United States District Court, D. Arizona
G. Campbell, United States District Judge.
Jason Begay, a member of the Navajo Nation, seeks judicial
review of an administrative decision by Defendant Office of
Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation (“ONHIR”)
denying him relocation benefits under the Navajo-Hopi
Settlement Act. Doc. 1. The parties have filed cross motions
for summary judgment. Docs. 36, 39. The motions are fully
briefed, and oral argument will not aid the Court's
decision. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b); LRCiv 7.2(f).
The Court will grant Plaintiff's motion and remand for
Chester A. Arthur set aside a 2.5 million acre reservation in
Arizona in 1882 for the Hopi Nation 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). Members of the Navajo Nation subsequently settled on
the reservation alongside the Hopi. Id. In the
decades that followed, attempts to resolve inter-tribal
conflicts ultimately resulted in the Navajo-Hopi Settlement
Act in 1974. Id. This statute authorized the
district court to partition the reservation and created
Defendant's predecessor to help relocate Indians who
resided on land partitioned to the other tribe. Id.
eligible for relocation benefits, a Navajo applicant bears
the burden of demonstrating that he or she was (1) a legal
resident of the Hopi Partitioned Lands (“HPL”) on
December 22, 1974, and (2) a head of household on or before
July 7, 1986. 25 C.F.R. § 700.147. A single applicant
who was never married or a parent can qualify as a head of
household only by demonstrating self-support. Id.
was born on December 16, 1965 (A.R. 137) and was a legal
resident of the HPL on December 22, 1974 (A.R. 13). In 1980,
Plaintiff moved to Richfield, Utah, where he worked and
attended high school. A.R. 137. Plaintiff moved to Salt Lake
City, Utah, in January 1984, where he lived with his brother
until graduation from high school in May 1984. Id.
Plaintiff then relocated to California, where he held
part-time jobs at McDonalds and Jack-in-the-Box in the summer
of 1984. A.R. 74, 138. Plaintiff secured a full-time job at a
California computer company in November 1984. A.R. 138.
predecessor included Plaintiff in the relocation benefits it
awarded to his mother, Mary Begay, on September 11, 1984.
A.R. 27. Plaintiff separately applied for his own relocation
benefits on March 9, 2009. A.R. 9. Defendant's
application form called for Plaintiff to record his full-time
- not part-time - employment history. A.R. 14. Plaintiff
noted his full-time employment for the computer company, but
did not mention his part-time employment for McDonalds or
Jack-in-the-Box. See A.R. 14, 85-86. Contemporaneous
notes from a May 2009 screening interview regarding
Plaintiff's application reveal only one part-time job - a
youth program at Richfield High School in 1983. A.R. 23; Doc.
36 at 8.
denied Plaintiff's application on February 22, 2010,
citing his failure to establish his status as a head of
household before his mother's receipt of relocation
benefits on September 11, 1984. A.R. 27. Because Plaintiff
was included in the family's relocation benefits,
Defendant reasoned that this was the last possible date he
resided on the HPL. Id. Plaintiff was neither
married nor a parent before September 11, 1984, so Plaintiff
could qualify as a head of household only by demonstrating
self-support, which requires that he earned at least $1, 300
per year. Id. His full-time employment for the
computer company, which started in November 1984, could not
establish self-support before September 11, 1984. See
initiated an administrative appeal on March 18, 2010. A.R.
31-33. Before his appeal hearing, Plaintiff submitted a
letter that described his part-time employment from January
to May 1984 for a landscaping company in Salt Lake City. A.R.
60. Plaintiff explained that he worked 28 hours per week as a
landscaper for his Mormon seminary teacher, Mark Staples.
Id. Mr. Staples allegedly paid Plaintiff in cash,
and neither Mr. Staples nor Plaintiff reported the wages to
the Internal Revenue Service. A.R. 51-53, 82. Plaintiff's
earnings from this part-time employment allegedly totaled $1,
840. A.R. 60.
October 2010 hearing, the Hearing Officer heard testimony
from Plaintiff; his mother, Mary Begay; his brother, Tully
Begay; and his screening interviewer, Joseph Shelton. Mr.
Staples was deceased. A.R. 73. Mary Begay testified that (1)
Plaintiff was, for the most part, raised by his grandparents
(A.R. 97); (2) Plaintiff worked for “the white
man” while in high school (A.R. 95-96); and (3) she
never visited Plaintiff in Utah (A.R. 99). Tully Begay
testified that (1) Plaintiff lived with him from January to
May 1984 while finishing his senior year of high school (A.R.
102); (2) Plaintiff worked for a landscaping company, which
caused him to be gone “[m]ost of the time” (A.R.
102-04); and (3) he could not identify Mr. Staples, whom he
had never met (A.R. 110-11). Mr. Shelton testified that he
had no independent recollection of the screening interview,
but that he took contemporaneous notes regarding the
conversation. A.R. 112-13. Mr. Shelton gave inconsistent
testimony about whether he would have noted the landscaping
job. A.R. 113.
Hearing Officer issued a decision in January 2011 affirming
the denial of relocation benefits (A.R. 142), which became
Defendant's final decision in July 2011 (A.R. 144).
reviewing court may reverse an ONHIR decision under the
Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) if it is
arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, contrary to
law, or unsupported by substantial evidence. 5 U.S.C. §
706(2)(A), (E); see Bedoni, 878 F.2d at 1122. A
decision is arbitrary and capricious if the agency
“‘has relied on factors which Congress has not
intended it to consider, entirely failed to consider an
important aspect of the problem, offered an explanation for
its decision that runs counter to the evidence before the
agency, or is so implausible that it could not be ascribed to
a difference in view or the product of agency
expertise.'” O'Keeffe's, Inc. v. U.S.
Consumer Prod. Safety Comm'n, 92 F.3d 940, 942 (9th
Cir. 1996) (quoting Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass'n v.
State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983)).
Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla but
less than a preponderance; it means such relevant evidence as
a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Chu v. Commodity Futures Trading
Comm'n, 823 F.3d 1245, 1250 (9th Cir. 2016)
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). This
standard is deferential. The Court “may not substitute
its judgment for that of the agency.” River Runners
for Wilderness v. Martin, 593 F.3d 1064, 1070 (9th Cir.
2010) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
judgment is an appropriate mechanism for deciding the legal
question of whether [ONHIR] could reasonably have found the
facts as it did.” Laughter v. ONHIR, No.
CV-16-08196-PCT-DLR, 2017 WL 2806841, at *2 (D. Ariz. June
29, 2017) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
“[T]he focal point for judicial review [under the APA]
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 (1973). Summary
judgment is proper if the evidence, viewed in the light most
favorable to the ...