Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries
JAMIEN JENSEN, ET AL V. EXC INCORPORATED, ET AL
This diversity suit involves personal injury and wrongful death claims arising from a collision between a sedan and a tour bus on a U.S. highway within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation reservation. Before trial, the district court held that Arizona law applies to the accident, and it therefore dismissed all claims based on Navajo law. At trial, the jury rejected all remaining claims asserted by the sedan’s surviving passengers and by the estate of the sedan’s driver, and the district court entered judgment in favor of the tour bus driver, the tour organizer, and other related corporations. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Defendants to the extent that it dismissed all claims that had been asserted solely under Navajo law; reversed the district court’s judgment on the claims that were submitted for trial because the district court erroneously allowed the introduction of hearsay opinions of a non-testifying putative expert; and remanded for a new trial. The panel held that the district court abused its discretion in allowing, under the guise of impeachment evidence against Plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, Defendants’ counsel to elicit the opinions expressed in a police report prepared by the Arizona Department of Public Safety as to the cause of the accident. Next, the panel affirmed the district court’s conclusion that Arizona law applied and its resulting dismissal of all claims that were asserted only under Navajo law. View "JAMIEN JENSEN, ET AL V. EXC INCORPORATED, ET AL" on Justia Law
United States v. Jackson
Defendant-appellant Michael David Jackson was convicted and sentenced for several offenses stemming from the sexual abuse of his young niece, including two counts of possession of child pornography. On appeal Jackson argued, and the government conceded, that the possession convictions were multiplicitous and violated the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause. To this the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and therefore remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate one of these convictions. Jackson also challenged his sentence, contending: it was procedurally unreasonable because the application of several sentencing enhancements constituted impermissible double counting; and it was substantively unreasonable. The Tenth Circuit noted the district court will have discretion to consider the entire sentencing package on remand. The Court rejected these challenges and concluded that the sentence imposed was both procedurally and substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law
United States v. Veneno
A district court conducted two hours of voir dire in a courtroom closed to the public and broadcasted live over an audio feed. After Defendant Quentin Veneno, Jr. objected, the district court concluded that the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic justified its closure of the courtroom, but also provided a video feed for the rest of trial. Although Defendant objected to the initial audio-only feed after the initial two hours of voir dire, he never requested that the district court restart jury selection or moved for a mistrial. Defendant appealed both his conviction and challenged Congress’s constitutional authority to criminalize the conduct of Indians on tribal land, whether a previous conviction can be a predicate offense for 18 U.S.C. § 117(a)(1) convictions, and whether admission of other-act evidence met the rigors of Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "United States v. Veneno" on Justia Law
In re Jerry R.
A.R. (Father) and S.R. (Mother) appealed from the juvenile court’s orders terminating their parental rights to three of their children, under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26.1. Father’s sole claim, joined by Mother, is that because Stanislaus County Community Services Agency (agency) failed to conduct a proper, adequate, and duly diligent inquiry into whether the children are or may be Indian children, the juvenile court erred when it found that the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) did not apply. The Fifth Appellate District conditionally reversed the juvenile court’s finding that ICWA does not apply. The court explained that Section 224.2, subdivision (b), imposes on the county welfare department a broad duty to inquire whether a child placed into the temporary custody of the county under section 306 is or may be an Indian child. The court explained that at issue is whether a child taken into protective custody by warrant under section 340, subdivision (a) or (b) falls within the ambit of section 306, subdivision (a)(1). The court explained that based on the plain language of the statutes, it agrees with Delila D. that the answer is yes and, therefore, the inquiry mandated under section 224.2, subdivision (b), applies. The court further concluded that the juvenile court erred in finding the agency conducted a proper, adequate, and duly diligent inquiry and that the error is prejudicial, which necessitates a conditional reversal of the court’s finding that ICWA does not apply and a limited remand so that an inquiry that comports with section 224.2, subdivision (b), may be conducted. View "In re Jerry R." on Justia Law
SWINOMISH INDIAN TRIBAL CMTY., ET AL V. LUMMI NATION
Three Indian tribes sought a ruling that the recognized fishing rights of the Lummi Nation (“the Lummi”) under the 1974 decree do not extend to certain areas. At issue here is a single line in the decree recognizing that “the usual and accustomed fishing places” in which the Lummi have fishing rights “include the marine areas of Northern Puget Sound from the Fraser River south to the present environs of Seattle, and particularly Bellingham Bay.” The question is whether the specific waters in dispute here fall within the Lummi’s historical fishing territory. The district court ruled against the Lummi, holding that the disputed waters are not part of their historical fishing waters under the 1974 decree. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Applying the two-step inquiry, the panel concluded that the district court correctly held that the Swinomish, Tulalip, and Upper Skagit carried their burden to warrant a ruling, under Paragraph 25(a)(1) of the 1974 Decree, that Judge Boldt’s “determination of Lummi’s usual and accustomed fishing grounds and stations” did not extend to the disputed waters at issue here. The panel held that it was fundamentally ambiguous whether Judge Boldt and the parties in 1974 would have understood the marine areas of Northern Puget Sound from the Fraser River south to the present environs of Bellingham Bay, to include any waters east of Whidbey Island. At step two, the panel held that the Swinomish, Tulalip, and Upper Skagit met their burden to show that there was no evidence in the record before Judge Boldt of historical Lummi fishing in the disputed waters beyond what would be merely incidental or occasional. View "SWINOMISH INDIAN TRIBAL CMTY., ET AL V. LUMMI NATION" on Justia Law
Colorado in interest of H.J.B.
