Justia Native American Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Family Law
Fritzler v. Bighorn
The Supreme Court of the State of Montana was tasked with determining whether the Municipal Court had sufficient evidence to enter a permanent order of protection against the appellant, Alda Bighorn. Bighorn was prohibited from having contact with her grandchild, L.D.F.S, unless supervised, due to allegations made by L.D.F.S's mother, Camille Fritzler. Fritzler alleged that Bighorn had taken L.D.F.S to a family gathering while intoxicated and seeking narcotics, and was planning to enroll L.D.F.S with a Native tribe to gain custody over her. These allegations were not corroborated by any witness testimony or other evidence, but the Municipal Court granted a permanent order of protection against Bighorn. Bighorn appealed this decision, and the District Court affirmed the Municipal Court's ruling.The Supreme Court of the State of Montana reversed the lower courts' decisions, ruling that the Municipal Court had abused its discretion by granting the permanent order of protection without any substantial, credible evidence supporting Fritzler's allegations. The Supreme Court noted that hearsay allegations may be sufficient to support issuing a temporary order of protection, but not a permanent one. Furthermore, the court deemed it improper for the lower court to issue a visitation order for a grandparent in a protection order proceeding, stating that grandparent visitation should be established by filing a petition under the relevant statute. The case was remanded to the Municipal Court to vacate and rescind the permanent order of protection against Bighorn. View "Fritzler v. Bighorn" on Justia Law
Native Village of Kwinhagak v. State of Alaska
In this case, the Supreme Court of Alaska ruled on the legal process applying to the Office of Children's Services (OCS) when it seeks to admit a child in its custody to a hospital for psychiatric care. The case centered on a minor named Mira J., a member of the Native Village of Kwinhagak (the Tribe), who was placed in OCS custody and hospitalized for 46 days for psychiatric treatment without a hearing to determine if the hospitalization was justified.The Tribe argued that her hospitalization should have been governed by the civil commitment statutes or, alternatively, that the constitution did not permit OCS to hospitalize a child for such a long time without a court hearing to determine whether the hospitalization was justified. The court rejected the Tribe's statutory argument but agreed that Mira's due process rights under the Alaska Constitution were violated.The court held that while OCS was not required to follow the civil commitment statutes when admitting Mira to either hospital, due process required OCS to promptly notify parties to the child in need of aid (CINA) case when admitting a child to the hospital for psychiatric care. Further, due process required the court to hold a hearing as soon as reasonably possible to determine whether the hospitalization was justified. The court held that the 46-day wait between Mira's first admission to the hospital and the hearing was too long to satisfy due process, and thus reversed the lower court's order authorizing Mira's continued hospitalization. View "Native Village of Kwinhagak v. State of Alaska" on Justia Law
In re L.B.
In a case heard by the Court of Appeal of the State of California, First Appellate District, Division Four, the appellant, a mother (La.B.), challenged the juvenile court's decision to terminate her parental rights. The mother claimed the court failed to adequately inquire into her child's (L.B.'s) potential Native American ancestry as required by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Despite the mother's indication on a form that she might be a member of a federally recognized tribe of unknown name and location, no extended family members were asked about the child's potential Native American ancestry.The appellate court agreed with the mother's contention, finding the inquiry into the child's ancestry inadequate and thus, an abuse of discretion. The court noted that the inquiry was legally required to include extended family members, regardless of how the child was initially removed from their home. The trial court had failed to adhere to this requirement despite the availability of several family members who could have provided relevant information.The appellate court conditionally reversed the judgement and instructed the juvenile court to order the Social Services Agency to complete the initial ICWA inquiry, including inquiries required under section 224.2, subdivision (b). Depending on the results of the inquiry, the court should proceed in accordance with ICWA and related California law. If no evidence of the child's Native American heritage is found, the juvenile court should immediately reinstate the judgement. View "In re L.B." on Justia Law
Ronan F. v. State of Alaska
