Shiprock District Court Judge Genevieve Woody, after nearly two months of deliberating, has ruled in favor of the plaintiff in a case against the domestic violence home and the construction company that has worked on a new shelter for the last eight years.
The injunction prohibits the defendants from interfering with the construction project, located near the Boys & Girls Club off U.S. 491 in north Shiprock.
The Navajo Nation also is required to complete construction of the shelter as soon as possible, Woody wrote in her ruling.
"Failure to complete construction before June 2011 would result in loss of time-sensitive grants," she wrote.
At stake is $1.4 million in state grants available through a Joint Powers Agreement that may be retracted if not used by the end of the fiscal year.
When complete, the $6 million shelter will comprise five hogan-shaped structures that will house 14 adults and 84 children in a space designed with Navajo healing traditions in mind. Meanwhile, the shelter is operating from a cluster of temporary buildings.
The case went before Woody after the Navajo Nation's Department of Justice filed a motion in November for a temporary restraining order and application for preliminary injunction. The motion named as defendants the shelter staff, RJN Construction, of Mancos, Colo., and Robert Nelson, CEO of RJN Construction.
The crux of the case is the legal or actual ownership of the construction property. The project, which remains about 80 percent complete, was stalled in August when the Navajo Housing Authority suspended the contract with RJN Construction.
The Nation argued that it is the "true and legal owner" of the property because no individual or entity can own reservation land. The Nation also claimed it had authorization to go out to bid for a new construction firm to complete the project.
The shelter and RJN Construction both contended they had ownership of the property under lease agreements.
Brian Lewis, attorney for the Nation, claimed RJN Construction forfeited its rights to the project when the company received the contracted dollars in full, plus an additional $99,000.
Lewis also alleged that RJN was keeping the project incomplete to continue taking money from the Nation.
According to Woody's ruling, a business site lease was approved in 2007, the same year RJN entered into a contract with the Nation for nearly $500,000 to complete the remaining 20 percent of the shelter. That money came through three agreements with the state.
"However, RJN never completed the work for the final 20 percent," Woody wrote.
In June 2008, the Nation extended the contract and paid an additional $99,000 to RJN to complete the same 20 percent of the construction, Woody wrote. As a condition of the state agreements, the Nation was to maintain ownership of the project to receive the grant funding.
Albuquerque-based attorney James W. Zion, who represented the defendants in the case, argued that the Nation had no rights to the property until after the lease expired. The lease expired only when construction was complete, Zion said.
Nelson claimed the price of materials, such as steel, skyrocketed after the money first was allocated to the project in 2002. One subcontractor, meanwhile, has alleged that Nelson has failed to pay him for work rendered.
The court found that granting the injunction is the only means by which the project can be completed, Woody wrote.
"The Nation's potential loss of state funding for the construction of the project constitutes an immediate and irreparable harm in satisfaction of this element for injunctive relief," she wrote.
Zion said the decision is incomplete.
He faulted Woody for focusing on property and lease issues instead of the legal contract.
"The court did a good job, with a big record," he said. "Sovereign immunity is the major barrier to a full decision."
Zion is working on an appeal.