Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative 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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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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In 1968, Congress recognized the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Indian tribe. In 1983, Texas renounced its trust responsibilities with respect to the Tribe and expressed opposition to any new federal legislation that did not permit the state to apply its gaming laws on tribal lands. Congress restored the Tribe’s federal trust status in the 1987 Restoration Act, “prohibiting” all “gaming activities which are prohibited by the laws of the State of Texas.” Congress then adopted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which permitted Tribes to offer class II games—like bingo—in states that “permi[t] such gaming for any purpose by any person, organization or entity,” 25 U.S.C. 2710(b)(1)(A). IGRA allowed Tribes to offer class III games—like blackjack and baccarat—only pursuant to negotiated tribal/state compacts. Texas refused to negotiate a compact regarding class III games. In 1994, the Fifth Circuit held that the Restoration Act superseded IGRA.In 2016, the Tribe began offering bingo, including “electronic bingo.” The Fifth Circuit upheld an injunction, shutting down all of the Tribe’s bingo operations.The Supreme Court vacated. The Restoration Act bans, on tribal lands, only those gaming activities also banned in Texas. Texas laws do not “forbid,” “prevent,” or “make impossible” bingo operations but allow the game according to rules concerning time, place, and manner. Texas’s bingo laws are regulatory, not prohibitory. When Congress adopted the Restoration Act, Supreme Court precedent held that California’s bingo laws—materially identical to Texas’s laws—were regulatory and that only “prohibitory” state gaming laws could be applied on the Indian lands in question, not state “regulatory” gaming laws. The Restoration Act provides that a gaming activity prohibited by Texas law is also prohibited on tribal land as a matter of federal law. Other gaming activities are subject to tribal regulation and must conform to IGRA. View "Ysleta del Sur Pueblo v. Texas" 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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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

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Congress established the Osage reservation in Oklahoma Territory in 1872. Years later, “mammoth reserves of oil and gas” were found. Congress severed the subsurface mineral estate, reserved it to the tribe, and placed it into trust with the federal government as trustee. Royalties are distributed to tribal members listed on an approved membership roll (a headright).In previous litigation, the Claims Court found the tribe had standing and found the government liable for breaching its fiduciary duties by failing to collect the full amount of royalties and failing to invest the royalty revenue. Individual headright owners (not the present plaintiffs) attempted to intervene. The Claims Court found that the individuals had no legal interest in the dispute because they were not a party to the trust relationship. The $380 million settlement agreement stated that the tribe, “on behalf of itself and the [h]eadright [h]olders,” waived any claims relating to the tribe’s trust assets or resources that were based on violations occurring before September 30, 2011. In a federal suit, filed by individual headright owners, the Tenth Circuit held that headright owners had a trust relationship with the federal government, which was ordered to provide an accounting.In 2019, based on allegations that the accounting revealed mismanagement of the trust fund, headright owners filed the present suit under the Tucker Act and the Indian Tucker Act, citing breach of statutorily imposed trust obligations. The Federal Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. A trust relationship exists between the headright owners and the government and the 1906 Act imposes an obligation on the federal government to distribute funds to headright owners in a timely and proper manner. View "Fletcher v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians purchased the Sibley Parcel with interest from its Self-Sufficiency Fund and sought to have the land taken into trust by the Department of the Interior with a view to establishing gaming operations. The Tribe claimed the Parcel was acquired for the “enhancement of tribal lands,” a permitted use of Fund interest under the Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act Section 108(c). Interior concluded that the mere acquisition of additional land was not an “enhancement” and declined to take the Parcel into trust because the Tribe failed to demonstrate how the Parcel would improve or enhance tribal lands. The land is in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula far from the Tribe’s existing lands in the Upper Peninsula.The district court granted summary judgment to the Tribe. The D.C. Circuit reversed. Under the plain meaning of the Michigan Act, before assuming a trust obligation, The Department has the authority to verify that the Tribe properly acquired the land with Fund interest, consistent with the limited uses for such interest in Section 108(c). In exercising that authority, The Department correctly determined that “enhancement of tribal lands” does not include an acquisition that merely increases the Tribe’s landholdings. To enhance tribal lands, an acquisition must improve the quality or value of the Tribe’s existing lands. View "Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians v. Haaland" on Justia Law