Justia Native American Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
In re E.C.
A.C. (Mother) is the mother of E.C., now three years old. In 2020, E.C. was taken into protective custody after Mother’s domestic violence-related arrest, and, in 2021, she was made a dependent of the juvenile court under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivisions (b)(1) and (j).1 Mother timely appealed the juvenile court’s order terminating her parental rights under section 366.26.2 E.C.’s alleged father, Ed. C., is not a party to the appeal. Mother’s sole claim on appeal is that Kern County Department of Human Services (the Department) failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978(ICWA) and related California law with respect to its duty of “further inquiry,” which was triggered by information that maternal great-grandmother and two maternal great-uncles were enrolled members of the Apache tribe The Fifth Appellate District conditionally reversed the juvenile court’s finding that ICWA does not apply and remanded the matter to the juvenile court with directions to order the Department to comply with the inquiry and documentation provisions set forth in section 224.2, subdivisions (b) and (e), and rule 5.481(a)(5). The court further explained that if, after determining that an adequate inquiry was made consistent, the juvenile court finds that ICWA applies, the court shall vacate its existing order and proceed in compliance with ICWA and related California law. If the court instead finds that ICWA does not apply, its ICWA finding shall be reinstated. In all other respects, the court’s orders terminating Mother’s parental rights are affirmed. View "In re E.C." on Justia Law
In re Oscar H.
A mother appeals an order terminating parental rights over her son, based on a deficient initial inquiry about Indian ancestry. The only source of information about ancestry was the mother. The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services could have satisfied its inquiry obligations by asking for contact information and making a few phone calls. The Second Appellate District conditionally reversed and remanded to allow the Department and juvenile court fully to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act (25 U.S.C. Section 1901 et seq.) (the Act) and related California law. The court reasoned that because the Department does not argue the issue and because the effect tribal involvement may have had on this case is unknown, the son’s adoptive placement does not establish harmlessness. The court held that, after completing the initial inquiry, there is no reason to believe the son is an Indian child, the court shall reinstate its order terminating parental rights. View "In re Oscar H." on Justia Law
In re K.H.
M.H. (Father) and A.C. (Mother) are the parents of K.H., now 20 months old. Due to his parents’ drug use, K.H. was taken into protective custody following his birth and made a dependent of the juvenile court under Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (b)(1).1 The juvenile court subsequently terminated Mother’s and Father’s parental rights under section 366.26,2 and Father timely appealed. The sole claim advanced by Father is the alleged violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) and related California law. Father contends Kern County Department of Human Services (the Department) and the juvenile court failed to comply with their affirmative and continuing duties of inquiry under section 224.2, subdivision (a), the Department failed to comply with its broad duty of inquiry set forth under section 224.2, subdivision (b), and remand for an adequate inquiry is required. The Fifth Appellate conditionally reversed the juvenile court’s finding that ICWA does not apply and the matter is remanded to the juvenile court with directions to order the Department to comply with the inquiry and documentation provisions set forth in section 224.2, subdivision (b), and rule 5.481(a)(5). If, after determining that an adequate inquiry was made consistent with the reasoning in this opinion, the court finds that ICWA applies, the court shall vacate its existing order and proceed in compliance with ICWA and related California law. If the court instead finds that ICWA does not apply, its ICWA finding. View "In re K.H." on Justia Law
Adoption of M.R.
Father of the minor M.R. appealed a trial court’s judgment after it freed the minor from father’s custody and control, and freed the minor for adoption by the maternal great-grandmother (grandmother). Father contended the court failed to comply with the inquiry and notice requirements under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) because: (1) the court-appointed investigator and the court failed to investigate extended family members; and (2) the court made no findings as to whether the minor was an Indian child. The Court of Appeal conditionally reversed the judgment and remanded for limited proceedings to ensure compliance with the ICWA. View "Adoption of M.R." on Justia Law
In re G.H.
A.H. (Mother) and J.H. (Father) appealed a juvenile court’s order terminating their parental rights to their two-year-old son, G.H., at the permanent plan selection and implementation hearing held under California Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26. G.H. was detained from his parents’ custody two days after he was born when both he and Mother tested positive for methamphetamine. Mother and Father were homeless at the time, and had been struggling with methamphetamine abuse for approximately eight years. Father admitted he did not discourage Mother’s drug use during pregnancy. The day before G.H. was detained, Mother, G.H.’s maternal great aunt, and his maternal grandmother denied Native American ancestry. Father claimed he was a “small percent” Cherokee, but he acknowledged he was not registered as a member of the tribe. On appeal, Mother and Father contend the juvenile court erred in finding that a statutory exception to terminating the parental rights of an adoptable child did not apply. They also contended the Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA) and the court did not meet their obligations under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) and related state law to investigate G.H.’s Native American background. The Court of Appeal found nothing in the record suggested SSA or the court made any effort to use social media as a means of contacting the paternal grandmother for the purposes of determining ancestry, so it conditionally reversed the termination and remanded for the agency to conduct further inquiry. View "In re G.H." on Justia Law
In re Baby Girl M.
