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Mark Zuckerberg is officially dropping the lawsuits he filed against hundreds of Hawaiians that would compel them to sell their inherited “kuleana” land.
Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced the news in an open letter printed in the Kauai newspaper The Garden Island on Friday.
“We’ve heard from many in the community and learned more about the cultural and historical significance of this land,” the Facebook CEO wrote. “Over the past week, we’ve spoken with community leaders and shared that our intention is to achieve an outcome that preserves the environment, respects local traditions, and is fair to those with kuleana lands.”
“To find a better path forward, we are dropping our quiet title actions and will work together with the community on a new approach,” he continued. “We understand that for native Hawaiians, kuleana are sacred and the quiet title process can be difficult. We want to make this right, talk with the community, and find a better approach.”
Zuckerberg’s decision to drop the suits comes on the eve of a protest that his neighbors had planned to take place at the six-foot-tall wall he erected last year, along part of his 700-acre estate on Kauai.
“People are furious down here with him,” the protest’s organizer, Joe Hart, told Business Insider on Thursday. “He’s made his money stealing everyone’s information, which we’ve let him do, but to come down here and start suing everyone, that’s not going to fly down here.”
Zuckerberg filed eight lawsuits in local court on December 30 against families who collectively inherited 14 parcels of land through the Kuleana Act, a Hawaiian law established in 1850 that, for the first time, gave native Hawaiians the right to own the land they lived on.
The 14 parcels together total eight of the roughly 700 acres Zuckerberg owns, but the ancient law gives any direct family member of a parcel’s original owner the right to enter the billionaire’s otherwise private compound.
Zuckerberg said he was “reconsidering” the lawsuits earlier this week after receiving heated criticism from Kauai residents and local government officials.
“We cannot allow billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg to use piles of money to tilt Hawaii’s justice system against local residents,” Hawaii State Representative Kaniela Ing recently said in a post on Facebook. “Let’s remind Zuckerberg that, in Hawaii, we approach each other with aloha and talk story first. We don’t initiate conversation by suing our neighbors.”
In his open letter on Friday, Zuckerberg expressed regret for filing the so-called “quiet title action” lawsuits, which require defendants to take on expensive litigation costs in court.
“Upon reflection, I regret that I did not take the time to fully understand the quiet title process and its history before we moved ahead,” he wrote. “Now that I understand the issues better, it’s clear we made a mistake.”
“The right path is to sit down and discuss how to best move forward. We will continue to speak with community leaders that represent different groups, including native Hawaiians and environmentalists, to find the best path.”