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Oral hearing to take place in ongoing fight over Haleck Naumati land

The federal court in Washington D.C will hear next week oral arguments in the motion by U.S. Secretary of Interior Kenneth Salazar to dismiss a complaint filed against him last year by the Haleck family over their 23.25 acres Naumati land in the Ottoville Lowland Forest in the territory.


The Haleck family filed the lawsuit last year against Salazar, in his 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 have filed several responses back and forth, and recently the attorney for the plaintiffs requested an oral hearing on the defendant’s motion to dismiss the complaint, which was filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Lo, who has insisted that this long standing issue is best addressed by the courts in American Samoa.


“This case presents complicated legal and factual issues involving claims” under provisions of federal law as well as a previous federal court case “arising out of violations of the Haleck’s U.S. constitutional right,” said plaintiff’s attorney Emmet T. Flood, with the Washington D.C. law firm of Williams & Connolly, in the motion for a hearing.


Flood contends that an oral hearing “would clarify those issues and assist the court in resolving the pending motion” to dismiss the complaint.


The court has since set the oral hearing for Feb. 28 before U.S. District Court Judge Emmett G. Sullivan.


Flood has argued that officials of the ASG executive and judicial branches have for 20 years frustrated the Halecks at every turn.


In order to preserve this private property in its undeveloped state, the ASG executive has denied the Halecks a fair administrative process, refusing the Halecks the permits necessary to develop their land through pretextual denials and a development moratorium, the plaintiffs argued.


Flood contends that the highest judicial officer in American Samoa has now declared that the Halecks do not own the land at all — referring to a local court ruling more than two years ago.


In the most recent response to plaintiff's arguments, Lo said the Halecks’ opposition to the motion to dismiss the complaint makes clear that they seek to have this federal court order the Secretary insert himself into the American Samoan judicial process and decide issues that plaintiffs have never presented to the High Court in the territory.


Specifically, said Lo, the plaintiffs hold lawful title to the Naumati 23 Acres, that the actions of the American Samoa Government have effected an unlawful taking, and that Plaintiffs are entitled to just compensation for that taking.


“None of these issues is ripe for the [federal] court’s adjudication and no further consideration of the plaintiffs’ complaint is warranted on the facts alleged,” Lo pointed out. “Nevertheless, should the [federal] court assess the legal sufficiency of the complaint, the Secretary respectfully submits that plaintiffs have failed to state a claim of unlawful judicial, per se, and regulatory takings by the American Samoa executive and judiciary branches.”


According to the defense, Halecks failed to rebut the Secretary’s argument that requiring plaintiffs to exhaust their remedies in the Samoan courts, irrespective of the ultimate outcome, “can at least solidify or simplify the factual context and narrow the legal issues at play, allowing for more intelligent resolution of any remaining claims and avoiding inefficient and unnecessary ‘piecemeal review.’”


Lo argued that the Halecks have failed to show in their written arguments any  Constitutional violations by the Secretary, the American Samoa Government, or the High Court, particularly given that there remains an open question regarding the validity of Plaintiffs’ property interest in the Naumati 23 Acres under American Samoa law and the pending nature of this property dispute before the High Court.