Thomas, Application of, 15565

Decision Date02 June 1992
Docket NumberNo. 15565,15565
Citation832 P.2d 253,73 Haw. 223
PartiesIn the Matter of the Application of J.T. THOMAS For a Writ of Quo Warranto Against "Acting" as Head of the Department of Corporation Counsel of Maui, Guy Haywood, Cyrus Chan, Robert Kekuna, Jeff Kuwada, Howard Fukushima, and Gary Zakian Acting and Usurping as "Deputies" of the Department of Corporation Counsel, County of Maui.
CourtHawaii Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

1. The mootness doctrine applies where events have so affected the relations between the parties that the two conditions for justiciability relevant on appeal, adverse interest and effective remedy, have been compromised.

2. The duty of this court, as of every other judicial tribunal, is to decide actual controversies by a judgment which can be carried into effect, and not to give opinions upon moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or rules of law which cannot affect the matter in issue in the case before it.

3. As a general rule, courts will not consume time deciding abstract propositions of law or moot cases, and have no jurisdiction to do so.

4. An exception to this general rule exists in cases involving a legal issue which is capable of repetition, yet evading review.

5. A court will not dismiss a case for mootness where a challenged governmental action would evade full review because the passage of time would prevent any single plaintiff from remaining subject to the restriction complained of for the period necessary to complete the lawsuit.

J.T. Thomas, pro se.

Guy P.D. Archer (Guy A. Haywood with him on the brief), Dept. of Corp. Counsel, Wailuku, Maui, for appellees.

Before LUM, C.J., and WAKATSUKI, MOON, KLEIN and LEVINSON, JJ.

WAKATSUKI, Justice.

Petitioner-Appellant J.T. Thomas (Appellant) appeals from the order dismissing his amended petition in quo warranto on the ground of mootness. Appellant contends that the circuit court erroneously denied his petition as moot because Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) Chapter 659 authorizes a judge to make a determination that Appellees-Respondents Guy Haywood, Guy Archer, John Breen, Cyrus Chan, Robert Kekuna, Jeff Kuwada, Howard Fukushima, and Gary Zakian of the Department of Corporation Counsel of Maui (Appellees) were de factos in government positions and not legal title holders; that such a determination would provide future guidance for public officers and discourage repetition of future wrongful conduct; that the matter is of public interest and is capable of repetition and likely to evade review; and the amended petition for quo warranto relates back to the original petition for quo warranto action.

We affirm.

I.

On July 5, 1991, Appellant filed an amended petition for a writ of quo warranto against Appellees claiming that Appellees were usurping their positions as "acting" corporation counsel and "deputies" for the County of Maui Corporation Counsel Department. 1 Appellant alleged that Appellees had unlawfully usurped their respective offices because the Maui County Charter does not provide for the appointment of an acting corporation counsel when the individual's nomination has been rejected for confirmation by the County Council. Appellant contended that Mayor Lingle ignored this Charter provision by retaining Appellee Cyrus Chan in the capacity of "acting" corporation counsel despite the fact that his nomination was rejected by the County Council. Appellant claimed that the Maui County Charter mandates County Council confirmation of any mayoral appointment of the corporation counsel and, in turn, only a properly confirmed corporation counsel could appoint deputies.

Subsequently, Appellee Guy Haywood was duly appointed and confirmed as corporation counsel of the County of Maui. In addition, Appellees Guy Archer, John Breen, Cyrus Chan, Robert Kekuna, Jeff Kuwada, Howard Fukushima, and Gary Zakian were duly appointed deputies corporation counsel of the County.

At the hearing on the petition, Appellant conceded that the corporation counsel and deputies had since been duly appointed and confirmed. Appellant, however, sought a declaration that the corporation counsel and deputies were not legally holding title to their respective positions during the period from January 2, 1991 to July 5, 1991. The circuit court dismissed Appellant's petition for mootness.

II.

It is well-settled that the mootness doctrine encompasses the circumstances that destroy the justiciability of a case previously suitable for determination. A case is moot where the question to be determined is abstract and does not rest on existing facts or rights. Thus, the mootness doctrine is properly invoked where "events ... have so affected the relations between the parties that the two conditions for justiciability relevant on appeal--adverse interest and effective remedy--have been compromised." Wong v. Board of Regents, University of Hawaii, 62 Haw. 391, 394, 616 P.2d 201, 203-04 (1980).

As early as Castle v. Irwin, 25 Haw. 786, 792 (1921), this court has stated Judicial tribunals sit only for the determination of real controversies between parties who have a legal interest of at least technical sufficiency in the subject-matters embraced in the records of causes pending in courts. Merely abstract or moot questions will not be determined on appeal[.]

Moreover, "[t]he duty of this court, as of every other judicial tribunal, is to decide actual controversies by a judgment which can be carried into effect, and not to give opinions upon moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or rules of law which cannot affect the matter in issue in the case before it." Wong, 62 Haw. at 395, 616 P.2d at 204. Thus, courts will not consume time deciding abstract propositions of law or moot cases, and have no jurisdiction to do so. Id.

There is an exception to this precept, however, that occurs in cases involving a legal issue which is capable of repetition, yet evading review. The phrase, "capable of repetition, yet evading review," means that "a court will not dismiss a case on the grounds of mootness where a challenged governmental action...

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