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Federal court wants status report on Haleck land dispute filed in High Court

Following a hearing last Wednesday, the federal court in Washington D.C. has now stayed any further proceedings on the Haleck family lawsuit against U.S. Secretary of Interior Kenneth Salazar over the Haleck family’s 23.25 acres Naumati land in the Ottoville Lowland Forest in the territory.


The family filed the civil suit last year against Salazar, in his individual capacity as Interior Department Secretary, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office — representing Salazar, moved to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming among other things, “lack of matter jurisdiction” and “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”


Attorneys for both sides then filed several responses back and forth, and in January the attorney for the plaintiffs requested an oral hearing on the defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint, insisting this long standing legal issue is best addressed by the courts in American Samoa and that the Haleck family has not even reached the appeal stages in the local courts.


The Wednesday hearing was based on defendant’s motion to provide oral arguments that would clearly address certain issues over the case, but specific details from the court hearing were not immediately available through court documents.


A two-page court decision provided some details regarding the outcome of the hearing — wherein U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan “ordered that plaintiffs’ individual-capacity claims against defendant are dismissed without prejudice.”


(This means suing Salazar in his personal capacity as Interior Secretary is dismissed for now, but plaintiffs can still re-file the suit later against the defendant as the Secretary of Interior, if warranted.)


Sullivan also ordered that “this case is ‘stayed’ pending further” order of the federal court and that all parties involved “shall submit a joint status report summarizing the current status of the underlying dispute” in the High Court of American Samoa no later than Mar. 28 this year.


The latest in the High Court case was based on a motion by ASG filed sometime last year seeking to make permanent an injunction against Avamua Dave Haleck, who was first issued a preliminary injunction, in 2008, preventing him from developing the Ottoville lowland rainforest, without first getting an ASG land use permit.


Following a one-day trial in January this year where arguments by both sides were made, the High Court took the matter under advisement. The government argued among other things, that a permanent injunction is needed as developments were coming close to the lowland rainforest, which is home to bird and tree species not found elsewhere in the territory.


Avamua’s attorney Roy J.D Hall Jr. argued that the main issue before the court deals with ASG move for a permanent injunction and the government has no standing in this matter since it does not own this Ottoville land.


According to the federal court decision, Sullivan also ordered that all parties shall file joint status reports on May 28, July 29, and Sept. 30, "summarizing the status of the dispute" before the High Court of American Samoa.


In the Sept. 30 status report, Sullivan ordered that parties shall make a joint recommendation for further proceedings, including whether the "stay" should be lifted or remain in place.


"In the event that counsel are unable to agree on a joint recommendation, each party shall file an individual recommendation at that time,” said Sullivan.