Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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The "[Indian Child Welfare Act] ICWA and [Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act] WICWA were enacted to remedy the historical and persistent state-sponsored destruction of Native families and communities. . . . The acts provide specific protections for Native children in child welfare proceedings and are aimed at preserving the children’s relationships with their families, Native communities, and identities. The acts also require states to send notice to tribes so that tribes may exercise their independent rights and interests to protect their children and, in turn, the continuing existence of tribes as thriving communities for generations to come." At issue in this case was whether the trial court had “reason to know” that M.G and Z.G. were Indian children at a 72-hour shelter care hearing. The Washington Supreme Court held that a trial court had “reason to know” that a child was an Indian child when a participant in the proceeding indicates that the child has tribal heritage. "We respect that tribes determine membership exclusively, and state courts cannot establish who is or is not eligible for tribal membership on their own." The Court held that an indication of tribal heritage was sufficient to satisfy the “reason to know” standard. Here, participants in a shelter care hearing indicated that M.G. and Z.G. had tribal heritage. The trial court had “reason to know” that M.G. and Z.G. were Indian children, and it erred by failing to apply ICWA and WICWA standards to the proceeding. View "In re Dependency of Z.J.G." on Justia Law

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Granite Northwest sought to expand its mining operations in Yakima County, Washington. The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation (Yakama) opposed the expansion, arguing it would disturb ancient burial grounds and a dedicated historical cemetery. Despite these objections, Yakima County issued a conditional use permit and a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), ch. 43.21C RCW, mitigated determination of nonsignificance to Granite Northwest. Yakama challenged both in superior court. The court later stayed the SEPA challenge while Yakama exhausted its administrative appeal of the conditional use permit as required by the Yakima county code. In Yakama’s administrative appeal, the hearing officer modified the conditional use permit to require a separate permit from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation but affirmed Yakima County’s issuance of the permit. Yakama appealed the hearing examiner’s decision to the county board of commissioners. On April 10, 2018, at a public meeting where Yakama representatives were present, the board passed a resolution affirming the hearing officer’s decision and denying Yakama’s appeal. Three days later, a county planner sent an e-mail and letter to Yakama with the resolution attached. The letter noted the county code required written notification of the decision and stated that the administrative appeal had been exhausted. On May 2, 2018, 22 days after the resolution was adopted and 19 days after the county planner’s letter, Yakama filed a new petition in superior court. Yakima County and Granite Northwest (collectively, Granite NW) moved to dismiss the second petition as untimely under RCW 36.70C.040(4)(b) because the 21-day filing period began on the date the board of commissioners passed its resolution and Yakama’s petition was 1 day late. Granite NW also moved to dismiss the previously stayed petition, arguing the stay was conditional on Yakama timely filing its administrative appeal. Yakama responded that RCW 36.70C.040(4)(b) was inapplicable and instead RCW 36.70C.040(4)(a) governed the filing period, which began when the county planner transmitted the written resolution to Yakama. The superior court agreed with Yakama, finding Yakama’s land use petition was timely filed, and accordingly, did not dismiss Yakama’s earlier petition. The Court of Appeals reversed in an unpublished decision, concluding the later petition was not timely and did not address the previously stayed petition. After review, the Washington Supreme Court concluded Yakama's petition was timely filed. The Court of Appeals was reversed. View "Confederated Tribes & Bands of the Yakama Nation v. Yakima County" on Justia Law

