Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

The Navajo Nation v. Azar

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 28, 2018

ALEX M. AZAR II, Secretary, United States Department of Health and Human Services, Defendant.


          DABNEY L. FRIEDRICH, United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is the Plaintiff's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction. Dkt. 2. For the following reasons, the Court will deny the motion and order the parties to propose an expedited schedule for resolving this case on its merits.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Under the Head Start Act, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) provides grants to tribes that implement Head Start and Early Head Start programs for young children and their families. 42 U.S.C. § 9831 et seq.; Compl. ¶ 1, Dkt. 1. Qualified organizations can receive grants for up to 80% of Head Start program costs. 42 U.S.C. § 9835(b). The grants are administered by a division of HHS, the Administration of Children and Families (“ACF”). Compl. ¶ 2.

         The plaintiff, the Navajo Nation, is a federally recognized Indian tribe whose reservation spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Id. ¶ 11. It runs Head Start and Early Head Start programs to provide education services to its young members and residents and their families. Id. ¶ 1. The programs are funded primarily by an ACF-administered federal grant, No. 90C19889 (“the Grant”), which is at the center of this case. Id. ¶ 2; Aff. of Dr. Elvira Bitsoi (“Aff.”) ¶ 3, Dkt. 3-1. The Grant's budgetary period, or fiscal year, starts on March 1 each year and runs through February of the next year. Compl. ¶ 17. The Navajo Nation must submit an annual renewal application for the Grant, which is due on December 1 before the new fiscal year starts. Id. ¶ 18. Pursuant to the Grant in recent fiscal years, the Navajo Nation has received $23, 075, 043 annually. Id. ¶ 3.

         Under the Head Start Act, however, grants are not static from year to year. The Act provides specific procedures for adjusting grants to Head Start programs that suffer from chronic under-enrollment, as Navajo Head Start does. Grantees must self-report enrollment each month, 42 U.S.C. § 9836a(h)(2), and HHS must conduct a semiannual review to determine which grantees have been under-enrolled for four consecutive months, id. § 9836a(h)(3). HHS and each under-enrolled grantee must then develop a plan and timetable for reducing under-enrollment, and the grantee “shall immediately implement the plan.” Id. § 9836a(h)(3), (4). If the grantee does not reach at least 97% enrollment within twelve months, HHS may designate the grantee as chronically under-enrolled and “recapture, withhold, or reduce” the base grant by a percentage calculated as the difference between funded and actual enrollment. Id. § 9836a(h)(5)(A). Also, HHS may waive or decrease the adjustment in specified circumstances. Id. § 9836a(h)(5)(B). If HHS adjusts funding for an Indian Head Start program, HHS must redistribute the resulting funds to other Indian Head Start programs by the end of the following fiscal year. Id. § 9836a(h)(6).

         HHS followed these statutory procedures to adjust the Navajo Grant for fiscal year 2018, which will run from March 1, 2018 to February 28, 2019. Decl. of Angie Godfrey (“Decl.”) ¶¶ 7-13, Dkt. 11-1. Although HHS stated in early September that the Grant would not change for fiscal year 2018, see Compl. ¶ 19, the agency changed course a few weeks later. By letter on September 26, 2017, HHS informed the Nation that HHS had decided to reduce the Grant to $15, 766, 194 for fiscal year 2018, based on an enrollment level of 1, 396 students in Navajo Head Start, not the previously funded enrollment of 2, 068 Head Start students. Decl. Ex. E, Dkt. 11-2 at 14-15. Despite implementing the 12-month remediation plan required by the Head Start Act, the Nation had been unable to achieve or maintain its funded enrollment of 2, 068 Head Start students; the reduction by 672 students “represented the average number of vacant slots over a 12 month period.” Decl. ¶ 14; see also Decl. Ex. A, Dkt. 11-2 at 1 (listing reported enrollment for each month since March 2015).0F[1] In additional letters on October 5, November 22, and December 4, 2017, HHS reiterated that the Grant would be $15, 766, 194 for fiscal year 2018. See Decl. Exs. F, I, & J, Dkt. 11-2 at 16, 25, 27. The letter of December 4 stated that, if the Navajo Nation submitted a funding application for a higher figure, HHS would “return the application as unfundable and request a revised application for the correct funding and enrollment levels.” Id. ¶ 22.

