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Green Tree Servicing, LLC v. Duncan — Navajo Supreme Court September 7, 2008

Posted by rezjudicata in Navajo Supreme Court, Tribal Courts.
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Navajo Supreme Court says federal Bankrupcy Code does not protect assignees of debtor; invalidates arbitration clause under Navajo Fundamental Law.

Green Tree Servicing, LLC v. Duncan, No. SC-CV-46-05 (Nav. Sup Ct. Aug. 18, 2008)

Issues: Federal Law > Bankruptcies >> Automatic Stays; Navajo Fundamental Law > Contracts >> Arbitration Clauses

After Conseco filed for bankruptcy, Green Tree purchased Conseco’s loan servicing contracts. This included Duncan’s loan for the purchase of a mobile home. Sometime later Green Tree filed a repossession action against Duncan. Duncan counterclaimed for fraud, harassment, and assault. Does the “automatic stay” provision of the Bankruptcy Code bar Duncan’s counterclaims? If not, did an arbitration clause in the original contract bar the counterclaims?

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Dawes v. Eriacho – Navajo Supreme Court May 16, 2008

Posted by rezjudicata in Navajo Supreme Court, Tribal Courts.
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“You don’t have to write what you say, but you have to say something”—Navajo Supreme Court clarifies Navajo Code of Criminal Procedure Rule 15(d).

Dawes v. Eriacho, No SC-CV-09-08 (Nav. Sup. Ct. May 5, 2008)

Issue(s): Criminal Procedure > Pretrial Detention >> Bail or Bond >>> Requirements

Navajo Code of Criminal Procedure Rule 15(d) requires judges state the reasons for denying bail “for the record.” At Dawes’ initial appearance, the district court allegedly denied bail because Dawes lived in Albuquerque and therefore was a flight risk. From detention, Dawes filed a written request for release, but the district court did not respond. Did the district court violate Rule 15(d)?

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Navajo Supreme Court Rules Incarceration of Children for Disorderly Conduct Illegal April 27, 2008

Posted by rezjudicata in Navajo Supreme Court, Tribal Courts.
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In re N.B., No. SC-CV-03-08 (Nav. Sup. Ct. Apr. 16, 2008)

Issue(s): Navajo Law > Habeas Corpus; Navajo Law > Juvenile Justice >> Dispositions >>> Incarceration; Navajo Law > Fundamental Law >> Diné bi beenehaz’áanii

After the Family Court adjudicated N.B. a delinquent for disorderly conduct, it placed him on suspended probation. N.B., however, failed to comply with the court’s conditions. In response, the court revoked N.B.’s probation and jailed him. If under Navajo law the court could not imprison an adult for disorderly conduct, could the court imprison N.B. for the same offense?

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Navajo Supreme Court Upholds Family Court’s Jurisdiction over Non-resident Navajo Children March 21, 2008

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Miles v. Chinle Family Court, No. SC-CV-04-08 (Nav. Sup. Ct. Feb. 21, 2008)

Issue(s): Jurisdiction > Subject Matter Jurisdiction >> Custody >>> Non-resident Members; Navajo Law > Due Process >> Notice Requirements

After his relationship with the Mother failed, Miles took their daughter and left the Navajo Nation. Sometime later, the Family Court granted the Mother’s motions for immediate custody and writ of habeas corpus. The Mother, however, never successfully served Miles. While the daughter is a member of the Nation, Miles is not. Did the Family Court have jurisdiction over the Mother’s motions? If so, the court violate Miles’s due process rights by issuing the custody orders without notice to Miles?

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Navajo Supreme Court Says Navajo Housing Authority Must Satisfy Judgment January 10, 2008

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Tso v. Navajo Housing Authority, No. SC-CV-20-06 (Nav. Sup. Ct. Dec. 28, 2007)

Issue(s): Navajo Bill of Rights > Retroactive Legislation >> Ex Post Facto Laws; Federal Programs > Satisfaction of Judgments; Navajo Law > Diné bi’ ó’ool’iil

The Navajo Bill of Rights prohibits ex post facto legislation that strips individuals of their fundamental rights. After Tso won a judgment against the Navajo Housing Authority, the Navajo Council amended the code to expressly extend immunity to the Navajo Housing Authority and exempt it from execution. When Tso sought to enforce the judgment, the Housing Authority claimed the amended legislation prevented enforcement. As applied, is the amended legislation a prohibited ex post facto law? If so, do federal guidelines nevertheless prevent the Housing Authority from satisfying the judgment from federal funds?

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Navajo Supreme Court Issues Fundamental Law Opinion December 14, 2007

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Joe v. Black, No. SC-CV-62-06 (Nav. Sup. Ct. Nov. 29, 2007)

Issue(s): Navajo Law > Fundamental Law >> Nályééh >>> Compatibility of Anglo Law; Torts > Comparative Negligence; Navajo Law > Fundamental Law >> Construction with Other Law

The Navajo concept of nályééh refers to a process of restoring relationships between injured parties and tortfeasors. Joe sued Black and several other parties for injuries when her car struck a horse that wandered into the highway. Joe reached settlements with some parties, but not all. And, Joe did not join some possible tortfeasors in her suit. Assuming that nályééh is a non-adversarial resolution method and comparative negligence is adversarial, can the court apply both concepts simultaneously?

