Justia Native American Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
In re H.B.
S.B. (father) appealed from the juvenile court’s order terminating his parental rights over his daughter H.B. pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code1 section 366.26. Father contends only that the juvenile court erred in finding the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) inapplicable based on the record of inquiry made by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (Department) with H.B.’s extended family members. The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court explained that the Department inquired about Indian ancestry with representatives from both sides of two generational levels of H.B.’s family. It contacted every person its interviewees identified as a likely source of information about ancestry. The juvenile court had an adequate basis on which to conclude the Department fulfilled its inquiry obligations under section 224.2, subdivision (b), and that neither the Department nor the court had reason to know or believe that H.B. is an Indian child. Under the court’s deferential standard of review, the juvenile court did not need the Department to contact every unnamed extended family member that had attended a court hearing, regardless of difficulty in doing so, to reach its conclusion. View "In re H.B." on Justia Law
In re Ja.O.
A.C. (Mother) challenged a juvenile court’s dispositional finding that the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 did not apply to the dependency proceedings to her five children. Mother contended that San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS) failed to discharge its duty of initial inquiry under Welfare and Institutions Code section 224.2 (b). After review of the juvenile court record, the Court of Appeal concluded that Mother’s argument lacked merit and therefore affirmed. View "In re Ja.O." on Justia Law
In re E.W.
The Agency filed a Welfare and Institutions Code section 300 petition on behalf of eight children, alleging sexual abuse. Mother initially indicated that her deceased mother “had some Native ancestry.” Father reported “no Native American ancestry.” Days later, Mother reported that “she is not Native American and she paid for genetic testing.” At the detention hearing, Mother’s counsel represented that Mother has no Indian ancestry that she knows. The juvenile court responded: "Maybe there was a misunderstanding. I’ll make a finding that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA, 25 U.S.C. 1901) does not apply.” Mother's ICWA-020 form indicated “no Indian ancestry as far as I know.” Father's form indicated “None.” The maternal aunt and the paternal grandfather both reported no documented information about Native American ancestry.After the contested hearing, the juvenile court declared dependency. A maternal cousin, the grandfather, and an aunt attended. The court again asked about Native American ancestry. The parents responded no. The court's finding that ICWA did not apply was included in the order.The parents did not challenge the jurisdictional findings or the dispositional orders but alleged that the Agency failed to satisfy its initial duty of inquiry into the children’s possible Native American heritage. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting their contention that the Agency was required to interview five additional extended family members, acknowledging that the Agency and the juvenile court have an “affirmative and continuing” duty of inquiry. View "In re E.W." on Justia Law
Santa Ynez Band of Chumash etc. v. Lexington Ins. Co.
The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians of the Santa Ynez Reservation California (Chumash) appealed a judgment following the granting of a motion for summary judgment in favor of Lexington Insurance Company (Lexington) in Chumash’s lawsuit against Lexington for denial of insurance coverage. The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court concluded that, among other things, Chumash did not present sufficient evidence to show that the COVID-19 virus caused physical property damage to its casino and resort so as to fall within the property damage coverage provisions of the Lexington insurance policy. The court explained that had the Chumash Casino and Resort sustained property damage, it was required to specify what property was damaged and to submit a claim for the dollar amount of that loss. The absence of such information supports Lexington’s decision to deny coverage. View "Santa Ynez Band of Chumash etc. v. Lexington Ins. Co." on Justia Law
In re L.C.
M.C. (mother) appealed the termination of parental rights to two of her children (the children) under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26. She contends that the juvenile court failed to determine whether it had jurisdiction over the children under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (the UCCJEA). The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (the Department) responded that by failing to raise the issue, mother forfeited her right to raise it on appeal; alternatively, the Department argued that substantial evidence supports the court’s assertion of jurisdiction in this case. Mother also contended the juvenile court and the Department failed to comply with the inquiry requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) and related California statutes. The Second Appellate District concluded the forfeiture doctrine does not bar mother’s challenge to the juvenile court’s compliance with the UCCJEA, and the error requires conditional reversal of the parental rights termination orders with directions to the court to undertake the process that the UCCJEA requires. This disposition will permit mother to raise the unopposed ICWA arguments she makes on appeal. The court explained that here, the usual benefit from the application of the forfeiture doctrine—to encourage parties to bring issues to the trial court—would not be conferred under the facts of this case. Thus, although the Department or mother could have done more to urge the juvenile court to undertake the UCCJEA process, the objective facts supporting the need for such a process were readily apparent from the record. View "In re L.C." on Justia Law
In re S.S.
The Department of Children and Family Services detained infant boy S.S. at birth, based on exigency, alleging his parents abused drugs and S.S. was born testing positive for various drugs. The juvenile court detained S.S. from his parents and placed him with his maternal aunt and uncle. The mother and father both denied Indian ancestry. The maternal aunt, however, said that the mother might have Yaqui heritage. The Department, in turn, notified the Pascua Yaqui tribe, which replied S.S. was not eligible for membership: the tribe would not intervene. The Department never asked paternal extended family members about the possibility of Indian ancestry. The court terminated parental rights in favor of a permanent plan of adoption by the maternal aunt and uncle, who were the caretakers and prospective adoptive parents. The mother appealed. At issue is the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, sections 1901 and following title 25 of the United States Code (the Act, or ICWA) and its California counterpart. The Second 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 inquire of the three paternal extended family members previously identified whether S.S. may be an Indian child. The court explained that the Department’s failure prejudices tribes. The Department had contact information for three extended paternal family members but did nothing with it, thus denying tribes the benefit of the statutory promise. It would be a miscarriage of justice to deny tribes the benefit of this legislation. View "In re S.S." on Justia Law
In re Robert F.