Appellant appealed from juvenile dependency jurisdiction and disposition orders concerning his daughter. The juvenile court removed Daughter from her parents’ custody; ordered Daughter suitably placed; denied Mother reunification services pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 361.5, subdivisions (b)(10)-(11); and granted reunification services for Father. Father appealed the jurisdiction findings and disposition order. The sole issue raised in his opening brief was whether the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (the Department) complied with its obligations under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and related California law. The Second Appellate District dismissed the appeal finding that it is moot. The court explained that two courts have recently held—in appeals from orders terminating parental rights—that additional ICWA-related inquiry or notice efforts by a juvenile court or child welfare agency while a case is on appeal will not moot deficiencies in an ICWA inquiry at the time a notice of appeal is filed. However, the opinions do not concern the procedural posture here: an ICWA appeal at the jurisdiction and disposition stage where there will necessarily be further dependency proceedings in the juvenile court (at which continuing ICWA duties apply) and a basis for a later appeal if for some reason the remedial ICWA investigation the Department is now undertaking falls short in Father’s view. The juvenile court must direct that process, at least in the first instance. View "In re Baby Girl M." on Justia Law
In re Kenneth D.
J.T. (father) appealed a juvenile court’s order terminating his parental rights to Kenneth D. (minor) and adopting the recommended findings and orders of the Placer County Department of Health and Human Services (Department). Father’s contentions on appeal were limited to the Department’s and juvenile court’s compliance with the requirements of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), complaining the juvenile court and the Department failed to make the required initial inquiries of father’s ICWA status prior to finding the ICWA inapplicable and terminating his parental rights. Father also argued the Department’s investigation into mother’s possible Native American heritage was inadequate. He contended these errors were prejudicial requiring reversal and that posttermination ICWA inquiries did not cure the alleged noncompliance. To this, the Court of Appeal disagreed: Father did not show the juvenile court’s ICWA determination premised upon information provided by mother was unsupported by substantial evidence, and in light of the augmented record filed May 5, 2022, Father could not show the juvenile court’s and Department’s failure to initially comply with their ICWA duties was prejudicial. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "In re Kenneth D." on Justia Law
In re Y.M.
J.V. (Father) appealed a Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26 order terminating his parental rights to his then three-year-old daughter, Y.M. His sole contention was that the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (the Agency) did not comply with its initial duty to inquire regarding Y.M.’s possible Indian ancestry under section 224.2 (b), which implemented in part the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Agency conceded that it did not comply with its duty of initial inquiry, but argued its error was harmless. Applying the standard set forth in In re Benjamin M., 70 Cal.App.5th 735 (2021), the Court of Appeal concluded the Agency's section 224.2 (b) initial inquiry error was not prejudicial. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the section 366.26 order. View "In re Y.M." on Justia Law
In re Ricky R.
N.G. (Mother) appealed a juvenile court’s order terminating parental rights to her children, Ricky R. and Jayden R. Mother argued the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) failed to discharge its duty of initial inquiry under state law implementing the federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA). DPSS did not dispute that it failed to discharge its duty of initial inquiry, but it argued that the error was harmless. DPSS also moved to dismiss the appeal as moot on the basis of postjudgment evidence, and it asked the Court of Appeal to consider that evidence under several theories. After review, the Court concluded DPSS prejudicially erred by failing to comply with its duty of initial inquiry under ICWA-related state law. The Court also denied DPSS’s motion to dismiss the appeal and declined to consider the postjudgment evidence of ICWA inquiries conducted while this appeal was pending. To this end, the Court held the juvenile court should consider that evidence in the first instance and determine whether DPSS discharged its duties under ICWA and related state law. View "In re Ricky R." on Justia Law
In re E.L.
D.L. (Mother) is the biological mother of four children: E.L., Child 1, now 15 years old; E.R.O., Child 2, now 11; L.O., Child 3, now 10; and E.O.O., Child 4, now 7. E.O. (Father) is the presumed father of Child 1 and the biological father of the other children. In January 2015, Father began a two-year term in the Ventura County jail. Aida R. was appointed legal guardian of the children. Mother contends the trial court abused its discretion in denying her request to reopen the evidence to allow her to testify. Mother contends the trial court failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA). Mother argues that ICWA is a substantial right, and her counsel may not waive a substantial right without her consent. The Second Appellate District affirmed the orders and found that the ICWA does not apply. The court explained that the circumstances here, however, warrant application of Code of Civil Procedure section 909. The court wrote that remand would unnecessarily delay the likelihood of adoption of the children and would achieve the same result the court found here. View "In re E.L." on Justia Law