply; including HRCP Rule 58, which requires every judgment to be a “separate document.” Second, a court order that resolves claims against parties is subject to an appeal only after the order has been reduced to a judgment pursuant to HRCP Rule 58. Jenkins v. Cades Schutte Fleming & Wright, 76 Hawai‘i 115, 119, 869 P.2d 1334, 1338 (1994). Here, the order was indeed entered by the court, but it took nearly three years to enter the judgment. The ICA pointed out that under Rules of the Circuit Court of Hawaii (RCCH) Rule 23, the prevailing party within 10 days after a “decision of the court awarding any judgment, decree, or order” must prepare a final judgment. According to the ICA, the claimants had a duty to enter the final judgment within 10 days of the order. They failed to do so, and the State should not be penalized for it. The ICA held that it had appellate jurisdiction.

RCCH Rule 23 is a strange rule. What would have happened if the claimants failed to prepare a judgment and the circuit court never got around to it? Then that means there’d be no appeal and the putative issues on appeal would be held hostage by the prevailing party. In most cases, one must hope that it would never get that egregious. Sooner or later the losing party, esp. if that party anticipates on being the appellant, would pipe up.

Both DLNR Statutes and the Forfeiture Act got it “Covered.” Once it held that it did indeed have jurisdiction, the ICA held that violations of DLNR regulations were “covered” by the plain language of the forfeiture act. HRS § 199-7(b) expressly states that “[a]ny equipment, article, instrument, aircraft, vehicle, vessel, business records, or natural resources seized [by DLNR agents or police pursuant to subsection (a)] is subject to forfeiture pursuant to chapter 712A.” The ICA stated that this language “unambiguously provides that property used in violation of [DLNR] rules . . . is subject to seizure and forfeiture.” Equally clear is HRS § 712A-5(1)(b): “[p]roperty used or intended for use in the commission of, attempt to commit, or conspiracy to commit a covered offense” is subject to forfeiture. A covered offense is an “offense which specifically authorizes forfeiture.” HRS § 712A-5(a).

Even Legislative History Repeats Itself. Not only was the plain language supportive, but the ICA held that the legislative history “confirms” the legislative intent that the DLNR was authorized to bring forfeiture actions. From the enaction of HRS § 199-7 in 1978 and throughout its amendments over the years, the ICA found sufficient legislative history supporting the DLNR’s power to forfeit various kinds of property, including vessels, when it is used in connection with DLNR rules violations.

In 1988, the legislature revised the forfeiture law by repealing the old provision and enacting HRS Chapter 712A. The ICA found no evidence that enacting the new chapter was intended to alter the already-vested authority of DLNR to forfeit property. Then, in 1989, the legislature amended HRS § 199-7 again and provided that seized property would be subject to forfeiture pursuant to chapter 712A (and not the statute the older forfeiture provision). The legislature also added “natural resources” as an object subject to DLNR seizure and forfeiture. The claimants argued that the 1989 amendments limited the DLNR’s power to forfeit only “natural resources” and even if it was, it is irrelevant to interpreting HRS chapter 712A. The ICA rejected this interpretation. When delving into legislative history, newer enactments may be used to interpret the meaning and intent of other statutes. Bowers v. Alamo Rent-A-Car, Inc., 88 Hawai ‘I 274, 282, 965 P.2d 1274, 1282 (1998) (Ramil, J., concurring). This was, according to the ICA, such a case.

Illuminating two murky, but well-tread areas. The ICA shed some light on two murky, but well-tread areas in the law. First, and perhaps more importantly, is the issue of reducing an order to a final judgment so that it may be subject to an appeal. The ICA clearly lays out this often misunderstood area in civil procedure. Why should it be reduced to a judgment, one might ask in frustration (especially when one might have to wait two years and nine months before getting a final judgment). Typically, there are several orders entered by a court before the decision ultimately is reduced to a final judgment. In order to avoid piecemeal appeals, the procedural rules encourage all issues from a case to be brought up at once. Hence a single notice of appeal from judgment allows the appellant to address issues that have bee preserved throughout the entire course of the lawsuit. Of course, there are exceptions like rare interlocutory appeal and the not-so-rare post-judgment order and more than one appeal may be unavoidable.

The other area related to legislative history. The general rule that legislative history is an aid in ascertaining the intent of the legislature is well-established. But the ICA took used legislative history in an uncommon way by using legislative history for statute A as an aid in ascertaining the intent behind statute B. Legislative history can sometimes be unwieldy or, in many cases, unhelpful. Perhaps the method used here can become a useful tool in interpreting statutes of all kinds. Then again, it also raises the question of whether this method is dicta in light of the fact that the plain language disposed of the issue.


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