Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
by
The issue this case presented centered on the aftermath of an Indian tribal casino’s unsuccessful suit in tribal court against appellant James Acres following a contract dispute. After dismissal of the tribal case, Acres filed his own suit in state court against two officials of the casino, the casino’s attorneys, a tribal court judge, the clerk of the tribal court, and various other individuals and entities. He alleged, among other things, that the parties he sued (collectively, respondents) wrongfully conspired to file the lawsuit against him in tribal court. He then sought monetary relief from respondents as redress for this alleged conduct. The trial court, however, found Acres’s claims against all respondents barred by sovereign immunity and, as to the tribal judge and several others, also barred by judicial or quasi-judicial immunity. On appeal, the Court of Appeal reversed in part. Because Acres’s suit, if successful, would bind only the individual respondents, and not the tribe or its casino, the Court found those respondents were not entitled to sovereign immunity. But, as to those respondents who asserted personal immunity from suit (e.g., judicial immunity), the Court agreed those respondents, with one exception, were immune from suit. View "Acres v. Marston" on Justia Law

by
E.M.’s parental rights as to her son Josiah (born in October 2017) were terminated pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26. The court of appeal conditionally reversed the termination order because the record does not demonstrate that the Department of Children and Family Services fulfilled its duties under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (25 U.S.C. 1901) (ICWA) or provided the information necessary to the juvenile court to make findings as to the applicability of ICWA. ICWA inquiry and determinations with respect to Father were virtually ignored until the permanency planning stage. DCFS neglected to interview four available paternal relatives in any reasonable timeframe to inquire whether Josiah has Indian ancestry. The paternal grandmother’s statement in April 2019 that she had Cherokee ancestry triggered the duty of further inquiry; DCFS did not follow up for seven months and withheld that information from the court. View "In re Josiah T." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs, two American Indian tribes, business entities affiliated with the tribes, and individual tribe members, sued a number of non-tribal cardrooms alleging they were offering banked card games on non-tribal land, in violation of the exclusive right of Indian tribes to offer such games. Based on those allegations, plaintiffs asserted claims for public nuisance, unfair competition, declaratory and injunctive relief, and tortious interference with a contractual relationship and prospective economic advantage. The defendants demurred and, after two rounds of amendments to the complaint, the trial court sustained the third and final demurrer without leave to amend and entered judgment of dismissal. The court ruled that, as governmental entities, the Indian tribes and their affiliated business entities were not “persons” with standing to sue under the unfair competition law (UCL), and were not “private person[s]” with standing under the public nuisance statutes. The court further ruled the business entities and the individual tribe members failed to plead sufficient injury to themselves to establish standing to sue under the UCL or the public nuisance statutes. Although plaintiffs broadly framed the issue on appeal as whether they, as American Indians, had standing to redress their grievances in California state courts, the Court of Appeal determined it was much narrower: whether the complaint in this case adequately plead the asserted claims and contained allegations sufficient to establish the threshold issue of whether any of the named plaintiffs had standing to bring those claims. The Court agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that the complaint did not do so and, therefore, affirmed judgment in favor of the defendants. View "Rincon Band of Luiseno Mission Indians etc. v. Flynt" on Justia Law

by
In this appeal following the termination of parental rights, the mother contended only that the social services agency failed to comply with the duty of initial inquiry imposed by state statutory provisions implementing the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The social services agency concedes error but argues that it was harmless. The Court of Appeal determined the agency failed to investigate readily obtainable information tending to shed meaningful light on whether a child was an Indian child, found the error prejudicial and conditionally reversed. "If, after completing the initial inquiry, neither CFS nor the court has reason to believe or to know that Benjamin is an Indian child, the order terminating parental rights to Benjamin shall be reinstated. If CFS or the court has reason to believe that Benjamin is an Indian child, the court shall proceed accordingly." View "In re Benjamin M." on Justia Law

by
The Department of Children and Family Services filed a petition (Welfare and Institutions Code 300(b)(1) and (j)), alleging Deshawn’s and Clairessa’s history of substance abuse and current use of marijuana placed one-year-old Y.W., and one-month-old Y.G., at risk of serious physical harm. At the jurisdiction and disposition hearing, the juvenile court sustained the petition and declared the children. dependents of the court, removed them from parental custody, and ordered the parents to complete substance abuse and domestic violence programs and to have monitored visitation with the children. At a hearing to select a permanent plan, the juvenile court terminated their parental rights, finding that returning the children to the parents would be detrimental, that the parents had not maintained regular and consistent visitation and contact, and that the children were adoptable.Based on the parents’ allegation that the Department failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act, 25 U.S.C. 1901, the court of appeal conditionally affirm the orders terminating parental rights, with directions to ensure the Department complies with the inquiry and notice provisions of ICWA and related California law. Deshawn and Clairessa had each completed Judicial Council form ICWA-020, Parental Notification of Indian Status. Clairessa checked: “I have no Indian ancestry as far as I know.” Deshawn checked: “I am or may be a member of, or eligible for membership in, a federally recognized Indian tribe. View "In re Y.W." on Justia Law

by
After the Tribe refused to pay Findleton for construction work and rental services provided for a casino it was building and infrastructure for the reservation, Findleton invoked the ADR provisions of the agreements. The Tribe refused to mediate. Findleton filed a petition, seeking to compel mediation and arbitration.The court of appeal held the Tribe had expressly waived its sovereign immunity. The trial court entered an order compelling mediation and arbitration in accordance with the rules of the American Arbitration Association (AAA), the firm chosen by the Tribe. The Tribe nonetheless refused to mediate, threatened to disparage AAA if it proceeded, and persuaded a recently-established tribal court to issue an injunction. AAA then declined to mediate the dispute.The superior court awarded Findleton attorney fees and costs and imposed monetary sanctions—none of which the Tribe has paid. It issued writs of execution and orders to appear for examination. The Tribe’s representatives repeatedly refused to answer questions about casino assets, impeded the examination by filling the room with tribal members who engaged in a vocal demonstration, and transferred casino assets to a corporate entity—the superior court found a fraudulent transfer.The Tribe sought to appeal the orders. The court of appeal dismissed the appeals, citing the disentitlement doctrine based on the Tribe’s flagrant, repeated, and continuous violation of court orders. View "Findleton v. Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians" on Justia Law

