Justia Native American Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Oklahoma Supreme Court
In the Matter of S.J.W.
After the Carter County, Oklahoma District Court adjudicated S.J.W. (child) as deprived, Parents-appellants appealed. S.J.W., through child's attorney, filed a motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. S.J.W. claimed the Chickasaw Nation had exclusive jurisdiction pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 1911(a) based on the plain language in the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), because S.J.W. resided within the Chickasaw reservation, notwithstanding the fact that S.J.W. was an Indian child and member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Parents raised two issues to the Oklahoma Supreme Court: (1) whether Oklahoma courts have subject matter jurisdiction over a nonmember Indian child's deprived case arising in Carter County, which was completely within the external, territorial boundaries of the Chickasaw reservation; and (2) if the court did have jurisdiction, whether a delay in the adjudication hearing deprived Parents of their due process rights. With respect to the first issue, the Supreme Court held the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate S.J.W. deprived. Pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 1911(b), the State of Oklahoma shared concurrent territorial jurisdiction with an Indian child's tribe when the Indian child is not domiciled or residing on the Indian child's tribe's reservation. "In our dual federalism system, an Oklahoma district court's subject matter jurisdiction may be limited by the Oklahoma or U.S. Constitution. U.S. Const., amend. X; Okla. Const. art. I, §§ 1, 7(a)." In addition, the Supreme Court found no violation of the Parents' right to due process of law as any delay was not "arbitrary, oppressive or shocking to the conscience of the court," and Parents had a meaningful opportunity to defend throughout the proceeding. View "In the Matter of S.J.W." on Justia Law
Hammer v. Oklahoma
Pro Se respondent-appellant Anthony Hammer (Father) was a member of the Cherokee Nation. His parental rights to his children were terminated, and he sought to collaterally attack the termination order using: McGirt v. Oklahoma, 140 S. Ct. 2452 (2020); the United States' 1866 treaty with the Cherokee, Treaty with the Cherokee, U.S.-Cherokee Nation, July 19, 1866, 14 Stat. 799; and the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Father argued the district court never acquired jurisdiction because the children were domiciled or resided within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's reservation. The district court implicitly found Children were not residents or domiciliaries of a reservation. At no point in the original proceedings did Father or the tribe allege otherwise. No direct appeal was filed from the original order. Instead, Father brought a claim to vacate more than a year after the judgment terminating his parental rights became final. "A motion to vacate is not a substitute for a timely appeal. A judgment will only be vacated as void if the lack of jurisdiction affirmatively appears on the face of the judgment roll." Because Father failed to demonstrate the judgment was void, the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed the order denying Father's motion to vacate. View "Hammer v. Oklahoma" on Justia Law
In the Matter of I.T.S.
Appellant Iris Stacy (Mother) sought certiorari review of an unpublished opinion by the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals (COCA) that affirmed the trial court's judgment terminating her parental rights to I.T.S., I.M.S., and R.E.S. (Children). At issue was the trial court's sua sponte discharge of Mother's court-appointed counsel at the conclusion of the disposition hearing, which left her without representation until State filed its petition to terminate her parental rights over two years later. She argued the trial court's failure to provide her legal representation between the disposition and the filing of the petition to terminate her parental rights (a period of 798 days) was contrary to the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted her petition to address a question of first impression: Upon request by an Indian child's parent for counsel in a deprived child proceeding, and a finding of indigency, whether the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) required court-appointed counsel for the parent at all stages of the deprived child proceeding. The Supreme Court held that section 1912(b) of ICWA required, upon request and a finding of indigency, the appointment of counsel at all stages of the deprived child proceeding. View "In the Matter of I.T.S." on Justia Law
Warehouse Market v. Oklahoma ex rel. Ok. Tax Comm.
Plaintiff-appellee Warehouse Market subleased a commercial building from defendant Pinnacle Management, Inc. The building was on federally restricted Indian land. Subsequently, defendant-appellant, Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Office of Tax Commission (Tribe) both sought to collect sales tax from Warehouse Market. Warehouse Market filed an interpleader action in an attempt to have the court determine which entity to pay. However, the trial court dismissed the Tribe because it had no jurisdiction over it because of the Tribe's sovereign immunity. The trial court then determined that the OTC could not be entitled to the sales tax unless and until the dispute between the OTC and the Tribe was resolved in another forum or tribunal. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that because the substance of Warehouse Market's action/request for relief was a tax protest, exhaustion of administrative remedies was a jurisdictional prerequisite to seeking relief in the trial court. View "Warehouse Market v. Oklahoma ex rel. Ok. Tax Comm." on Justia Law
Treat v. Stitt
The Oklahoma Supreme Court previously declared that certain tribal gaming compacts the Oklahoma Executive branch entered into with the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria Tribes were invalid under Oklahoma law because the gaming compacts authorized certain forms of Class III gaming prohibited by state law. While "Treat I" was pending before the Supreme Court, the Executive branch entered into two additional compacts with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Kialegee Tribal Town. The parties to the compacts submitted the tribal gaming compacts to the United States Department of the Interior, and the Department of the Interior deemed them approved by inaction, only to the extent they are consistent with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined these new compacts were also not valid: for the new compacts to be valid under Oklahoma law, the Executive branch must have negotiated the new compacts within the statutory bounds of the Model Tribal Gaming Compact (Model Compact) or obtained the approval of the Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations. Without proper approval by the Joint Committee, the new tribal gaming compacts were invalid under Oklahoma law. View "Treat v. Stitt" on Justia Law
Treat v. Stitt