In this case, the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska dealt with an appeal against the termination of parental rights of two parents, Elena F. and Ronan F., by the State of Alaska, Department of Family & Community Services, Office of Children’s Services. The Office of Children’s Services (OCS) had removed the two Indian children from their parents' home due to reported domestic violence and later terminated both parents' rights after two years. The parents appealed, arguing that OCS failed to make active efforts to reunify the family.The court found that the OCS made active efforts to reunify Elena with her children even in light of her serious mental illness, substance abuse, and her increasingly violent threats and behavior. As such, the court affirmed the termination of Elena's parental rights.However, the court found that the OCS did not make active efforts to reunify Ronan with his children. The court noted that there was no evidence that two out of three caseworkers assigned to Ronan made any efforts toward his reunification with his children. Therefore, the court reversed the termination of Ronan's parental rights. View "Ronan F. v. State of Alaska" on Justia Law
Jimmy E. v. State of Alaska, Department of Health & Social Services, Office of Children’s Services
In this case involving the State of Alaska, Department of Health & Social Services, Office of Children’s Services (OCS), the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska ruled on an appeal regarding the termination of parental rights of parents Allie P. and Jimmy E. The crux of the case revolved around the application of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which provides specific protections for Indian children and their tribes in child custody proceedings.Allie P. and Jimmy E. had two children together and Allie had two older children from a previous relationship. All four children were removed from Allie’s custody due to her history of substance abuse. Jimmy E. claimed Alaska Native heritage and argued that his children should be considered Indian children under ICWA.The Supreme Court held that Jimmy did provide a sufficient reason to know that the two youngest children are Indian children and that OCS did not conduct a sufficient inquiry. Thus, the court vacated the termination of Jimmy’s and Allie’s parental rights as to the two youngest children and remanded for further proceedings.However, the court rejected Allie's additional challenges and affirmed the termination of her parental rights with respect to her two older children. The court found that Allie had not remedied the behavior causing her children to be in need of aid, OCS made reasonable efforts to reunite the family, and termination was in the children's best interests. View "Jimmy E. v. State of Alaska, Department of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law
Taryn M. v. State of Alaska, Department of Family & Community Services
In a case involving the State of Alaska's Office of Children’s Services (OCS), an adult relative, Taryn M., appealed the denial of her request to have custody of an Indian child, Marcy P., who was in the custody of OCS. Marcy P. had a severe congenital disease and required a bone marrow transplant. The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska affirmed the decision of the lower court, finding that OCS had demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that Taryn M. was an unsuitable caretaker for Marcy P. The court established that the burden of proof was on OCS to show that a preferred placement under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was unsuitable. The evidence presented showed that Taryn M. was unwilling to abide by Marcy’s treatment plans, with instances including not following medical advice for treating fevers and not returning Marcy after a visit as planned. The court concluded that Taryn M.'s actions demonstrated clear and convincing evidence that she was an unsuitable caretaker. View "Taryn M. v. State of Alaska, Department of Family & Community Services" on Justia Law
In re C.L.
Appellant R.L., presumed father (father) of minor C.L. (the minor), appealed the juvenile court’s order terminating father’s parental rights and freeing the minor for adoption. The minor was removed from his parents through a protective custody warrant under Welfare and Institutions Code section 340. Father contended the Amador County Department of Social Services (the department) failed to comply with the initial inquiry requirements of California law implementing the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) because the department did not inquire of extended family members as to the minor’s Indian ancestry when he was removed. The Court of Appeal agreed with father and held that the duty to inquire of extended family members applied when removal is made via a section 340 protective custody warrant. Because the department failed to comply with this duty, remand was required. Remand was also required because father stated that his great-grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee at the detention hearing, triggering a duty of further inquiry into the minor’s Indian ancestry. This further inquiry duty was not satisfied. The Court therefore conditionally reversed the order terminating parental rights. View "In re C.L." on Justia Law
In re Jerry R.