by
Charles W. Sr. (Father) challenged a juvenile court's finding regarding his children Charles W. Jr. (Jr.), S.W., and R.W., that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) did not apply. He contended there was an insufficient inquiry of the mother’s ancestry. The children’s parents have a history of substance abuse. In a prior dependency case, the parents admitted to their use of methamphetamine. In January 2019, the juvenile court found ICWA did not apply in the proceeding. In July 2020, after completing her reunification services, the children’s mother (Mother) was granted sole custody of Jr. and S.W. Father did not complete his reunification services. Several months later in late September, R.W. was born to Mother and Father. In December 2020, police officers responded to the hotel room where the family was living and seized a large quantity of illicit drugs, which were accessible to the three young children. Both parents were arrested on drug-related charges, and they admitted to using drugs. Mother told the assigned social worker she had Yaqui and Aztec heritage but she “already went through the Court process,” and the court had found ICWA did not apply. Days later, the state filed dependency petitions on behalf of all three children; the Agency submitted a completed form ICWA-010(A), indicating Mother’s report of “Yaqui and Aztec Native American heritage” and Father’s denial of Indian heritage. The Agency also filled out a “field worksheet for updating client demographics.” On this worksheet, as to ICWA applicability (“ICWA?”), the Agency marked “No” for the two older children and made no marking for R.W. Further, for each child, a tribal affiliation of “Sioux” was denoted. At a dispositional hearing at which mother and her counsel attended, Native American ancestry was denied: “I spoke to my client this morning. She has no Native American ancestry. She does have some ancestry through central Mexico.” The court went on to “reconfirm ICWA does not apply at this time based on the information provided to the court and the reaffirmation of no Native American ancestry as stated and will be provided on the 020 form by Mother’s counsel." The Court of Appeal disagreed with Father's contention that the juvenile court and Agency did not make a sufficient inquiry as to the children's ancestry before finding the ICWA did not apply. "[G]iven the prior ICWA finding regarding this family and the parents’ unequivocal denials of Indian ancestry, we do not find it reasonably probable that further inquiry based on the record before us would yield a different result." View "In re Charles W., Jr." on Justia Law

by
A Mother appealed a juvenile court’s order terminating her parental rights to her children, Isaiah R. and Summer R., who were four years old and one year old when removed from her custody in 2017. Her only challenge on appeal was that the court found the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) didn’t apply to the children despite a report by both maternal grandparents revealing that their great-grandmother was a member of the Yaqui of Arizona. Mother and father were present at the initial detention hearing and both denied having Indian ancestry; the trial judge found ICWA didn’t apply. Both parents failed to reunify, and the maternal grandparents sought custody. At the Welfare and Institutions Code section 366 permanency planning review hearing, the grandparents completed forms where they indicated the children had Indian ancestry. The Court of Appeal agreed with Mother that the grandparents’ disclosure triggered a duty for the Children and Family Services department to inquire further, and therefore conditionally reversed the order terminating parental rights and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re S.R." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the Governor's authority to concur in the decision of the United States Secretary of the Interior to take 305 acres of land in Madera County into trust for North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians for the purpose of operating a casino. The trial court sustained demurrers by North Fork and the state defendants. In 2016, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment of dismissal, concluding the Governor lacked the authority to concur in the Interior Secretary's determination to take the Madera site into trust. The California Supreme Court granted review and held this case pending its decision in United Auburn Indian Community of Auburn Rancheria v. Newsom (2020) 10 Cal.5th 538. The Supreme Court transferred this case back to this court after deciding that California law empowers the Governor to concur. The Supreme Court directed this court to vacate its decision and to reconsider the matter in light of United Auburn.The Court of Appeal concluded that the facts of this case are distinguishable from those in United Auburn because at the November 2014 general election California voters rejected the Legislature's ratification of the tribal-state compact for gaming at the Madera site. The court concluded that the people retained the power to annul a concurrence by the Governor and the voters exercised this retained power at the 2014 election by impliedly revoking the concurrence for the Madera site. Consequently, the concurrence is no longer valid, and the demurrer should have been overruled. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of dismissal and directed the trial court to vacate its order sustaining the demurrers and enter a new order overruling them. View "Stand Up for California! v. California" on Justia Law

by
The juvenile court asserted emergency jurisdiction over seven-year-old A.T., whose mentally ill mother had taken him from Washington state to California in violation of Washington family court orders. The court detained A.T., placed him temporarily with his father in Washington, and initiated contact with the Washington family court to address which state had jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). In the meantime, the Wiyot Tribe intervened and, with A.T.’s mother asserted Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) required the court to retain jurisdiction in California.The juvenile court determined ICWA was inapplicable and that the Washington family court had continuing exclusive jurisdiction and dismissed the dependency action in favor of the family court proceedings in Washington. The court of appeal affirmed. The juvenile court properly applied the UCCJEA and dismissed the dependency action in favor of family court proceedings in Washington state after finding ICWA inapplicable because the child had been placed with his non-offending parent. ICWA and the related California statutory scheme expressly focus on the removal of Indian children from their homes and parents and placement in foster or adoptive homes. View "In re A.T." on Justia Law