Navajo Nation Supreme Court

Summary of 2013 Opinions

DISCLAIMER: The information provided below is intended for educational purposes and in no way replaces the opinoins themselves. The information below may not be relied on or otherwise cited in legal proceedings. If information in the summary conflicts with the actual opinion in any way, please notify the Supreme Court Law Clerk.

 Last updated on 08/28/2013

  1. Wauneka et al v. Yazzie et al No. SC-CV-64-12 ((January 4, 2013 recon. den. February 22, 2013)
  2. Sandoval v. Navajo Election Administration, and Concerning Leo Johnson Real Party in Interest No. SC-CV-62-12 (Feb 26, 2013)
  3. Neptune Leasing v. Mountain States et al No. SC-CV-24-10 (May 13, 2013)
  4. Dean Haungooah v. Delores Greyeyes, Director, Department of Corrections No. SC-CV-06-13 (June 4, 2013)
Wauneka et al v. Yazzie et al, SC-CV-64-12 (Jan 4, 2013 recon. den. Feb 22, 2013)
In this appeal, t
he Supreme Court reverses an OHA decision which reversed the Navajo Election Administration's forfeiture and declaration of vacancy of Appellantts' positions as school board members pursuant to 11 N.N.C. § 142(A) after they had missed three consecutive school board meetings. The Court determined that a quorem is not required to invoke forfeiture under Section 142(A) nor can automatic forfeiture be stayed, since Section 142(A) requires forfeiture "by operation of law." Additionally, the OHA may not delay a decision in an election grievance beyond the statutory timelines.
  • Conflicting / Ambiguous Statutes. The question of conflicting enactments is whether the Council intended one law to prevail over another. Legislative intent including resolution preambles and minutes, and the later, more specific statute, are relevant when plain meaning is unclear. Council clearly intended an expedited removal mechanism for derelict school board members in 11 N.N.C. § 142.
  • By Operation of Law is a legal phrase with very specific intent. It creates immediate legal consequences when an event occurs without the need for further determination by any court or administrative body.
Sandoval v. NEA, No. SC-CV-62-12 (Feb 26, 2013)
he Supreme Court issues its opinion on reconsideration in this appeal of an OHA dismissal on an election grievance. The Court reverses the OHA and orders Leo Johnson disqualified as school board member of the Shiprock Associated Schools Inc. (SASI). The Court emphasizes the duties of the NEA and candidates when conditions concerning qualifications change before an election has taken place. The Court states that the qualifications statute for school board members specifically require mandatory enforcement throughout the term of office. The vacancy shall be filled by special election pursuant to 11 N.N.C.  § 143. 
  • Forward Application of Laws: 11 N.N.C. § 6(E), amended in the run up to the November 6, 2012 election some five weeks after the candidates’ filing and four months prior to the election itself, becoming effective on July 6, 2012, must be applied to the election that had not yet occurred.  It is the duty of the NEA and also the candidates who had previously filed their applications to ensure that the candidates go back and revise their filings to see if they remain qualified to run after enactment of the new law.
  • Haskie Rule that election statutes are mandatory prior to elections but directory after elections have been held still applies except where overruled in specific areas by statutes. In this case, 11 N.N.C. § 8(D)(4)(j)(as amended) makes it clear that school board member qualifications may be challenged at any time during their term of office
  • Property Interest in Elected Office. Candidates for an office, like officials holding elected office, have no property interest in that office.
  • Ambiguous Statutes: Where a provision is part of a larger scheme, the whole of that scheme necessarily figures in the interpretation of that provision.
  • Presumption: So long as there is a reasonable basis for the restriction and an important governmental interest is advanced, in this case the protection and welfare of our children in the area of education, this Court will presume that the Council will not enact legislation which would deny civil rights.
  • Nataanii Duty: Those selected by the people have an ongoing duty of self-assessment and must affirmatively come forward, and not stay silent, in order not to circumvent conditions imposed by the Council.
  • Forward-Looking Culture: In Dine culture, it is never preferable to unwind events that have occured.
  • Fundamental Law Right to Participate in Elections: is not absolute, and may be reasonably regulated when necessary for the election system to function or when required by another Fundamental Law principle
Neptune Leasing v. Mountain States et al, SC-CV-24-10 (May 13, 2013)
The Supreme Court issues its opinion in this appeal of the Shiprock Court's dismissal of a repossession action on the basis of a lack of personal jurisdiction over Mountain States. The Court reverses and remands for further proceedings. The action concerns the sale and re-sale of a helium plant and its assets located on a Navajo Nation business site leasehold performed without involvement or consent of the Navajo Nation and without even a written business site lease.
 Finding that the Shiprock Court erred in providing conclusory findings as to jurisdiction, the Court found jurisdiction after engaging in a full jurisdictional discussion involving inherent sovereignty, Navajo statutes, and federal common law tests. The parties had additionally challenged subject matter jurisdiction on the basis of a private agreement between the purported buyer and seller which selected Texas as their litigation forum; however the Court stated that no private contractual clause may avoid Navajo Nation jurisdiction over transactions on Navajo Nation land involving assets in which the Navajo Nation may have an interest. Additionally, the Court repeated that there is no such things as an equitable business site lease.
  • Conclusory Findings are an abuse of discretion.
  • Thorough Jurisdictional Analysis Regarding Non-Members is a political necessity that must be engaged in every case out of duty to preserve our sovereign courts. This includes a Montana discussion. But note that the Navajo Nation sticks by its inherent sovereignty. Article II of Treaty of 1868 acknowledges Navajo inherent sovereignty, and the Long Arm Statute codifies it.
  • Business Site Leases: Transfers must be done with the Nation's knowledge and consent. Business site leases may not be gained in equity.
  • Clarity Required: Fundamental Law requires clarity. T’óó hoł dah hazkę́ęhgoóh há k’íhodoodǫǫł (one cannot resolve disputes when in a confused state)
Haungooah v. Greyeyes, No. SC-CV-06-13 (June 4, 2013)
 Supreme Court issues its opinion regarding a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by a homeless non-Navajo Indian who had been arrested on a bench warrant without first being served with a probation revocation petition, then ordered to be incarcerated after his probation was revoked. The probationer had earlier called in to his probation officer informing him that he was homeless and needed to leave the vicinity in order to find shelter. Having previously granted the writ and ordered the probationer's release, the Court found that a revocation petition must be served unless the Court determines that probable cause exists to show that attempts at service would be futile due to disappearance without contact and other egregious circumstances. Additionally, Diné bi beenahaz’áanii requires that in our restorative justice system, help should be given to a defendant when dire circumstances are known. Finally, the Court emphasized the due process right to counsel. 
  • Due Process: The due process rights of a probationer are violated if he is found to be in violation w/o service of summons and petition to revoke prior to issuance of a bench warrant, unless court makes a specific finding that the petition on its face shows probable cause to believe that the probationer will not appear in response to the summons. Probable cause under Rule 53(b) requires, basically, a showing of futility in getting defendant to respond.
  • Explanation of Rights. “[H]azho’ógo requires a patient, respectful discussion with a suspect explaining his or her rights before a waiver [of those rights] is effective.
  • Diné bi beenahaz’áanii imposes a duty on our government to provide avenues for restoration and assist a probationer when his/her dire circumstances are known. This is a fundamental right of our people.