A-J.A.B. tested positive at birth for methamphetamine. H.J.B. (“Mother”) admitted methamphetamine use during her pregnancy. In March 2020, less than a month after A-J.A.B.’s birth, the Adams County Human Services Department (“the Department”) filed a petition in dependency and neglect concerning A-J.A.B. The Department’s petition noted that it had no information indicating that A-J.A.B. was an Indian child or eligible for membership in an Indian tribe, although the petition did not identify what efforts, if any, the Department took to determine whether A-J.A.B. was an Indian child. At the shelter hearing, Mother’s counsel informed the court that Mother may have “some Cherokee and Lakota Sioux [heritage] through [A-J.A.B.’s maternal great-grandmother].” However, Mother was uncertain if anyone in her family was actually registered with a tribe and acknowledged that she “probably [wouldn’t] qualify” for any tribal membership herself. The juvenile court ordered Mother to “fill out the ICWA paperwork,” but the court did not direct the Department to exercise its due diligence obligation under section 19-1-126(3). At the next hearing, Mother, who had not filled out the ICWA paperwork, again stated that she had “Native American heritage” through A-J.A.B.’s maternal great-grandmother. Because of these assertions, the juvenile court found that the case “‘may’ be an ICWA case.” By December 2020, the Department moved to terminate Mother’s parental rights. At the pretrial conference, Mother’s attorney informed the court that she spoke with A-J.A.B.’s maternal grandmother, who stated that she “thought that the heritage may be Lakota.” Mother’s attorney told the court “it doesn’t sound like there’s a reason to believe that ICWA would apply” and acknowledged that neither Mother nor A-J.A.B. were enrolled members of any tribe. The juvenile court subsequently concluded that “there [was] no reason to believe that this case [was] governed by [ICWA].” The juvenile court terminated Mother’s parental rights. Mother appealed, arguing the juvenile court erred in finding that ICWA did not apply because the court had a reason to know that A-J.A.B. was an Indian child. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the Department satisfied its statutory due diligence obligation under section19-1-126(3), and affirmed in different grounds. View "Colorado in interest of H.J.B." on Justia Law
In re V.C.
In December 2019, the Alameda County Social Services Agency filed a petition (Welfare and Institutions Code 300(b)(1) and (j)) regarding infant V.C., with allegations that his mother tested positive for methamphetamine at V.C.’s birth, resulting in V.C. experiencing withdrawal symptoms. A social worker had spoken with both parents, who each “denied any Native American ancestry.” Both parents completed and filed “Parental Notification of Indian Status” forms, checking the box: “I have no Indian ancestry as far as I know,” under penalty of perjury.In March 2020, the juvenile court found the allegations true, declared the children dependents, removed them from parental custody, and ordered reunification services, concluding that each child “is not an Indian child and no further notice is required under” the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) (25 U.S.C. 1901). In February 2021, the court terminated reunification services, set a section 366.26 hearing, and again concluded that ICWA did not apply. On remand for a new hearing concerning the beneficial relationship exception, the juvenile court again terminated parental rights, found “ICWA does not apply,” and identified adoption as the children’s permanent plan.The court of appeal conditionally reversed. The agency failed to comply with ICWA by not asking available extended family members about possible Indian ancestry. View "In re V.C." on Justia Law
United States v. Britt
Defendant Diamond Britt was convicted of first-degree murder in Indian Country, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Britt appealed, arguing, in pertinent part, that the district court erred by refusing his counsel’s request to instruct the jury on the theory of imperfect self-defense. After review of the trial court record, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Britt that the district court erred in this regard. Consequently, the Court remanded the case to the district court with directions to vacate the judgment and conduct a new trial. View "United States v. Britt" on Justia Law
In re Andres R.
A.R. (Father) appealed the juvenile court’s dispositional order adjudging his son a dependent of the court and removing the child from his custody. The court also ordered reunification services for Father. Father’s one-year-old son, Andres R., came to DPSS’s attention in May 2022, when D.P. (Mother) called law enforcement to report domestic violence. Months later, the child was deemed a dependent of the court based on a social worker's findings of the child's living environment and interviews with his siblings and his mother. On appeal, Father challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the court’s jurisdictional finding and the removal order. He also argued that the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) failed to comply with state law implementing the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) . Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "In re Andres R." on Justia Law
Spivey v. Chitimacha Tribe
Plaintiff is the former Chief Financial Officer of the Cypress Bayou Casino. The Casino is owned by the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana. The Chitimacha Tribe is one of four federally recognized Indian tribes in Louisiana. According to the allegations in Plaintiff’s complaint, the Chitimacha tribal council authorized Spivey (as CFO of the Casino) to make a $3,900 bonus payment to the then-newly elected chairman of the tribal council. Plaintiff claimed that several members of the tribal council turned around and reported the bonus payment to federal and state law enforcement. Plaintiff initially sued the Tribe, the Casino, and four tribal council members in federal court under 42 U.S.C. Sections 1983 and 1985 and Louisiana tort law. The district court, over Plaintiff’s objections, again adopted the magistrate judge’s recommendations, denied Plaintiff’s remand motion, and dismissed all Plaintiff’s claims with prejudice. The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded to state court. The court first wrote that when a district court determines that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a removed case, it must remand. The court held, in accordance with the statute’s plain text and the great weight of authority from across the country, that Section 1447(c) means what it says, admits of no exceptions, and requires remand even when the district court thinks it futile. Moreover, the court held that such a dismissal should be made without prejudice. View "Spivey v. Chitimacha Tribe" on Justia Law