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Judge rules for Navajo tribe in building dispute

Shiprock, New Mexico (AP) February 2011

A judge has granted the Navajo Nation an injunction in a dispute involving construction on a new domestic violence center in the Navajo community of Shiprock.

District Judge Genevieve Woody recently ruled in the tribe’s favor in a case against the Shiprock Home for Women and Children and a construction company that has worked on the new shelter for years.

The injunction prohibits shelter officials and the construction company from interfering with the tribe’s completion of the project.

Woody’s ruling requires the Navajo Nation to finish the shelter as soon as possible because the project would lose funds if it’s not completed by June. At stake is $1.4 million in state grants.

The shelter has been operating from temporary buildings since its old quarters were demolished in 2002.

The tribal Department of Justice sought an injunction in November against the shelter staff, RJN Construction of Mancos, Colo., and the company’s chief executive officer, Robert Nelson.

Albuquerque-based attorney James W. Zion, who represented the defendants, said he is working on an appeal.

The $6 million project, which is about 80 percent complete, stalled in August when the Navajo Housing Authority suspended the contract with RJN Construction.

The case focuses on ownership of the property on which the new shelter is being built.

The Navajo tribe argues it is the legal owner because no individual or entity can own reservation land.

The shelter and RJN Construction both contend they own the property under lease agreements.

The tribe’s attorney, Brian Lewis, alleges RJN Construction forfeited its rights to the project when the company received the amount contracted for in full, plus $99,000 more.

Woody’s ruling said a business site lease was approved in 2007, the year RJN entered into a nearly $500,000 contract to complete the remaining 20 percent of the shelter work. That money came through three agreements with the state.

The judge said RJN never completed the work.

The Navajo Nation extended the contract in June 2008 and paid RJN an additional $99,000 to complete the same portion of the project, Woody wrote. The tribe was to maintain ownership of the project to receive the state grants.

Zion argued the tribe had no rights to the property until after the lease expired, and that the lease expired only when construction was complete.

He criticized Woody for focusing on property and lease issues instead of the contract.

Nelson said the price of materials skyrocketed after money was first allocated to the project in 2002.




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