Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Defendant, a mother of ten children, was accused of physically abusing several of her children. In November 2017, the court sustained allegations of a petition and ordered the children removed from the parents. Throughout the proceedings, DCFS was given contact information for and/or had contact with a variety of extended family members. However, there was no indication in the record that an ICWA inquiry was made of any of these extended family members.Defendant claims that CFS failed to make an adequate ICWA inquiry because it did not of certain family members. Thus, Defendant asked the court to send the case back to the juvenile court. DCFS countered that Defendant denied any Indian ancestry, which is sufficient to end the inquiry.The Second Appellate District found that there was no evidence conflicting with Defendant's statement that her children were not of Indian ancestry. Additionally, the court concluded that the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion by finding that DCFS made a proper and adequate inquiry and acted with due diligence. And finally, even if the juvenile court erred by finding DCFS’s inquiry adequate, that error was not prejudicial. View "In re Ezequiel G." on Justia Law

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Petitioner-mother J.J. petitioned for extraordinary relief pursuant to California Rules of Court, rule 8.452, seeking review of an order denying family reunification services and setting a permanency planning hearing under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26. She argued the juvenile court improperly bypassed reunification services, and that real party in interest the San Joaquin County Human Services Agency (the Agency) failed to comply with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The Agency disputed both contentions. Because the order denying reunification services was not supported by sufficient evidence, the Court of Appeal granted the petition as to mother’s first contention. Because the ICWA issue was premature, the Court rejected mother’s second contention. View "J.J. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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S.A. (mother) appealed a juvenile court’s order terminating parental rights and ordering G.A. (minor) be placed for adoption. Mother contended the San Joaquin County Human Services Agency (Agency) and the juvenile court failed to comply with the inquiry requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) because the Agency did not contact extended family members to inquire about the ICWA and the juvenile court made no findings regarding agency compliance in that regard. Mother added that no express ICWA findings were made by the juvenile court during the course of the proceedings, compounding the error, and asked the Court of Appeal to remand the case for ICWA compliance. The Court of Appeal determined that while the juvenile court failed to make an ICWA finding, the error was harmless because the Agency satisfied its duty of inquiry, and there was no reason to believe the minor was an Indian child: "the parents consistently stated they had no reason to believe they had Native American ancestry and did not object to the Agency’s reports that consistently concluded they did not. No further duty to inquire was triggered in this case, as the court and Agency had no reason to believe that an Indian child was involved." From this the Court found no prejudice flowing from the Agency's failure to interview extended family members. The case was remanded for the juvenile court to formally enter its ICWA finding on the record. View "In re G.A." on Justia Law

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G.V. (Father) appealed a juvenile court’s judgment terminating his parental rights as to his newborn daughter (E.V.) and selecting adoption as the permanent plan. He argued the court and the Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA) failed to adequately inquire into the child’s Indian ancestry under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 SSA conceded there were two errors with respect to duties under ICWA, but they were harmless. Alternatively, SSA moved the Court of Appeal to receive additional new evidence (that was not previously presented to the juvenile court) that allegedly rendered the appeal moot, or at least demonstrated any inquiry errors as to ICWA had to be deemed harmless. The Court denied the motion, and found that under In re A.R., 77 Cal.App.5th 197 (2022), all cases where the ICWA inquiry rules were not followed mandated reversal. Judgment was conditionally reversed and the matter remanded for compliance with ICWA. View "In re E.V." on Justia Law

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Parents of the two children at issue in a juvenile dependency case repeatedly denied having any American Indian heritage. The social services agency spoke with several of the parents’ relatives but never asked those relatives whether the children had any American Indian heritage. Nearly 30 months into the proceedings and on appeal from the termination of her parental rights, the biological mother objected that the agency did not discharge its statutory duty to inquire whether her children might be “Indian children” within the meaning of the state’s broader version of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”).   The Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The court explained that there is no dispute that the agency did not properly discharge its statutory duty. However, the critical inquiry is whether the error was harmless and how harmlessness is to be assessed. The court offered a fourth rule: An agency’s failure to discharge its statutory duty of initial inquiry is harmless unless the record contains information suggesting a reason to believe that the children at issue may be “Indian child[ren],” in which case further inquiry may lead to a different ICWA finding by the juvenile court.   Here, the court held that the error was harmless, because the record contains the parents’ repeated denials of American Indian heritage, because the parents were raised by their biological relatives, and because there is nothing else in the record to suggest any reason to believe that the parents’ knowledge of their heritage is incorrect. View "In re Dezi C." on Justia Law

