United States District Court, D. Arizona
DOUGLAS L. RAYES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Rosita George seeks judicial review of an administrative
decision by Defendant Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian
Relocation (“ONHIR”) denying her relocation
benefits under the Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act. (Doc. 1.) The
parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment. (Docs.
28, 32.) 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). For reasons stated below,
Plaintiff's motion is denied and ONHIR's motion is
1882, a large reservation was established in Arizona for use
by 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. The Act authorized the district court to
partition the reservation and created ONHIR's predecessor
to help relocate tribal members who resided on land
partitioned to the other tribe. Id. at 1121-22. To
be eligible for relocation benefits, a Navajo applicant has
the burden of showing that 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.
was born on July 23, 1965 and was a legal resident of the HPL
on December 22, 1974. (A.R. 162.) After graduating high
school in 1985, Plaintiff moved in with her sister Lorena
Tsinnijinnie. (Id.) While living with Lorena,
Plaintiff was not responsible for her living expenses.
(Id. at 107.) In June 1986, Plaintiff moved to an
apartment in Flagstaff that she shared with a friend.
(Id. at 163.)
testified that from June 1985 until June 1986 she was
employed by her brother-in-law, Donald Tsinnijinnie, selling
Indian arts, including Kachina dolls and lamps. (Id.
at 111, 162.) Plaintiff contends, without the support of any
corroborating documentation, that she was paid $200-300 in
cash every two weeks. (Id.) After leaving
Donald's employ, Plaintiff was hired at Burger King, but
quit after one shift, earning a total of $40.54.
(Id. at 163.) Plaintiff then worked for Allstar Inn
in Flagstaff, where she earned a total of $568.00.
(Id.) Next, Plaintiff worked for Coconino County,
earning $134.00 before July 7, 1986. (Id.) All told,
Plaintiff's documented earnings from January 1, 1986
through July 7, 1986 were $742.62. (Id.)
October 21, 2009, ONHIR denied Plaintiff's application
for relocation benefits, finding that she did not obtain
head-of-household status during the relevant time period.
(Id. at 51-52.) Plaintiff appealed the decision.
(Id. at 58.) Cecelia Sands, Emilia George, and
Plaintiff testified during an administrative hearing in
August 2013. (Id. at 99-133.) The Hearing
Officer issued a decision in November 2013 affirming the
denial of benefits, which became ONHIR's final decision
in December 2013. (Id. at 161-68, 171.)
the decision of [a hearing officer] rests on a negative
credibility evaluation, [he] must make findings on the record
and must support those findings by pointing to substantial
evidence on the record.” Ceguerra v. Sec. of Health
& Human Servs., 933 F.2d 735, 738 (9th Cir. 1991)
(citation omitted). An agency's “credibility
findings are granted substantial deference by reviewing
courts.” De Valle v. INS, 901 F.2d 787, 792
(9th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). The hearing officer
alone is “in a position to observe [a witness]'s
tone and demeanor, to explore inconsistencies in testimony,
and to apply workable and consistent standards in the
evaluation of testimonial evidence. He is . . . uniquely
qualified to decide whether [a witness's] testimony has
about it the ring of truth.” Begay v. Office of
Navajo & Hopi Indian Relocation, 305 F.Supp.3d 1040,
1049 (D. Ariz. 2018) (citing Sarvia-Quintanilla v. U.S.
INS, 767 F.2d 1387, 1395 (9th Cir. 1985)).
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.
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.” Rive ...