Through mediation efforts in connection with a federal lawsuit pending in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, Respondent, the Honorable J. Kevin Stitt, Governor of Oklahoma, negotiated and entered into new tribal gaming compacts with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes to increase state gaming revenues. The tribal gaming compacts were submitted to the United States Department of the Interior, and the Department of the Interior deemed them approved by inaction, only to the extent they were consistent with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes were not parties to this matter; these tribes were sovereign nations and have not submitted to the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The limited question presented to the Oklahoma Supreme Court was whether Governor Stitt had the authority to bind the State with respect to the new tribal gaming compacts with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes. To this, the Supreme Court held he did not. The tribal gaming compacts Governor Stitt entered into with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes authorized certain forms of Class III gaming, including house-banked card and table games and event wagering. Any gaming compact to authorize Class III gaming had to be validly entered into under state law, and it was Oklahoma law that determined whether the compact was consistent with the IGRA. The tribal gaming compacts Governor Stitt entered into with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribes were invalid under Oklahoma law. The State of Oklahoma was not and could not be legally bound by those compacts until such time as the Legislature enacted laws to allow the specific Class III gaming at issue, and in turn, allowing the Governor to negotiate additional revenue. View "Treat v. Stitt" on Justia Law
Video Gaming Technologies v. Rogers County Bd. of Tax Roll Corrections
Video Gaming Technologies, Inc. ("VGT") contended the district court improperly granted summary judgment to the Rogers County Board of Tax Roll Collections ("Board"), the Rogers County Treasurer, and the Rogers County Assessor. VGT is a non-Indian Tennessee corporation authorized to do business in Oklahoma. VGT owns and leases electronic gaming equipment to Cherokee Nation Entertainment, LLC (CNE), a business entity of Nation. Nation was a federally-recognized Indian tribe headquartered in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. CNE owned and operated ten gaming facilities on behalf of Nation. The questions presented to the Oklahoma Supreme Court was whether the district court properly denied VGT's motion for summary judgment and properly granted County's counter-motion for summary judgment. VGT argued that taxation of its gaming equipment was preempted by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) because the property was located on tribal trust land under a lease to Nation for use in its gaming operations. The County argued that ad valorem taxation was justified to ensure integrity and uniform application of tax law. Due to the comprehensive nature of IGRA's regulations on gaming, the federal policies which would be threatened, and County's failure to justify the tax other than as a generalized interest in raising revenue, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that ad valorem taxation of gaming equipment here was preempted, and reversed the order of summary judgment, and remanded for the district court to enter an appropriate order of summary judgment for VGT. View "Video Gaming Technologies v. Rogers County Bd. of Tax Roll Corrections" on Justia Law
Mustang Run Wind Project, LLC v. Osage City Bd of Adjustment
Mustang Run Wind Project, LLC, (Mustang) filed an application with the Osage County Board of Adjustment for a conditional use permit involving approximately 9,500 acres of land. Mustang proposed to use the land for placing sixty-eight wind turbines on less than 150 acres and generating electricity. Public meetings on the proposed wind energy facility were held in April and May 2014. The proposed facility was close to another "wind farm" which had obtained a permit three years previously. Mustang's application included land zoned for agricultural use and was then being used for agriculture and ranching. The County Board of Adjustment denied the application. A trial de novo was held and the trial court ordered the County Board of Adjustment to issue a conditional use permit. The Osage County Board of Adjustment and the Osage Nation appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court held that the Osage County Board of Adjustment possessed authority to grant conditional use permits, but the trial judge's findings were not against the clear weight of the evidence. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment requiring the Board of Adjustment to issue a conditional use permit with any additional reasonable conditions. View "Mustang Run Wind Project, LLC v. Osage City Bd of Adjustment" on Justia Law
In the Matter of M.H.C.
M.H.C. (child) was born in September of 2013. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) placed the child in protective custody on November 5, 2013. In the initial petition filed on November 18, 2013, the State declared the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) were applicable. On November 21, 2013, the Cherokee Nation appeared at the initial appearance, and the natural mother informed the court that she had a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood but was not currently a tribal member. Thereafter, the Cherokee Nation received official notice from the State that it planned to adjudicate the child as deprived. The Cherokee Nation sent DHS a response notifying DHS that the child was eligible for enrollment in the tribe and enclosing a tribal-enrollment application for DHS to complete. After the Cherokee Nation's initial attempt to have DHS complete the enrollment application, the Cherokee Nation sent DHS three additional enrollment applications. The district court ruled the ICWA inapplicable because the mother was not a registered tribal member, the child was not a member either. The natural mother was also told if ICWA applied, the child would likely have to leave foster mother's care because foster mother was a non-ICWA compliant placement. No party informed the natural mother of ICWA's benefits and protections. The natural mother declined to enroll at the time. The district court subsequently found the State broke confidentiality by allowing the Cherokee Nation to attend a family team meeting in a non-ICWA case. The district court granted the Cherokee Nation's motion to transfer the case to tribal court, finding the State failed to provide clear-and-convincing evidence of good cause to deny the transfer. The State and foster mother (together Appellants) appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained the appeal for disposition. Neither DHS, nor the natural mother, nor the child through her attorney objected to the transfer to tribal court jurisdiction. Only the State and the foster mother objected. After review, the Supreme Court found that the district court did not err in finding ICWA applicable upon the natural mother's enrollment in the Cherokee Nation. ICWA applied to the proceedings prospectively from the date the record supports its application. Appellants failed to present clear-and-convincing evidence of "good cause" for the case to remain with the district court. Because the district court did not err in granting the motion to transfer to tribal court, the Court affirmed the order granting the motion to transfer. View "In the Matter of M.H.C." on Justia Law