Navajo court case stalls construction on domestic violence shelter

Construction remains stalled on the Shiprock Arizona Home for Women and Children following a hearing Tuesday in Shiprock District Court.
Judge Genevieve Woody extended a temporary restraining order after hearing arguments from a Navajo Nation attorney and an attorney representing the domestic violence home and RJN Construction, of Mancos, Colo.

The restraining order will be in effect until the court makes a final ruling. Legal briefs from the parties are due Thursday, and oral arguments are expected to be heard mid-December.

Every day that passes jeopardizes the project. Funds topping $1.4 million from the state of New Mexico may be retracted if the project is not started this month.

The question on which the judge must rule is which entity is the rightful owner of the property. The shelter claims ownership under a lease with the Nation, and the construction company also claims temporary ownership under a business contract.

But the Navajo Nation argued that it is the “true and legal owner” of the property, and therefore has authorization to access the property and to rescind business contracts.

The former shelter was demolished seven years ago when a contract first was awarded to RJN Construction.

The most recent obstacle came during the summer when the Navajo Housing Authority and the Navajo Attorney General alleged RJN violated Navajo law. The Navajo Housing Authority suspended the project with only 20 percent of the project incomplete.

James Zion, an Albuquerque-based attorney representing RJN and the home, raising three questions in his argument to the court. He asked whether a lease has meaning on the Navajo Nation, whether business contracts have meaning, and whether the Nation is a “safe place to do business.”

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