Jessica G. (Mother) appealed a juvenile court’s order terminating parental rights to her son, Robert F. Relying on subdivision (b) Welfare and Institutions Code section 224.2, Mother argued that the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) failed to discharge its duty of initial inquiry, because DPSS did not ask various extended family members whether Robert had any Indian ancestry. The Court of Appeal found DPSS took Robert into protective custody pursuant to a warrant, so DPSS did not take Robert into temporary custody under section 306. Accordingly, DPSS had no obligation to ask Robert’s extended family members about his potential Indian status under section 224.2(b). The Court therefore affirmed the order terminating parental rights. View "In re Robert F." on Justia Law
In re A.A.
C.G. (Mother) and R.A. (Father) appealed a juvenile court’s order terminating their parental rights to three of their minor children. Father’s parents repeatedly denied any Indian ancestry, but Mother reported she was affiliated with the Jemez Pueblo tribe in New Mexico. Father eventually denied having any Indian ancestry or tribal affiliation. The juvenile court found the children might be Indian children and ordered notice to be reported to the Jemez Pueblo tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The Jemez Pueblo tribe required individuals to have a 1/4 Jemez Pueblo blood quantum. Mother provided verification of her tribal registration status with the tribe, which confirmed her Jemez Pueblo blood quantum was over 1/4. A social worker from the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (the Department) contacted the Jemez Pueblo and was told that none of the children were registered members of the tribe. The social worker reported she contacted Annette Gachupin, a Child Advocate for the Jemez Pueblo and the tribe’s ICWA Representative. Gachupin confirmed that Mother was an enrolled member of the Jemez Pueblo tribe, but the children were not eligible to become registered members because their blood quantum was too low to meet requirements for tribal membership. Instead, the children were eligible for “naturalization,” which would only qualify them for tribal health services while excluding them from receiving federal funds that Jemez Pueblo members receive. Mother never completed the paperwork to have the children naturalized. The Department asked the juvenile court to find that ICWA did not apply because the children were not Indian children. The parents did not object, nor did the children’s attorney. The juvenile court found that the children were not Indian children and therefore ICWA did not apply. The lack of objections notwithstanding, the parents appealed the termination and the ICWA ruling. The Court of Appeal concluded the juvenile court did not err: Indian tribes determine whether a child is a member of the tribe or eligible for membership. Substantial evidence supported the juvenile court’s finding that N., H., and A. were not “Indian children” for ICWA purposes. View "In re A.A." on Justia Law
D.S. v. Super. Ct.
Petitioner D.S. (Mother) was the adoptive mother of A.S. In 2021, San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS) petitioned on behalf of A.S. in response to allegations of physical abuse. During the pendency of the proceedings, Mother petitioned to have A.S. placed back in her home. She appealed the summary denial of her petition. However, on appeal, Mother did not address any issue encompassed by her petition, nor did she seek reversal of the order denying her petition or reversal of any prior jurisdictional or dispositional orders. Instead, Mother’s opening brief was entirely devoted to seeking review of the adequacy of the juvenile court and CFS’s efforts to fulfill their obligations under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) seeking only to have the matter “remanded with instructions for the juvenile court to order full compliance with the inquiry provisions of the ICWA.” Consequently, the Court of Appeal construed Mother's appeal as a petition for extraordinary writ seeking an order directing the juvenile court and CFS to comply with their statutory duties under ICWA and the related California statutes. Upon consideration of the matter on the merits, the Court granted the requested relief. View "D.S. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law
In re Jayden G.
Mother S.G. appealed after the juvenile court terminated her parental rights to her son. She raised two challenges. First, she faults the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for failing to exercise due diligence in locating her son’s father (Father). Mother argued this failure to locate Father, which included ignoring information she provided on how to locate him, invalidated the notice the court deemed proper for Father. Second, she contends DCFS did not comply with its initial duty of inquiry under Welfare and Institutions Code section 224.2,1 subdivision (b) when it failed to ask maternal and paternal extended family members about Indian ancestry within the meaning of Section 1903 of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Second Appellate District conditionally reversed the juvenile court’s order terminating parental rights and directed the juvenile court to order DCFS to complete its duty of due diligence to discover the whereabouts of Father and complete its initial inquiry of available maternal and paternal relatives into familial Indian ancestry. The court explained that this dependency proceeding lasted over two years. In that time, DCFS made two attempts to locate Father, and it did so using database search resources only. It made no attempt to inquire about Indian ancestry after obtaining Mother’s denial of such ancestry. The court found that DCFS did not exercise reasonable due diligence in its attempts to locate Father. The court also found that DCFS erred in determining that ICWA did not apply without inquiring about available family members for whom it had contact information. View "In re Jayden G." on Justia Law