Justia Native American Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Juvenile 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
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
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
Haaland v. Brackeen
The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) governs state court adoption and foster care proceedings involving Indian children, requiring placement of an Indian child according to the Act’s hierarchical preferences absent a finding of “good cause” to depart from them, 25 U.S.C. 1915(a), (b). Indian families or institutions from any tribe (not just the tribe to which the child has a tie) outrank unrelated non-Indians or non-Indian institutions. The child’s tribe may alter the prioritization order. The preferences of the Indian child or her parent generally cannot trump those set by statute or tribal resolution. In involuntary proceedings, the Indian child’s parent or custodian and tribe must be given notice of any custody proceedings, and the right to intervene. ICWA requires a party seeking to terminate parental rights or to remove an Indian child from an unsafe environment to satisfy the court that active efforts have been made to provide remedial services; a court cannot order relief unless the party demonstrates, by a heightened burden of proof and expert testimony, that the child is likely to suffer serious harm. A biological parent who voluntarily gives up an Indian child cannot necessarily choose the child’s placement. The tribe has a right to intervene and can enforce ICWA’s placement preferences. States must keep certain records and transmit specified information to the Secretary of the Interior.The Supreme Court concluded that ICWA is consistent with Congress’s Article I authority and that conflicting state family law is preempted. Requirements concerning “active efforts” to keep Indian families together do not command the states to deploy their executive or legislative power to implement federal policy. The provisions apply to “any party” who initiates an involuntary proceeding–private individuals, agencies, and government entities. Legislation that applies “evenhandedly” to state and private actors does not typically implicate the Tenth Amendment. ICWA’s requirement that state agencies perform a “diligent search” for placements that satisfy ICWA’s hierarchy also applies to both private and public parties. Congress can require state courts to enforce federal law and may impose ancillary record-keeping requirements related to state-court proceedings without violating the Tenth Amendment.The Court did not address an equal protection challenge to ICWA’s placement preferences and a non-delegation challenge to the provision allowing tribes to alter the placement preferences, citing lack of standing to raise the challenges. View "Haaland v. Brackeen" 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
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 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
In re S.H.
In May 2021 the Agency received a report of general neglect of an infant. A social worker met with Mother and her partner, Anthony; both reported that there was no known Native American ancestry. The dependency petition stated that a social worker had completed an Indian Child Welfare Act (25 U.S.C. 1901, ICWA) inquiry. At a hearing, Mother’s counsel reported no known heritage. Based on Anthony’s response, the court ordered further inquiry (Welf. & Inst. Code 224.2(e)). A social worker received a voicemail from Anthony, who apparently accidentally left his phone on, and discussed with Mother a plan to claim that the minor had Indian ancestry to delay the child's removal. In August, Mother stated she was not sure whether she had Native American ancestry. A maternal great-grandmother reported that the minor’s great-great-great-great grandparents “told her she has Blackfoot Cherokee,” but she had no documentation regarding the possible affiliation.The Agency recommended that the juvenile court find that there was “no reason to believe or reason to know” that the minor was an Indian child. The minor was placed with a maternal relative. At a September 2021 disposition hearing, the court found, without prejudice to future research, that ICWA did not apply. The court of appeal affirmed. Although the Agency erred by not interviewing additional family members, reversal of the early dependency order was not warranted simply because the Agency’s ongoing obligations had not yet been satisfied. View "In re S.H." on Justia Law
In re Dezi C.
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