Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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In two separate cases, an Alaska superior court decided that it could not terminate parental rights to children with alleged Indian heritage without cultural expert testimony, and that the cultural expert testimony presented was too vague and generalized to be helpful. Although it was error to construe the Alaska Supreme Court precedent to require cultural expert testimony in every ICWA case, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision to require expert testimony based on its explanation that it could not competently weigh the evidence of harm in these cases without cultural context. And because the cultural expert testimony presented did not provide a meaningful assessment of tribal social and cultural standards and was not grounded in the facts of these particular cases, the Supreme Court held the court did not clearly err by giving the testimony no weight. The Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's decision to deny termination of parental rights in each case. View "Alaska Dept. Health & Soc. Serv. v. C.A., et al." 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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LuAnn Erickson appealed a district court order granting her motion to vacate its previous order recognizing a tribal court restraining order under N.D.R.Ct. 7.2, but concluding that the tribal court restraining order was entitled to full faith and credit under 18 U.S.C. § 2265. Erickson argued that the court erred in granting full faith and credit to the tribal court order, because the tribal court lacked personal and subject matter jurisdiction, and the tribal court failed to provide her reasonable notice and opportunity to be heard. Specifically she averred she was not properly served with the tribal court proceedings. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the district court record did not reflect Erickson was properly served with the tribal court proceedings under the Tribal Code. “Without proper service on Erickson, a hearing should not have been held, and a permanent protection order should not have issued.” Further, because the record demonstrated that Erickson was notified of the protection order proceedings after a permanent protection order was already entered, it follows that she was not afforded reasonable notice and opportunity to be heard to satisfy 18 U.S.C. § 2265(b)(2). “Although Erickson responded to Baker’s attorney’s email attaching exhibits, this email was sent to Erickson the day before the hearing. Further, the email did not contain any information that would have informed Erickson a hearing would be conducted the following day. We conclude this is insufficient to satisfy due process requirements.” Therefore, the district court erred in according full faith and credit to the tribal court restraining order. The district court order granting Erickson’s motion to vacate its previous order recognizing a tribal court restraining order was affirmed; however, insofar as the order granted full faith and credit to the tribal court restraining order, judgment was reversed. View "Baker v. Erickson" 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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This termination of parental rights case concerned the “active efforts” required under the Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”) to provide remedial services and rehabilitative programs to assist a parent in completing a court-ordered treatment plan. A division of the Colorado court of appeals reversed a juvenile court’s judgment terminating Mother’s parent-child legal relationship with her two Native American children, holding that the Denver Department of Human Services (“DHS”) did not engage in the “active efforts” required under ICWA to assist Mother in completing her court-ordered treatment plan because it did not offer Mother job training or employment assistance, even though Mother struggled to maintain sobriety and disappeared for several months. The Colorado Supreme Court held that “active efforts” was a heightened standard requiring a greater degree of engagement by agencies, and agencies must provide a parent with remedial services and resources to complete all of the parent’s treatment plan objectives. The Court was satisfied the record supported the juvenile court’s determination that DHS engaged in active efforts to provide Mother with services and programs to attempt to rehabilitate her and reunited the family. The appellate court’s judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for that court to address Mother’s remaining appellate contentions. View "Colorado in interest of My.K.M. and Ma. K.M." 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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This case arose from a long-running irrigation-water dispute between Plaintiff Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation and Defendant Gregory McKee, who was not a member of the Tribe. Defendant owned non-Indian fee land within the Ute reservation’s exterior boundaries and used water from two irrigation canals flowing through his property. Plaintiff claimed the water belonged to the United States in trust for the Tribe. Plaintiff sued Defendant in the Ute tribal court, alleging that Defendant had been diverting the Tribe’s water for years, and won. Plaintiff then petitioned the district court to recognize and enforce the tribal-court judgment. But the district court dismissed the case after holding that the tribal court lacked jurisdiction to enter its judgment. Because the Tenth Circuit also concluded the tribal court lacked jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s dispute with a nonmember of the Tribe arising on non-Indian fee lands, it affirmed. View "Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah v. McKee, et al." 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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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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The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation (“the Tribe”) temporarily banished Angelita Chegup, Tara Amboh, Mary Jenkins, and Lynda Kozlowicz (“the banished members”). The banished members did not challenge their temporary banishment in a tribal forum, but instead sought relief in federal court by filing a petition for habeas corpus. The banished members contended that, because they were excluded from the reservation by virtue of their banishment, they were “detained” within the meaning of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 (“ICRA”). The district court disagreed and dismissed the suit without considering the Tribe’s alternative position: that the court could not consider the claims at all because the banished members failed to exhaust their tribal remedies. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concurred with the district court: "Even though tribal exhaustion is non-jurisdictional, and courts may often choose between threshold grounds for denying relief, we think that under the unique circumstances of this case there was a right choice." Because the district court neither began its analysis with tribal exhaustion nor reached that issue in the alternative, the Tenth Circuit remanded for it to be decided in the first instance. View "Chegup, et al. v. Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah, et al." on Justia Law