United States District Court, D. Arizona
G. Campbell Senior United States District Judge
Alvin Whitehair, 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. 15, 16. 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 deny the 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 intertribal
conflicts ultimately resulted in the Navajo-Hopi Settlement
Act in 1974. Id. The Act authorized the district
court to partition the reservation and created
Defendant's predecessor to help relocate tribal members
who resided on land partitioned to the other tribe.
Id. at 1121-22.
eligible for relocation benefits, a Navajo applicant has the
burden of showing that he 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. An unmarried applicant may prove
his head-of-household status by demonstrating that he
“actually maintained and supported” himself. 25
C.F.R. § 700.69(a)(2).
was born on February 8, 1969 (A.R. 299) and was a legal
resident of the HPL on December 22, 1974 (A.R. 131, 302).
Plaintiff attended school through the eighth grade at Shonto
Boarding School and then enrolled in Richfield Junior High
School in Utah for ninth grade. Id. Plaintiff lived
with a foster father, Reed Christensen, while attending
school in Richfield. Id. At the end of ninth grade,
Plaintiff returned to live with his parents on the
Plaintiff returned, he brought with him several candy vending
machines he had obtained from Christensen and placed them at
various locations. A.R. 299-300. Plaintiff testified that he
placed 32 vending machines in the summer of 1985, and that he
netted $30 per machine every two weeks. A.R. 300. Plaintiff
testified that in 1985 and 1986 he had an income of $700-$1,
000 every two weeks from all the machines. Id. In
the summer of 1985, Plaintiff also worked for the Forest Lake
Chapter Summer Youth Program, where he earned $552.
Id. In the summer of 1986, Plaintiff again worked
for the youth program and earned $513. Id. Plaintiff
ended his vending machine business and returned to Utah in
the summer of 1986. Id. Around March 1986, Plaintiff
began living at his parents' home on the Reservation with
his girlfriend, Daisy, and they had their first child in
November 1987. A.R. 300-01.
December 20, 2005, Defendant denied Plaintiff's
application for relocation benefits, finding that he did not
obtain head-of-household status. A.R. 60. Plaintiff appealed
Defendant's decision on January 10, 2006. A.R. 71. At a
September 2011 hearing, the Hearing Officer heard testimony
from Plaintiff, Reed Christensen, Albert Whitehair,
Plaintiff's brother, and Daisy Whitehair, Plaintiff's
wife. A.R. 131-218. The only issue was whether Plaintiff had
attained head-of-household status. A.R. 131. The Hearing
Officer issued a decision in December 2011 affirming the
denial of benefits (A.R. 303), which became Defendant's
final decision in January 2012 (A.R. 308).
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). The 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 nonmoving party, 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.
argues for summary judgment in his favor because (1) the
Hearing Officer's adverse credibility findings are
unsupported; (2) substantial evidence does not support the
Hearing Officer's finding that Plaintiff did not attain
head-of-household status by July 7, 1986; and (3) the denial
of benefits was unsupported by substantial evidence,
arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law. Doc. 15 at 2-3.