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Interior Secretary Salazar granted extra week to reply to Halecks' Complaint

The federal court in Washington DC has approved a defense motion allowing  US Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar another week to reply to the complaint filed by the Haleck family of American Samoa over family owned land in Ottoville.

The defense was initially given until July 11 to file a reply but Salazar on Monday, through Assistant US Attorney Michelle Lo, asked the court for another week to file a reply to the complaint.  The new deadline is July 18.

Lo informed the court that the defense had conferred with plaintiffs’ counsel regarding motion to extend, and “plaintiffs graciously consented to the relief requested”. Additionally, there is good cause to grant this motion.

Plaintiffs - Cathie Haleck-Paala; David Otto Haleck; Ernest Haleck; and Otto Vince Haleck, Jr. - are challenging Salazar’s response to their request that the Secretary direct the American Samoa Government to pay just compensation for the Ottoville Lowland Forest and instruct the High Court of American Samoa to vacate its August 13, 2008, decision in American Samoa Government vs. Haleck case in the High Court Am. Samoa.

Salazar is being sued in his capacity as the Secretary of Interior, the federal agency that oversees American Samoa.

According to Lo, the defense has substantially completed a draft of defendant’s response to the complaint, and seeks the one-week extension of time in order to permit a thorough internal review in light of the complex issues raised by the complaint.

This motion represents the defendant’s second request for more time to respond to the complaint and is being made in good faith, according to the defense, who added there are no pending deadlines or court dates that this request would affect.

US District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan granted the motion on Tuesday saying that the defense shall answer or otherwise respond to the complaint no later than July 18.

The suit comes after years of the family trying to develop its 23.25 acres of land (labeled in the complaint as the Naumati 23 acres) in the Ottoville Lowland Forest. The local government has denied land use permit requests several times, although ASG did offer several years ago to purchase the land parcel from the Haleck family.

According to the complaint, the Halecks brought this action to the federal court challenging the Interior Secretary's decision to approve the taking of the Halecks’ real property by the ASG and/or the High Court without just compensation, and alleging the Secretary’s decision denied the Halecks due process of law and equal protection.

The plaintiffs petitioned the federal court for an order and judgment mandating that the Interior Secretary direct ASG to either purchase the Naumati acreage and justly compensate the plaintiffs, or issue development permits to plaintiffs for the property.