John Doe v. Shoshone-Bannock Tribes

Appellant the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes intervened in the adoption proceedings of a minor child (Child). While the adoption itself was not at issue on appeal, disputes that arose during the adoption proceedings were. Respondents Jane and John Doe (Does) initiated adoption proceedings for Child after the rights of Child’s parents were terminated. Because Child might have qualified for protection under the laws protecting an Indian child’s welfare, the Tribes were given notice and intervened in the adoption proceeding. The trial court appointed an independent attorney for the child whose costs were to be split by the Tribes and the Does. Discovery disputes arose during the proceedings, and the trial court issued sanctions against the Tribes. The trial court found the facts before it insufficient to establish that Child was an Indian child, and thus concluded that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) did not govern the proceeding. Despite this conclusion, the court applied the ICWA’s placement preferences out of concern for Child’s best interests. The Does prevailed in the adoption, and the court granted them attorney fees as the prevailing party. The Tribes contested the discovery rulings, sanctions, failure to find Child an Indian child, and the grant of attorney fees against them, claiming sovereign immunity and a misapplication of the law. The Idaho Supreme Court did not reach the issue of the trial court’s failure to find that Child was an Indian child because it concluded any error was harmless. However, the Court found that trial court’s order compelling discovery was an abuse of discretion. The trial court’s order preventing the Tribes from processing or filing any enrollment for tribal membership on behalf of Child was also an abuse of discretion. Further, the additional order granting attorney fees in the Does’ favor as the prevailing party violated the Tribes’ sovereign immunity. The Court reversed on these latter issues and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court affirmed the trial court in all other respects. View "John Doe v. Shoshone-Bannock Tribes" on Justia Law