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Mark Zuckerberg drops Hawaiian land lawsuits after outcry

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Mark Zuckerberg Awarded With Axel Springer Award In Berlin Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is trying to make peace with his new Hawaiian neighbors. After purchasing a $100 million, 700-acre plot of land on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg filed lawsuits in an effort to officially buy land that’s technically owned by descendants of Kuleana tenant farmers. Now, that process — called “quiet title and partition” — is being ended. In a letter printed in Kauai’s The Garden Island, Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan explained their decision.

“To find a better path forward, we are dropping our quiet title actions and will work together with the community on a new approach,” Zuckerberg writes. “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.”

Earlier this month it came to light that Zuckerberg filed up to eight lawsuits against hundreds of people, some of whom are dead, for ownership of their land. The legal action forces owners of undeveloped land to sell the property in a public auction to the highest bidder. The reason Zuckerberg had to do this in the first place goes back to an old Hawaiian law that granted ownership of land to the descendants of tenant farmers, regardless of the existence of a property deed or will. As a result of this law, which was in place between 1850 and 1855, lots of land is owned by lots of people and some of those people have no idea they’re even entitled to the land.

For instance, Zuckerberg was planning to file a suit against approximately 300 descendants of a man named Manuel Rapozo, who bought two acres of land in 1894. That land is part of Zuckerberg’s estate and is said to be worth $1.1 million. Zuckerberg worked with the great-grandson of Rapozo to try and identify other descendants, 80 percent of whom might not know about their claim to the land.

The quiet title process is a sensitive one for Hawaiians, as historic land ownership is often undocumented and local families could be at risk of being displaced by wealthy outsiders. Zuckerberg writes in his letter that he and Chan regret not taking the time to “fully understand the quiet title process and its history before we moved ahead.”

He continued, “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.”