Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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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

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In this case governed by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court to terminate Father’s rights to his minor child (Child), holding that Father’s contentions on appeal were unavailing. Specifically, the Court held (1) Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services provided the active efforts required under 25 U.S.C. 1912(d) to prevent the breakup of an Indian family; (2) Father did not establish that the Child was placed in a foster home in violation of the placement preferences set forth in 25 U.S.C. 1915; and (3) Father’s attorney did not provide ineffective assistance of counsel. View "In re A.L.D." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Water Compact, holding that Mont. Const. art. II, section 18 did not require the Montana Legislature to approve the Compact or its administrative provisions. The Compact, negotiated between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, provided a unified system for the administration of water rights and the resolution of disputes on the reservation. The Compact was approved by the Montana Legislature in 2015. The Flathead Board of Joint Control brought suit against the State seeking to invalidate the Compact. The district court ruled (1) the challenged section of the Compact did not contravene Article II, Section 18 because it did not enact any new immunities from suit; but (2) the challenged section of the administrative provision provided new immunity to the State and, therefore, was covered by Article II, Section 18, and because the provision did not pass by a two-thirds majority of each house, it is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) none of the Compact’s provisions grant any state governmental agency new immunities from a potential lawsuit; and (2) the Legislature’s majority vote to approve and adopt the contract was consistent with subject provisions of the Montana Constitution. View "Flathead Joint Board of Control v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the water court’s denial of Scott Ranch LLC’s petition for adjudication of existing water rights appurtenant to Indian allotment lands it acquired that were previously held in trust by the United States for the benefit of a member of the Apsaalooke (Crow) Tribe. After that member died and the lands were converted to fee status, Scott Ranch filed its petition. In denying the petition, the water court ruled that the lands were part of the Tribal Water Right established by the Crow Water Rights Compact and did not require a separate adjudication. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the water court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate Scott Ranch’s claims and erroneously proceeded to address the merits of the petition. View "Scott Ranch, LLC" on Justia Law

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Robert Crawford was pulled over by Flathead Tribal Police Officer Casey Couture on the Flathead Reservation. Crawford was allowed to leave but was then informed that he was in violation of his parole because he did not have permission to be traveling in that area. Crawford was arrested upon a warrant issued for parole violations and then charged with criminal possession of dangerous drugs. A jury found him guilty. Thereafter, Crawford filed this action in state court against Couture, the Flathead Tribal Police Department, and the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribal Government alleging numerous claims due to inappropriate conduct by Couture. The district court dismissed Crawford’s claims based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction and the sovereign immunity of the Tribe. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court properly dismissed Crawford’s claims based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction and sovereign immunity. View "Crawford v. Couture" on Justia Law