         The Navajo Nation's funding application for fiscal year 2018 was due on December 1, 2017, but the Nation received a 45-day extension. Id. ¶ 23. The application was submitted on January 12, 2018, but it again requested the prior funding level of $23, 075, 043. Id. ¶ 24. HHS refused the Navajo Nation's request. By letter on January 19, 2018, HHS again advised the Navajo Nation that the Grant would be $15, 766, 194 for fiscal year 2018. Decl. Ex. M, Dkt. 11-2 at 32-33. HHS also reiterated that funding was reduced because the Navajo Head Start program was chronically and severely under-enrolled. See id.

         On February 22, 2018, the Navajo Nation filed its complaint in this action. Dkt. 1. The complaint asserted that (1) HHS-by not promulgating regulations permitting grantees like the Nation to appeal grant reductions in cases of under-enrollment-violated a provision of the Head Start Act that directs HHS to prescribe procedures “to assure that financial assistance . . . may be terminated or reduced” after reasonable notice and an appeal hearing, see 42 U.S.C. § 9841(a)(3); Compl. ¶¶ 27-30; and (2) HHS then violated the Administrative Procedure Act by reducing the Navajo Grant without following statutorily mandated procedures, see 5 U.S.C. § 706(2); Compl. ¶¶ 31-33.

         On the same day, the Nation moved for a preliminary injunction to prevent HHS from reducing the Grant below $23, 075, 043 pending the disposition of this case. Mot. for Prelim. Inj. at 1, Dkt. 2. The motion was accompanied by an affidavit by the Acting Assistant Superintendent of Navajo Head Start, see Dkt. 3-1, and the motion requested a decision before March 1, 2018, when fiscal year 2018 begins. Pl.'s Mem. at 8, Dkt. 2-1.

         The Navajo Nation effected service of the complaint and summons on the U.S. Attorney and the U.S. Attorney General on February 9, 2018, see Dkt. 6 & 7, and on the HHS Secretary on February 12, 2018, see Dkt. 8. But the Navajo Nation did not immediately serve the motion for a preliminary injunction. See Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Notice (Feb. 21, 2018), Dkt. 10 at 1-2 (“Although copies of the motion for preliminary injunction . . . were prepared and were supposed to be included with the summons and complaint, . . . they were inadvertently omitted.”). As a result, the government's deadline for opposing the motion was not triggered. See Local Civil Rule 65.1(c). On February 21, 2018, the Court ordered the Nation to serve the motion immediately. See Minute Order of February 21, 2018. The Court also set a briefing schedule for the motion in order to facilitate a decision before March 1, 2018. Id. Accordingly, HHS filed an opposition brief accompanied by the declaration of the Regional Program Manager who oversees Head Start grants to American Indian programs. Dkt. 11. The Nation then filed a reply brief accompanied by a supplemental affidavit.1F[2] The Court now resolves the motion.


         A preliminary injunction is “an extraordinary remedy that may only be awarded upon a clear showing that the plaintiff is entitled to such relief.” Winter v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 22 (2008). To warrant a preliminary injunction, a plaintiff “must make a clear showing” that (1) he “is likely to succeed on the merits”; (2) he “is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief”; (3) the “balance of equities” tips in his favor; and (4) “an injunction is in the public interest.” Id. at 20; League of Women Voters of United States v. Newby, 838 F.3d 1, 6 (D.C. Cir. 2016). The last two factors “merge when the Government is the opposing party.” Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 435 (2009). The plaintiff “bear[s] the burdens of production and persuasion” when moving for a preliminary injunction. Qualls v. Rumsfeld, 357 F.Supp.2d 274, 281 (D.D.C. 2005) (citing Cobell v. Norton, 391 F.3d 251, 258 (D.C. Cir. 2004)).

         “Before the Supreme Court's decision in Winter, courts weighed the preliminary injunction factors on a sliding scale, allowing a weak showing on one factor to be overcome by a strong showing on another factor.” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs, 205 F.Supp.3d 4, 26 (D.D.C. 2016). The D.C. Circuit, however, has “suggested, without deciding, that Winter should be read to abandon the sliding-scale analysis in favor of a ‘more demanding burden' requiring a plaintiff to independently demonstrate both a likelihood of success on the merits and irreparable ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.