Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the termination of Mother's parental rights to her child, holding that the district court did not err in terminating Mother's parental rights under state and federal law.In terminating Mother's parental rights to her child the district court made the additional findings and used the heightened evidentiary standards required by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err (1) in failing to make specific findings under the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act when terminating Mother's parental rights; (2) when it terminated Mother's parental rights under Mont. Code Ann. 41-3-609 and 25 U.S.C. 1912; and (3) in terminating Mother's rights under federal and state law. View "Matter of K.L.N." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's rights to his two children, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion.Specifically, the Court held (1) the district court erred by proceeding without applying the requirements and standards of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) during the first year of the case, but the violations did not require invalidation of the proceedings; (2) even if the Department of Public Heath and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division (Department) failed to provide proper notice of the proceedings to the Little Shell Tribe as required by ICWA, any error was harmless; (3) the Department provided Father with active efforts to reunify his family; and (4) the district court applied the correct standards when terminating Father's parental rights, and the court's finding that Father was unlikely to change in a reasonable period of time was supported by substantial evidence and not an abuse of discretion. View "In re S.B." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court terminating Father's parental rights to Child, holding that the record did not support that the Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division (Department) engaged in active efforts to provide Father with remedial services and rehabilitative programs to prevent the breakup of Child's family, as required by 25 U.S.C. 1912(d).Child in this case was an Indian child, thus requiring that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) apply to the proceedings. After a termination hearing, the district court concluded the Department had made active efforts as required by ICWA, Father was not able safely to parent Child, and it was in Child's best interest to terminate Father's parental rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Department failed to provide Father with active efforts throughout the custody proceedings as required by ICWA. View "In re K.L." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court dismissing Appellant's complaint for failure to state a claim, holding that Appellant failed to prove a set of facts in support of his claim.While detained in jail, Appellant filed a pro se petition for habeas corpus requesting that the district court drop all felony criminal convictions against him on the alleged grounds that the State had no jurisdiction because Appellant was an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenani Tribes (CSKT) and committed a crime within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation. The district court dismissed for failure to state a claim. On appeal, Appellant argued that the application of Public Law 83-230 (PL-280) by the State was improper and has never been consented to by the CSKT. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Appellant's argument that PL-280 was never properly consented to by the CSKT is incorrect; (2) the State properly enacted its enabling legislation under PL-280; and (3) PL-280 and the State's application of PL-280 to the CSKT did not violate the 1855 Hellgate Treaty. View "Lozeau v. Anciaux" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Mother’s parental rights to her two minor children for failure to comply with a reunification-oriented treatment plan, holding that the district court’s failure to properly determine whether the children were Indian children before terminating Mother’s parental rights was harmless.On appeal, Mother asserted that the district court abused its discretion by failing properly to confirm or dispel a reason to know that the children were Indian children as defined by the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, 25. U.S.C. 1901, et seq. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, in light of a subsequently and conclusive tribal determination that neither child was eligible for tribal enrollment, the district court’s abuse of discretion in failing to comply with 25 U.S.C. 1912(a) and 25 C.F.R. 23.107(b) and 23.108 was harmless. View "In re S.R." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court terminating Mother’s parental rights to her two children, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it continued with child custody proceedings before conclusively determining the children’s Indian status.After Mother’s children were adjudicated as youths in need of care the district court terminated Mother’s parental rights. The order stated that the children were not Indian children subject to the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). On appeal, Mother argued that the district court erred in categorizing the children outside the scope of ICWA without first making a conclusive determination that the children were not Indian children pursuant to ICWA. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err when it applied the non-ICWA statutory standards because the court had neither a reason to believe nor a reason to know that the children were Indian children subject to ICWA. View "In re J.J.C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court terminating Father’s parental rights to his two children, holding that the district court correctly determined to proceed as if the children were Indian children and the Indian Child Welfare Act applied, but the court erred in failing to make specific findings about how or if the facts of the case met the “active efforts” required by clear and convincing evidence prior to removal and beyond a reasonable doubt prior to termination.The district court’s order found that children were Indian children, but neither transcripts nor written orders discussed how the Department of Public Health and Human Services made “active efforts” before removal and before termination. The Supreme Court vacated the district court’s order and remanded the matter for the court to document in detail if the Department met its burden of providing “active efforts” by clear and convincing evidence prior to removal and beyond a reasonable doubt prior to termination pursuant to 25 U.S.C. 1912(d) and 25 CFR 23.2. View "In re B.Y." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court terminating Mother’s parental rights to her two children, holding that the district court erred when it proceeded with termination of Mother’s parental rights before it had a conclusive determination of the children’s status in the Chippewa Cree Tribe and when it did not address whether the Department of Public Health and Human Services made “active efforts” to prevent the breakup of the Indian family and that those efforts were unsuccessful.Specifically, the Court held (1) where the district court had reason to believe that the children may be eligible for enrollment in the Chippewa Cree Tribe, the court failed to satisfy the threshold requirement of the Indian Child Welfare Act to verify the children’s eligibility; (2) the district court did not err when it did not address whether the Department provided “active efforts” pursuant to 25 U.S.C. 1912(d); and (3) Mother’s due process were not violated when the Department raised the issue of abandonment during closing arguments at the termination hearing and Mother’s counsel did not object. View "In re L.A.G." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court terminating the parental rights of A.M., the putative father of P.T.D., holding that the district court was not required to comply with the requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) when terminating A.M.’s parental rights.After P.T.D. was removed from Mother’s custody, the Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division identified P.T.D. as an Indian child subject to the ICWA. See 25 U.S.C. 1912. Later, the Department filed a petition to terminate A.M.’s parental rights as P.T.D.’s putative father. By that time, P.T.D. had been in foster care for nearly two years, and A.M. had no meaningful contact with P.T.D., nor had he established a relationship with the child. The district court determined that termination of A.M.’s parental rights was in P.T.D.’s best interest. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the requirements of ICWA were inapplicable to the facts of this case and that the district court’s decision to terminate A.M.’s parental rights was not clearly erroneous. View "In re P.T.D." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court terminating Mother’s parental rights to her two children, holding that the court erred in proceeding with termination of parental rights in the absence of a conclusive tribal determination regarding each child’s status as an Indian child defined by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a threshold determination of whether the two children were Indian children based on a conclusive tribal determination of tribal membership and eligibility in the Blackfeet Tribe. The Court noted that the district court may re-enter judgment against Mother on the merits of its prior findings of fact and conclusions of law if it found and concluded on a conclusive tribal determination that the two children are not Indian children. View "In re D.E." on Justia Law