Queen: Feds Took** Our Crown Lands!
by Robert Thomas, Inverse Condemnation Nov 10, 2017
Tomorrow, Saturday, November 11, 2017, is the 100th anniversary of the death of Hawaii's last monarch, Liliuokalani. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser has a story about the commemoration events.
But here's a historical tidbit about her which our readers might find interesting: did you know that after she was deposed, and after Hawaii became a U.S. territory, the former queen sued the United States in what was then the U.S. Claims Court (now the U.S. Court of Federal Claims)?
Her complaint wasn't quite a "takings" case (sorry for the click-baity headline),** but a claim that the federal government owed her in the neighborhood of $450,000 (what today would be about $11 million) for what looks like an accounting and constructive trust for the rents for the "crown lands," land formerly owned in fee simple by the monarch personally, but which at the time of the overthrow had become more like property of the office of the monarch, managed by a commission. The U.S. succeeded to these interests in the former crown lands at annexation. The foundational issue in the case was who had owned the former crown lands. Or perhaps more accurately, in what capacity did the owner hold those lands -- in fee simple or in trust? Liliuokalani claimed they were hers, and thus when the U.S. government succeeded to the Republic's title, the lands were subject to a constructive trust in her favor, personally.
Here's the complaint's prayer for relief:
Second: That the United States be decreed to be a Trustee of the Crown Lands herein before specified for the use and benefit of your petitioner so far as her equitable life interest in said Crown Lands is concerned.
Third: That the United States be decreed to pay to your petitioner said sum of Four hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars ($450,000.00), or in the alternative that the United States be decreed to account to your petitioner for the rents, profits and emoluments derived from said Crown Lands after deducting the necessary and proper expenses of managing the same, for the period of six years next preceding the date of filing this petition.
The Claims Court sustained the government's demurrer, concluding that crown lands were owned by the Hawaiian government prior to the overthrow in what looks like fee simple, and thus by 1910, the U.S. owned them the same way, not subject to the former queen's trust claim. Liliuokalani v. United States, 45 Cl. Ct. 418 (2010). The court concluded that the legal question of form of ownership had already been resolved by law prior to the overthrow: "[t]he Hawaiian Government in 1865 by its own legislation determined what the court is now asked to determine."
[T]he crown lands were treated not as the King's private property in the strict sense of the term. While possessing certain attributes pertaining to fee simple estates, such as unrestricted power of alienation and incumbrance, there were likewise enough conditions surrounding the tenure to clearly characterize it as one pertaining to the support and maintenance of the Crown, as distinct from the person of the Sovereign. They belonged to the office and not to the individual.
The Claims Court opinion hasn't quelled the scholarly and historical discussion about who owns the former crown lands (and in what capacity). The discussion rages on, most recently in the pages of the University of Hawaii Law Review.
The epigram photo is the view out of our office window, looking down on Honolulu's historic district. At the center-left is Iolani Palace, where the former queen served her sentence after she was tried and convicted by the Republic's military commission.
** Liliuokalani did raise takings claims in her December 19, 1898 letter to the U.S. House of Representatives protesting annexation, where she asserted "I especially protest against such assertion of ownership as a taking of property without due process of law and without just or other compensation."