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C.M., mother of four minors (mother), appealed juvenile court’s orders terminating parental rights and freeing the minors for adoption. Her sole contention on appeal was that the Placer County Department of Health and Human Services and juvenile court failed to comply with the inquiry and notice requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). After review, the Court of Appeal agreed and remanded for the limited purpose of ensuring compliance with the ICWA. View "In re M.E." on Justia Law

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M.G. (Mother) appealed the termination of her parental rights to her 11-year-old daughter, A.R., and her 10-year-old son, C.R., and placing them in a permanent plan of adoption by their paternal grandparents. M.G. did not challenge the merits of the order; instead, she argued it had to be reversed because the Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA) failed to conduct an inquiry into whether the children had Native American ancestry, as required by the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Court of Appeal found an ICWA inquiry should be conducted in every case. "The tribes have a compelling, legally protected interest in the inquiry itself. It is only by ensuring that the issue of Native American ancestry is addressed in every case that we can ensure the collective interests of the Native American tribes will be protected. Thus, the failure to conduct the inquiry in each case constitutes a miscarriage of justice." In the interest of limiting any further delay, the Court conditionally reversed and remanded the case with instructions that SSA conduct the inquiry immediately, and that the trial court likewise resolve the issue as soon as possible. If the initial inquiry revealed no Native American heritage, then the judgment would be reinstated forthwith. View "In re A.R." on Justia Law

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Mother appealed the juvenile court’s jurisdiction and disposition orders pertaining to her children, citing the court’s findings that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA; 25 U.S.C. 1901) did not apply to the dependency proceedings. She argued that evidence of her children’s Native American ancestry triggered the duty under state law (Welfare and Institutions Code section 224.2(e)) to further investigate whether her children come within the federal Act.The court of appeal vacated and remanded. The Department of Family and Children’s Services failed to comply with the statutory duty to further investigate whether the children are Indian children; the juvenile court’s negative ICWA findings were based on insufficient evidence. The social worker’s initial inquiry established a reason to believe the children are Indian children; both the mother and the maternal grandfather stated that “a maternal great grandfather may have Native American ancestry in Minnesota.” The court rejected an argument that further inquiry would be futile, and specifically that contacting the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the State Department of Social Services would be an idle act. View "In re I.F." on Justia Law

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The sole issue in this appeal of the termination of parental rights was whether San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS) conducted further inquiry into whether the Indian Child Welfare Act’s (ICWA) applied if there was “reason to believe” an Indian child was involved in the dependency proceedings involving nine-year-old K.T. and his two-year-old sister, D. Early on in the case, the children’s mother and K.T.’s father (father) reported they had possible Cherokee, Choctaw, and Blackfeet ancestry and gave CFS contact information for family members who might be able to provide more detail. CFS never followed up, and the juvenile court found ICWA didn’t apply without first ensuring CFS had pursued these leads. About two years into the proceedings, after the parents failed to reunify with the children, the court determined they were likely to be adopted and terminated parental rights. On appeal, mother and father argued that despite having reason to believe K.T. and D. were Indian children, CFS failed to conduct adequate further inquiry to determine whether ICWA applies. CFS conceded their error. As a result, the record did not support the juvenile court’s finding that ICWA did not apply, and the Court of Appeal reversed the orders terminating parental rights and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "In re K.T." on Justia Law

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Mother appealed the order terminating her parental rights to four-year-old Antonio R. under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26, contending that the Department and the juvenile court failed to comply with the inquiry and notice provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA).The Court of Appeal agreed with Mother that Welfare and Institutions Code section 224.2, subdivision (b), required the Department to inquire of the maternal extended family members, and the juvenile court erred in finding ICWA did not apply despite the Department's insufficient inquiry. The court also concluded that the information in the hands of the extended family members was likely to be meaningful in determining whether the child is an Indian child. In this case, the error was prejudicial because the court did not know what information the maternal relatives would have provided had the Department or court inquired. Accordingly, the court conditionally affirmed and remanded for the juvenile court and the Department to comply with the inquiry provisions of ICWA and California law. View "In re Antonio R." on Justia Law