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In 1854, the Washington Territory and nine Native American tribes, including the Squaxin Island Tribe (the Tribe), entered into the 1854 Treaty of Medicine Creek (the Treaty), under which the Tribe relinquished their rights to land but retained “the right of taking fish at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations . . . , in common with all citizens of the Territory.” The District Court for the Western District of Washington has interpreted “fish” under the Treaty to include shellfish. In 1978, Leslie and Harlene Robbins (Robbins) purchased property in Mason County, Washington that included tidelands with manila clam beds. In connection with the purchase of the property, Robbins obtained a standard policy of title insurance from Mason County Title Insurance Company (MCTI) which provided MCTI would insure Robbins “against loss or damage sustained by reason of: . . . [a]ny defect in, or lien or encumbrance on, said title existing at the date hereof.” For years Robbins had contracted with commercial shellfish harvesters to enter Robbins’s property to harvest shellfish from the tidelands. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether MCTI had a duty to defend Robbins when the Tribe announced it planned to assert its treaty right to harvest shellfish from the property. The Court affirmed the Court of Appeals and remanded to the superior court for further proceedings. The Supreme Court held that because the insurance policy conceivably covered the treaty right and no exceptions to coverage applied, MCTI owed the property owners a duty to defend and, in failing to do so, breached the duty. Because this breach was unreasonable given the uncertainty in the law, MCTI acted in bad faith. Further, because the property owners did not seek summary judgment on MCTI’s affirmative defenses, the Supreme Court remanded to the superior court for consideration of the defenses. View "Robbins v. Mason County Title Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The issue in this case centered on the interpretation of the "right to travel" provision Article III of the Yakama Nation Treaty of 1855, in the context of importing fuel into Washington State. The Washington State Department of Licensing (Department) challenged Cougar Den Inc.'s importation of fuel without holding an importer's license and without paying state fuel taxes under former chapter 82.36 RCW, repealed by LAWS OF 2013, ch. 225, section 501, and former chapter 82.38 RCW (2007). An administrative law judge ruled in favor of Cougar Den, holding that the right to travel on highways should be interpreted to preempt the tax. The Department's director, Pat Kohler, reversed. On appeal, the Yakima County Superior Court reversed the director's order and ruled in favor of Cougar Den. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "Cougar Den, Inc. v. Dep't of Licensing" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court’s review was whether the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe's (Tribe) assertion of sovereign immunity requires dismissal of an in rem adverse possession action to quiet title to a disputed strip of land on the boundary of property purchased by the Tribe. The superior court concluded that because it had in rem jurisdiction, it could determine ownership of the land without the Tribe's participation. An inquiry under CR 19, involved a merit-based determination that some interest will be adversely affected in the litigation. Where no interest is found to exist, especially in an in rem proceeding, nonjoinder presents no jurisdictional barriers. The Supreme Court found that the Tribe did not have an interest in the disputed property; therefore, the Tribe's sovereign immunity was no barrier to this in rem proceeding. The trial court properly denied the Tribe's motion to dismiss and granted summary judgment to the property owner. View "Lundgren v. Upper Skagit Indian Tribe" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether a certain governmental charge imposed on Indian tribes was a tax. After the legislature amended a statute to expand the types of tribal property that were eligible for a property tax: exemption, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe applied for and received an exemption on its Salish Lodge property pursuant to the amendment. As required by statute, the tribe negotiated and paid an amount to the county in lieu of taxes. The issue before the Washington Supreme Court centered on the constitutionality of this payment in lieu of tax (PILT). The Court found that the PILT was not a tax at all but, rather, a charge that tribes pay to compensate municipalities for public services provided to the exempt property. View "City of Snoqualmie v. King County Exec. Constantine" on Justia Law

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In June 2013, C.B.(mother) married R.B. (stepfather). C.B. and R.B. filed a petition for termination of parental rights as to C.W. (biological father) and adoption later that month of T.A.W., C.B.'s biological child and an "Indian child" under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), and the Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act (WICWA). C.W. was non-Indian, but C.B. was, and an enrolled member of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe. C.W. had been incarcerated at the time of the termination petition on charges relating to drug abuse and domestic violence. C.W.'s parental rights were ultimately terminated. In reaching its decision, the trial court found that ICWA applied to the termination proceedings and that ICWA's requirements were met beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial court did not require C.B. and R.B. to prove that active efforts were undertaken to remedy C.W.'s parental deficiencies prior to terminating his parental rights and made no finding to that effect. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding: (1) ICWA and WICWA protected non-Indian and Indian parents alike; (2) the trial court erred by not making an active efforts finding; (3) the United States Supreme Court's decision in "Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl," (133 S. Ct. 2552 (2013)), was factually distinguishable; and (4) WICWA had no abandonment exception. C.B. and R.B. appealed. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals' decision and remanded this case to the trial court so that it could reconsider the termination petition in light of those holdings. View "In re Adoption of T.A.W." on Justia Law