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Navajo Supreme Court Dismisses Challenge to Navajo-Hopi Compact December 11, 2007

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Bennett v. Shirley, No. SC-CV-21-07 ( Nav. Sup. Ct. Nov. 29, 2007)

Issue(s): Navajo Law > Sovereign Immunity >> Injunctive Relief; Navajo Law > Civil Procedure >> Failure to State a Claim

The Navajo Sovereign Immunity Act waives the Nation’s sovereign immunity for claims seeking injunctive relief. Bennett sued the tribal President to enjoin enforcement of the “Navajo-Hopi Intergovernmental Compact”* based on violations of the Navajo Bill of Rights. Bennett filed the complaint after the Council approved the Compact, but before the President signed it. Does sovereign immunity bar the suit? If not, has Bennett failed to state a claim on which the court can grant relief?

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Navajo Supreme Court Rules in Habeas Corpus Case December 10, 2007

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In the Matter of L.R. v. Greyeyes, No. SC-CV-39-07, (Nav. Sup. Ct. Nov. 21, 2007)

Issue(s): Habeas Corpus > Juvenile Code; Habeas Corpus > Remedies

According to the Navajo Children’s Code, a delinquency petition shall be dismissed if the petition is not filed within 30 days. 31 days lapsed between the referral and filing of the petition. L.R. subsequently pleaded guilty. Given that the proceedings below failed to comply with the Code, can the Court vacate the subsequent conviction?

The Navajo Children’s Code also states that a delinquency petition shall be filed within 48 hours if the juvenile is taken into custody. Police arrested L.R. on a curfew violation on August 10. Later that day, a hearing was held concerning prior charges, but not the curfew violation. That hearing was held on August 15. In the interim, L.R. was in detention. Was L.R. illegally detained?

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Navajo Supreme Court Confirms Nation’s Regulatory Authority Over Arizona School Districts December 10, 2007

Posted by rezjudicata in Navajo Supreme Court, Tribal Courts.
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Cedar Unified School Dist. v. Navajo Nation Labor Commission, No. SC-CV-53-06, (Nav. Sup. Ct. Nov. 21, 2007).

Issue(s): Administrative Law > Agency Jurisdiction >> Subject Matter; Eleventh Amendment > Tribal Courts >> Immunity; Navajo Law > NPEA >> Contractual Waiver; Navajo Law > Federal Law >> Preemption; Conflict of Laws > Comity

Under the Navajo Preference in Employment Act, employers may not fire employees without “just cause.” The Cedar Unified School District operates on the Navajo Reservation, but is organized under Arizona law. The District fired an employee, allegedly without “just cause.” Does the National Labor Commission (NLC) have subject matter jurisdiction over the employee’s claim under the NPEA? If so, does federal law preempt the NPEA? And, if there is no preemption, should Court defer to Arizona law as a matter of comity?

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Navajo Supreme Court Vacates District Court’s Jury Costs and Gag Orders November 15, 2007

Posted by rezjudicata in Navajo Supreme Court, Tribal Courts.
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Johnson v. Tuba City District Court, SC-CV-12-07 (Nav. Sup. Ct. November 7, 2007)

Issue(s): Fundamental Rights > Right to Jury Trial; Civil Procedure > Abuse of Discretion; Remedies > Extraordinary Writs

Petitioner Johnson sued Yellowman(real party in interest) in Tuba City District Court. At a pretrial conference, the court told Johnson that she must voluntarily dismiss some claims in her complaint because the court believed that the claims were barred by res judicata. When she did not, the court dismissed those claims and imposed sanctions. Johnson also requested a jury trial but the court required a $1500 prepayment in order to hold a jury trial. Finally, the court issued an oral gag order preventing either party from discussing the case. Johnson appealed to the Navajo Supreme Court seeking writs of mandamus and superintending control concerning the court’s orders.

The Supreme Court first explained that writs are extraordinary remedies that will only be granted when there is no plain, speedy, or adequate remedy at law. After that threshhold inquiry, writs of mandamus are only appropriate when the court has failed to act when it has a non-discretionary duty to do so. Writs of superintending control will issue only when the court abuses its discretion in an egregious fashion.

In this context, a remedy is inadequate when a litigant may suffer damage that is irreversible on appeal. Consequently, the Court found that there was an adequate remedy for the district court’s interpretation of res judicata and its order of sanctions because those orders could be reversed on appeal. To the contrary, the Court found no adequate appellate remedy for the potential denial of the right to a jury trial or the gag order.

Under Navajo law, in the absence of a statute prohibiting gag orders, the decision to issue a gag order is within the discretion of the district court. Nevertheless, the district court must carefully consider such a restriction and justify it with clear reasons. This is because it is Navajo policy to maintain the openness of court proceedings so the “Navajo people may know what its courts are doing.” Slip op., at 7. Additionally, the gag restricts the parties’ ability to freely discuss their case. The Court found that the district court abused its discretion because it gave no reasons for the gag order and granted the writ of superintending control vacating the order.

Navajo law does allow district courts to require prepayment of jury costs from the party demanding trial in civil cases. 7 N.N.C. § 658. However, district courts may not require prepayment if doing so would “deny that person the right to a trial by jury.” Id. The Court held that requiring prepayment was not a per se violation of the right to a jury trial. But, because the right to a jury trial if fundamental, prepayment is only appropriate if the party is able to pay. As a result, the district court must explain the amount of the prepayment and allow the party to argue that it cannot afford prepayment. The district court here did neither. Therefore, the Court granted the writ of mandamus on this point.