621 P.2d 346 (Hawai'i 1980), 6492, Sherman v. Sawyer

Docket Nº:6492.
Citation:621 P.2d 346, 63 Haw. 55
Opinion Judge:[10] Ogata
Party Name:M. Frank SHERMAN and Mildred M. Sherman; Paul S. Collier and Dee Anna L. Collier, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Stephen SAWYER and Harriet Sawyer, aka Harriet Bouslog; David Thompson and Mitsui Thompson; Paul Pinsky and Sara Pinsky; Bernard Berkov and Beth Berkov, Defendants-Appellees.
Attorney:[7] Stephen P. Pingree for plaintiffs-appellants. [8] Mark Bernstein (Harriet Bouslog on the brief, Bouslog & Symonds of counsel), for defendants-appellees.
Case Date:December 26, 1980
Court:Supreme Court of Hawai'i
 
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Page 346

621 P.2d 346 (Hawai'i 1980)

63 Haw. 55

M. Frank SHERMAN and Mildred M. Sherman; Paul S. Collier and

Dee Anna L. Collier, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

Stephen SAWYER and Harriet Sawyer, aka Harriet Bouslog;

David Thompson and Mitsui Thompson; Paul Pinsky

and Sara Pinsky; Bernard Berkov and Beth

Berkov, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 6492.

Supreme Court of Hawai'i.

December 26, 1980

Page 347

Syllabus by the Court

1. Generally, each circuit court, pursuant to HRS § 603-21.5, is vested with subject matter jurisdiction over civil causes of action unless precluded by statute or constitution. Circuit courts are courts of general jurisdiction.

2. HRS § 633-27 confers to the small claims division of the district court exclusive jurisdiction over disputes involving security deposits in residential landlord-tenant relationships.

3. This court is bound by the plain, clear and unambiguous language of the statute unless the literal construction would produce an absurd and unjust result and would be clearly inconsistent with the purposes and policies of the statute.

4. [63 Haw. 56] Conferring exclusive jurisdiction to one court means that all other courts are deprived of jurisdiction to hear and determine pending actions.

5. Under Rule 82, H.R.C.P., the Rules of Civil Procedure cannot be used to extend the jurisdiction of the circuit court.

[63 Haw. 63] Stephen P. Pingree, Honolulu, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Mark Bernstein, Honolulu (Harriet Bouslog, Honolulu, on brief, Bouslog & Symonds, Honolulu, of counsel), for defendants-appellees.

[63 Haw. 55] Before RICHARDSON, C. J., OGATA, MENOR and LUM, JJ., and CHUN, Circuit Judge, in place of NAKAMURA, J., disqualified.

Page 348

OGATA, Justice.

Plaintiffs-appellants, M. Frank and Mildred Sherman, and Paul and Dee Anna Collier (hereinafter appellants) appeal an order by the circuit court granting defendants-appellees' motion to dismiss. Defendants-appellees (hereinafter appellees) are Stephen and Harriet Sawyer, David and Mitsui Thompson, Paul and Sara Pinsky, and Bernard and Beth Berkov.

Appellants lived in an apartment complex known as the Dynasty Apartments located at 2442 Tusitala Street, Honolulu. Appellees are the owners of this complex. When appellants assumed tenancy in January 1976, and November 1975, respectively, each posted a $50.00 security deposit with Gordon Crabtree & Associates, Inc., who had earlier purchased the apartment complex from appellees. In February 1976, Crabtree defaulted on the agreement of sale and appellees repossessed the property. Appellees then sought an accounting of the security deposits contained within the trust funds established by Crabtree.

In May 1976, appellants moved out of the apartment complex, after proper notice was given to the resident manager. However, the security deposits of the appellants were not returned within the time period set forth in HRS § 521-44(c). As of July 1, 1976, appellants' security deposits still had not been returned. After having an attorney make inquiries on their behalf, appellees tendered a return of appellants' security deposit. This tender offer was rejected by appellants.

Subsequently, appellants filed a four count complaint in the First Circuit Court alleging: 1) a wrongful withholding of appellants' security deposit; 2) a breach of contract on the lease for failure to return the security deposit; 3) failure to notify appellants of the change in management pursuant to HRS § 521-43; and 4) an independent[63 Haw. 57] tort action for infliction of emotional distress. 1

The trial court granted appellees' motion to dismiss finding that it lacked jurisdiction over all the causes of actions. We need not address any other issues herein except that of the jurisdiction of the circuit court to hear and determine this action. We affirm the lower court's ruling with respect to counts 1 and 2 of the complaint, but reverse as to the ruling on counts 3 and 4.

I.

The legislature is vested with legislative power by the Hawaii State Constitution, art. III, sec. 1. Legislative power is defined as the power to enact laws and to declare what the law shall be. Bissen v. Fujii, 51 Haw. 636, 638, 466 P.2d 429, 431 (1970). Under this grant of authority, the legislature has the power to establish the subject matter jurisdiction of our state court system. The legislature has utilized such power by enacting HRS §§ 603-21.5 and 633-27.

The circuit courts are courts of general jurisdiction. State v. Villados, 55 Haw. 394, 397, 520 P.2d 427, 430 (1974). We defined jurisdiction as "the power and authority on the part of the court to hear and judicially determine and dispose of the cause pending before it." Id. at 396, 520 P.2d at 430. HRS § 603-21.5 gives the circuit court subject matter jurisdiction

Page 349

over civil actions and proceedings. 2 [63 Haw. 58] 2 Thus, the circuit...

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