On June 16, 2020, the Hawaii Supreme Court (Court) issued a unanimous opinion in In Re Office of Information Practices Opinion Letter No. F16-01, which overturned decisions by the Second Circuit Court and Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) that had resulted in the dismissal of a complaint challenging a Sunshine Law opinion by the state Office of Information Practices (OIP). The Court did not address the merits of OIP’s Opinion Letter No. F16-1, which was the subject of the underlying complaint, and remanded the case to the circuit court.
The Court agreed with the lower courts that only agencies, not individuals, could appeal from an OIP decision under HRS § 92F-43. While recognizing that the case was brought by a party dissatisfied with OIP’s opinion, the Court liberally interpreted the pro se complainant’s pleading as an original action for declaratory relief under HRS § 92-12(c), rather than as an impermissible appeal under HRS § 92F-43. Rejecting the ICA’s interpretation of its own prior opinion in County of Kaua`i v. OIP, 120 Haw. 34, 200 P.3d 403 (App. 2009), the Court instead allowed OIP to be sued under HRS § 92-12(c) by a member of the public dissatisfied with an OIP opinion, even though a separate board, not OIP, had performed the act allegedly prohibited by the Sunshine Law in the OIP opinion being challenged. Notably, the Court held that court review of OIP opinions under any action brought under HRS § 92-12 would be subject to the palpably erroneous standard of review, which is higher than the de novo standard, whether the action was filed by a government board or, as in this case, an individual member of the public.
Both the Supreme Court and OIP opinions are posted on the opinions page at oip.hawaii.gov. For a discussion of OIP’s appeal rules and the 2012 statutory amendments made largely in response to the County of Kaua`i v. OIP opinion, see the law review article posted on the rules page at oip.hawaii.gov.