Facebook owner says legal action needed to be sure kuleana land owners receive payment

LIHUE — The CEO and head of Facebook says eight lawsuits involving about a dozen parcels of kuleana land on his 700-acre property are to identify owners and compensate them adequately.

Mark Zuckerberg, a part-time Kilauea resident and owner of Facebook, posted on his Facebook page on Thursday that he and his wife Priscilla bought land on Kauai “to create a home on the island, and help preserve the wildlife and beauty.”

“The land is made up of a few properties. In each case, we worked with the majority owners of each property and reached a deal they thought was fair and wanted to make on their own,” Zuckerberg wrote. “As with most transactions, the majority owners have the right to sell their land if they want, but we need to make sure smaller partial owners get paid for their fair share too.”

As reported in The Garden Island on Thursday, Pilaa International LLC, Northshore Kalo LLC and High Flyer LLC — three companies owned by Zuckerberg — have filed eight quiet title and partition lawsuits in state Circuit Court on Dec. 30 involving over 100 people who have some claim to kuleana land on Zuckerberg’s property.

Kuleana lands are parcels granted to Native Hawaiian tenant farmers between 1850 and 1855, according to the “Ua koe ke kuleana o na kanaka.” The land is inherited by descendants of the initial buyer with or without them knowing.

“In Hawaii, this is where it gets more complicated. As part of Hawaiian history, in the mid-1800s, small parcels were granted to families, which after generations might now be split among hundreds of descendants,” Zuckerberg wrote. “There aren’t always clear records, and in many cases descendants who own 1/4 percent or 1 percent of a property don’t even know they are entitled to anything.”

In the eight cases for parcels of land, the purpose of the quiet title and partition lawsuit is to recognize who may be an owner or co-owner of the kuleana land and inform them of their claim and give them the opportunity to establish interest.

“If more than one person owns the property, then each person under Hawaii law would have a right to partition the property and the court-ordered sale,” said Peter Olson, a Big Island attorney whose firm works on quiet title lawsuits.

Zuckerberg said he filed the quiet title action to find all the partial owners and pay them their fair share.

“For most of these folks, they will now receive money for something they never even knew they had,” he wrote.

In 2014, Zuckerberg purchased his 700 acres of Kilauea land for about $100 million. The Pilaa Beach property, which consists of about 390 acres, was bought from Plfueger Properties, a partnership owned by local car dealer Jim Pflueger. The other piece of land, Kahuaina Plantation, is 357 acres of a former sugar cane plantation.

Native Hawaiian and Kauai resident Bill Fernandez thinks the quiet title action is a good thing.

“At some point in time, the quiet title action, it clears up ownership. You can go ahead and sell the land and somebody can get good title to the property,” said the former judge. “I’m not discouraged by Zuckerberg because I know some Hawaiians who can’t live out their land because it’s so landlocked: They can’t get water, get roadway into it and so forth.”

As reported in The Garden Island, Zuckerberg is working with Carlos Andrade, an heir to about two acres of kuleana land and a former University of Hawaii professor.

Andrade is helping Zuckerberg by issuing letters to family members about the ownership of the land.

Sources close to Zuckerberg say there are at least 150 people who are heirs to the kuleana lands.

“It is important to us that we respect Hawaiian history and traditions,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We love Hawaii and we want to be good members of the community and preserve the environment. We look forward to working closely with the community for years to come.”

In June, Zuckerberg made headlines on the Garden Isle after several neighbors complained of a six-foot high wall Zuckerberg built along Koolau Road on his property that neighbors said obscured their view of the ocean and also the breeze from shore.

Spokespersons for the Facebook CEO said the wall’s primary purpose is to mitigate highway and road noise.

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