United States District Court, D. Arizona
Douglas L. Rayes, United States District Judge.
Helen Laughter, a member of the Navajo Nation, seeks judicial
review of an administrative decision by Defendant Office of
Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation (ONHIR) denying Plaintiff
relocation benefits under the Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act.
(Doc. 15.) Before the Court are the parties' motions for
summary judgment. (Docs. 40, 45.) The motions are fully
briefed, and neither side has requested oral argument. For
reasons stated below, summary judgment is granted in favor of
Defendant and its decision denying benefits is affirmed.
Navajo and Hopi Relocation Assistance
1882, President Chester Arthur established a large
reservation in northeastern Arizona for use by the Hopi
Indians and "such other Indians as the Secretary of the
Interior may see fit to settle thereon." Bedoni v.
Navajo-Hopi Indian Relocation Comm'n, 878 F.2d 1119,
1121 (9th Cir. 1989). Navajo Indians migrated to much of the
reservation and settled there alongside the Hopi.
Id. In 1962, this district court found that the two
tribes held joint, undivided interest in most of the
reservation, which was called the "joint use area."
Id. (citing Healing v. Jones, 210 F.Supp.
125 (D. Ariz. 1962)).
years later, after establishment of the joint use area failed
to solve intertribal conflicts over the land, Congress passed
the Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act, 25 U.S.C. § 640d et seq.
The Act, among other things, authorized the district court to
make a final partition of the land after mediation efforts
between the tribes had failed. See Sekaquaptewa v.
MacDonald, 626 F.2d 113, 115 (9th Cir. 1980). The Act
directed creation of the ONHIR's predecessor, the
Navajo-Hopi Indian Relocation Commission, to provide services
and benefits to help relocate residents who were located on
lands allocated to the other tribe as a result of the
court-ordered partition. See Bedoni, 878 F.2d at
1121-22; U.S.C. § 640d-11. The relocation services
included personally interviewing, where possible, each head
of household to determine relocation needs and to explain
benefits (housing and moving expenses) for which the person
might be eligible. 25 C.F.R. § 700.135.
eligible for benefits, the applicable regulations and policy
memo require a Navajo head of household to be a legal
resident on December 22, 1974 of what became the Hopi
Partitioned Lands (HPL). 25 C.F.R. §§ 700.97,
700.138, 700.147(a); Doc. 40-2; see Herbert v.
ONHIR, No. 3:06-cv-03014-NVW (D. Ariz. Feb. 27, 2008)
(Doc. 27). The burden of proving legal residence and head of
household status is on the applicant. 25 C.F.R. §
Facts and Procedural History
is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation who applied for
relocation benefits in April 2005. (Doc. 17; AR 18-21) The
application was denied six months later, in part because
Plaintiff was found not to be a legal resident of the HPL as
of December 22, 1974. (AR 69-71.) Plaintiff appealed, and a
hearing before an independent hearing officer (IHO) was held
in January 2011. (AR 73-77, 103-48.) Plaintiff, her father
Joe Klain, and her sister Blanche Butler testified at the
explained that after moving from California to Arizona in
1971, they lived in a traditional mud-style hogan on top of
Black Mesa, which became part of the HPL. Plaintiff's
paternal grandmother lived in a similar hogan at the base of
Black Mesa in Tonalea, which became Navajo Partitioned Lands
(NPL). Plaintiff and her family ultimately resided in Tonalea
near her grandmother after her father constructed a concrete
block home on the property. Plaintiff and the other witnesses
testified that the family was living at the Black Mesa site
in December 1974 and did not move into the block home in
Tonalea until the end of 1975. (AR 109, 114, 123, 132, 144.)
denied Plaintiff's application for relocation benefits in
a written decision issued April 18, 2011. (AR 174-80.) The
IHO found the witnesses not credible as to years and dates,
and concluded that based on residence histories provided by
Plaintiff and her father during the application process and a
Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) enumeration roster showing
that the family lived in the Tonalea block house in early
1975, Plaintiff had not met her burden of showing that she
was a legal resident of the HPL as of December 22, 1974. (AR
177-79.) The IHO's ruling became Defendant's final
decision when it affirmed the ruling on July 18, 2011. (AR
182). Plaintiff then commenced this action for judicial
review pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 640d-14(g) and the
Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. § 701 et.
seq. (Docs. 1, 15.)
reviewing a federal agency's decision under the APA, the
district court applies a "narrow and deferential"
standard of review. Mike v. ONHIR, No.
CV-06-0866-PCT-EHC, 2008 WL 54920, at *1 (D. Ariz. Jan. 2,
2008). The court may reverse only if the decision "was
arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, not in
accordance with law, or unsupported by substantial
evidence." Bedoni, 878 F.2d at 1122 (citing 5
U.S.C. § 706(2)(A), (E)). "Substantial evidence
means 'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'"
Mike, 2008 WL 54920, at *1 (quoting Info.
Providers' Coalition for Defense of First Amendment v.
FCC, 928 F.2d 866, 870 (9th Cir. 1991)). Under the
arbitrary and capricious standard, the court must determine
whether the agency's decision "was based on
consideration of relevant factors and whether there has been
a clear error of judgment." Id. (citing Nw.
Motorcycle Ass'n v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 18
F.2d 1468, 1471 (9th Cir. 1994)).
judgment generally is appropriate where "the movant
shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material
fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Where the court reviews an
agency decision under the APA, "the focal point should
be the administrative record already in existence, not some
new record made initially in the reviewing court."
Camp v. Pitts, 411 U.S. 138, 142-43 (1973). Thus,
when conducting "judicial review pursuant to the APA,
'summary judgment is an appropriate mechanism for
deciding the legal question of whether the agency could
reasonably have found the facts as it did.'"
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