Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff

467 U.S. 229, 104 S. Ct. 2321 (1984)



Federal courts should abstain from decision when difficult and unsettled questions of state law must be resolved before a substantial federal constitutional question can be decided. By abstaining in such cases, federal courts will avoid both unnecessary adjudication of federal questions and needless friction with state policies. Federal courts need not abstain on Pullman grounds when a state statute is not fairly subject to an interpretation which will render unnecessary adjudication of the federal constitutional question. Pullman abstention is limited to uncertain questions of state law because abstention from the exercise of federal jurisdiction is the exception, not the rule. 


The HHA had enacted the Act after the Hawaiian legislature discovered that only a small number of landholders owned the state's land. The legislature concluded that concentrated land ownership was responsible for skewing the state's residential fee simple market, inflating land prices, and injuring the public tranquility and welfare. The HHA then ordered the landowners to submit to compulsory arbitration, to which the landowners responded with the lawsuit. The Court held that the HHA enacted the Act not to benefit a particular class of individuals but to attack certain perceived evils of concentrated property ownership in Hawaii, which was a legitimate public purpose, and that condemnation was not an irrational power to achieve that purpose.


Does the Public Use Clause of the Fifth Amendment, made applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibit the State of Hawaii from taking, with just compensation, title in real property from lessors and transferring it to lessees in order to reduce the concentration of ownership of fees simple in the State?




The State of Hawaii has never denied that the Constitution forbids even a compensated taking of property when executed for no reason other than to confer a private benefit on a particular private party. A purely private taking could not withstand the scrutiny of the public use requirement; it would serve no legitimate purpose of government and would thus be void. But no purely private taking is involved in these cases. The Hawaii Legislature enacted its Land Reform Act not to benefit a particular class of identifiable individuals but to attack certain perceived evils of concentrated property ownership in Hawaii -- a legitimate public purpose. Use of the condemnation power to achieve this purpose is not irrational. Since we assume for purposes of these appeals that the weighty demand of just compensation has been met, the requirements of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments have been satisfied.

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