Owner of Piʻihana Land Is Sued By Maui County, Neighbor Farmer

posted in: February 2021 | 0

Since acquiring about 79 acres of land north of Wailuku, Maui, Vernon Lindsey has racked up a number of complaints from neighbors and Maui County. 

Winn V. Lindsey

Peter Winn, a neighbor who co-owns a 42-acre parcel with Lindsey’s wife, Noenoe Lindsey, has sued both Vernon and Noenoe Lindsey along with several others who worked for Vernon Lindsey. Winn alleges that starting early last year, Vernon Lindsey and his agents dumped “substantial amounts of scrap metal along with other trash and junk” onto Winn’s and Noenoe Lindsey’s land, known as the Piʻihana Farm. The farm is immediately adjacent to a lot owned by Lindsey’s Wailuku Plantation and which was part of the area subject to the Land Use Commission’s 1990 order placing it into the Urban land use district.

Over three days in late October and early November, 2nd Circuit Judge Rhonda Loo heard witnesses and arguments on Winn’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the defendants. On December 2, she granted the motion, barring all the defendants except Noenoe Lindsey from entering onto Piʻihana Farm, and enjoining NoeNoe Lindsey from granting permission to any of the other defendants to enter the property.

In her order, Judge Loo recites numerous instances of Lindsey or his workers trespassing on Piʻihana Farm and dumping truckloads of waste. 

In March 2020, Winn observed one of the defendants, Michael Perreira, “emptying a red dump truck filled with trash, rubbish, and debris.” Around the same time, “a large pile of rubbish, including construction waste, derelict motor vehicles, sheet metal, bags filled with feces, metal drums, rusted appliances, partially destroyed parts of a structure, bed frames, documents, and other diverse items of non-agricultural waste were dumped … in and around the area” where Perreira had been seen dumping trash on several occasions.

Winn demanded that Vernon Lindsey and/or Noenoe Lindsey clean up the site. On August 7, Maui County issued a warning notice, stating that the trash had been dumped in a flood plain and, as such, violated zoning regulations. Fines would begin to accumulate if the waste were not cleaned up, the warning notice said.

Five days later, the trash pile caught fire. The fire captain who was among the responders testified that he saw “smoldering piles of rubbish consisting of vehicles, appliances, and other garbage.” An employee of Winn helped extinguish the blaze using Winn’s heavy equipment, which was damaged in the process.

In September, the waste pile caught fire several more times.

Winn got quotes from contractors to haul away the trash, but before they began, Vernon Lindsey hired a crew that came on the site and according to Loo’s order, proceeded to “move the trash around, mix it with dirt, and push it along the berm adjacent to the river bank, where they covered the rubbish with more dirt in an effort to conceal the rubbish.”

Maui County inspectors revisited the site and once more found that Winn was in violation. At that time, Winn hired a contractor to remove the trash – at a cost substantially greater than the original quote, owing to the fact that the rubbish had been mixed with soil by Lindsey’s crew.

When the contractor arrived at the site on September 28, Lindsey was there and “became belligerent and demand[ed] that the workers stop disturbing his, Defendant Vernon Ray Lindsey’s trash,” Loo’s order says.

Police were called. Lindsey told them that the contractor was “harming [his] trash pile” and “falsely claimed that he was an owner of the Piʻihana Farm property.”

Two days later, the Planning Department issued a notice of violation to Piʻihana Farm, with fines of $1,000 a day beginning to accrue on October 7.

Winn filed his lawsuit against the Lindseys on October 2, and still the fires continued – on October 18-19 and on October 22.

A temporary restraining order against the defendants was issued on October 22, and finally Winn’s contractor was able to sort the trash and haul it away.

Since then, the contractor has hauled over 90 tons of trash to the landfill, with an additional 60 tons of scrap metal separated out and ready to be hauled to a metal recycling facility.

“Intermixed throughout the aforementioned trash, and dug out by workers removing and sorting the trash were personally identifying documents of Defendant Vernon Ray Lindsey and Defendant Noenoe Marks Lindsey, including but not limited to cancelled checks, bank statements, tax forms, and other documents going back as early as 1977,” Judge Loo says in her order.

Winn’s claims for damages have yet to be heard by the court.

Maui County v. Lindsey

On December 9, Maui County filed a complaint for damages against Wailuku Plantation and Vernon Lindsey. The lawsuit sought payment of $24,700 plus court costs, reasonable attorney fees, and any other costs incurred by the county in association with the lawsuit.

At the heart of the lawsuit was Lindsey’s breach of an agreement with the county that Lindsey had signed November 19, 2019. The agreement was intended to resolve the county’s claims that Lindsey, the sole member of Wailuku Plantation, LLC, had violated the county’s zoning code by using his property – part of the Piʻihana area placed into the Urban district by the 1990 LUC action – as a construction base yard.

The initial notice of violation had been issued on April 24, but, according to the notice of violation itself, the violation had been ongoing since at least November 11, 2017, when Lindsey first received a “notice of warning.” Lindsey was instructed to correct the violation by April 30, 2018, or face fines accruing at a rate of $1,000 a day.

Lindsey appealed to the county Board of Appeals. In his defense, on May 24, 2018, he wrote, “facts of the matter is different than inspectors findings. The ‘base yard’ is the items that is use to start a R-2 Housing Project as current zoning allows. The equip needed to maintain vacate property was fenced and contained. This area has great thief and Homelessness. And a 24 hour guard was also need which is the reason for office trailer.” 

The Board of Appeals finally held a contested case hearing on the matter in July 2019, which was continued until August and again until October 2019. “However,” the complaint states, “prior to a final vote on the contested case, defendants and the county reached a settlement which was reduced to writing and executed by the parties” on November 19, 2019.

That settlement called for Lindsey to pay a reduced fine of $49,700, payable within 60 days of the agreement.

Sixty days came and went, but on February 14, 2020, Lindsey finally made a payment of $25,000.

On that day, the Maui corporation counsel executed yet another agreement, calling for Lindsey to pay the outstanding balance of $24,700 in three monthly installments, starting April 18.

Lindsey and Wailuku Plantation were duly served with notice of the complaint on December 11. Neither filed any response to the lawsuit.

On January 12, Judge Loo entered a default judgment in the county’s favor.

— Patricia Tummons

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