A.R. (Father) and S.R. (Mother) appealed from the juvenile court’s orders terminating their parental rights to three of their children, under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26.1. Father’s sole claim, joined by Mother, is that because Stanislaus County Community Services Agency (agency) failed to conduct a proper, adequate, and duly diligent inquiry into whether the children are or may be Indian children, the juvenile court erred when it found that the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) did not apply. The Fifth Appellate District conditionally reversed the juvenile court’s finding that ICWA does not apply. The court explained that Section 224.2, subdivision (b), imposes on the county welfare department a broad duty to inquire whether a child placed into the temporary custody of the county under section 306 is or may be an Indian child. The court explained that at issue is whether a child taken into protective custody by warrant under section 340, subdivision (a) or (b) falls within the ambit of section 306, subdivision (a)(1). The court explained that based on the plain language of the statutes, it agrees with Delila D. that the answer is yes and, therefore, the inquiry mandated under section 224.2, subdivision (b), applies. The court further concluded that the juvenile court erred in finding the agency conducted a proper, adequate, and duly diligent inquiry and that the error is prejudicial, which necessitates a conditional reversal of the court’s finding that ICWA does not apply and a limited remand so that an inquiry that comports with section 224.2, subdivision (b), may be conducted. View "In re Jerry R." on Justia Law
Colorado in interest of H.J.B.
A-J.A.B. tested positive at birth for methamphetamine. H.J.B. (“Mother”) admitted methamphetamine use during her pregnancy. In March 2020, less than a month after A-J.A.B.’s birth, the Adams County Human Services Department (“the Department”) filed a petition in dependency and neglect concerning A-J.A.B. The Department’s petition noted that it had no information indicating that A-J.A.B. was an Indian child or eligible for membership in an Indian tribe, although the petition did not identify what efforts, if any, the Department took to determine whether A-J.A.B. was an Indian child. At the shelter hearing, Mother’s counsel informed the court that Mother may have “some Cherokee and Lakota Sioux [heritage] through [A-J.A.B.’s maternal great-grandmother].” However, Mother was uncertain if anyone in her family was actually registered with a tribe and acknowledged that she “probably [wouldn’t] qualify” for any tribal membership herself. The juvenile court ordered Mother to “fill out the ICWA paperwork,” but the court did not direct the Department to exercise its due diligence obligation under section 19-1-126(3). At the next hearing, Mother, who had not filled out the ICWA paperwork, again stated that she had “Native American heritage” through A-J.A.B.’s maternal great-grandmother. Because of these assertions, the juvenile court found that the case “‘may’ be an ICWA case.” By December 2020, the Department moved to terminate Mother’s parental rights. At the pretrial conference, Mother’s attorney informed the court that she spoke with A-J.A.B.’s maternal grandmother, who stated that she “thought that the heritage may be Lakota.” Mother’s attorney told the court “it doesn’t sound like there’s a reason to believe that ICWA would apply” and acknowledged that neither Mother nor A-J.A.B. were enrolled members of any tribe. The juvenile court subsequently concluded that “there [was] no reason to believe that this case [was] governed by [ICWA].” The juvenile court terminated Mother’s parental rights. Mother appealed, arguing the juvenile court erred in finding that ICWA did not apply because the court had a reason to know that A-J.A.B. was an Indian child. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the Department satisfied its statutory due diligence obligation under section19-1-126(3), and affirmed in different grounds. View "Colorado in interest of H.J.B." on Justia Law
In re V.C.
In December 2019, the Alameda County Social Services Agency filed a petition (Welfare and Institutions Code 300(b)(1) and (j)) regarding infant V.C., with allegations that his mother tested positive for methamphetamine at V.C.’s birth, resulting in V.C. experiencing withdrawal symptoms. A social worker had spoken with both parents, who each “denied any Native American ancestry.” Both parents completed and filed “Parental Notification of Indian Status” forms, checking the box: “I have no Indian ancestry as far as I know,” under penalty of perjury.In March 2020, the juvenile court found the allegations true, declared the children dependents, removed them from parental custody, and ordered reunification services, concluding that each child “is not an Indian child and no further notice is required under” the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) (25 U.S.C. 1901). In February 2021, the court terminated reunification services, set a section 366.26 hearing, and again concluded that ICWA did not apply. On remand for a new hearing concerning the beneficial relationship exception, the juvenile court again terminated parental rights, found “ICWA does not apply,” and identified adoption as the children’s permanent plan.The court of appeal conditionally reversed. The agency failed to comply with ICWA by not asking available extended family members about possible Indian ancestry. View "In re V.C." on Justia Law