Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

by
D.L. (Mother) is the biological mother of four children: E.L., Child 1, now 15 years old; E.R.O., Child 2, now 11; L.O., Child 3, now 10; and E.O.O., Child 4, now 7. E.O. (Father) is the presumed father of Child 1 and the biological father of the other children. In January 2015, Father began a two-year term in the Ventura County jail. Aida R. was appointed legal guardian of the children.   Mother contends the trial court abused its discretion in denying her request to reopen the evidence to allow her to testify. Mother contends the trial court failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA). Mother argues that ICWA is a substantial right, and her counsel may not waive a substantial right without her consent.   The Second Appellate District affirmed the orders and found that the ICWA does not apply. The court explained that the circumstances here, however, warrant application of Code of Civil Procedure section 909. The court wrote that remand would unnecessarily delay the likelihood of adoption of the children and would achieve the same result the court found here. View "In re E.L." on Justia Law

by
Father appealed the juvenile court’s order terminating his and Mother’s parental rights and finding that the child, J.R., was adoptable. The Second Appellate District conditionally reversed that order because the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS or the agency) violated Mother’s due process rights.The court explained that the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “[n]o State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . . .” (U.S. Const., 14th Amend., Section 1.) Except in emergent circumstances, this provision guarantees reasonable notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard before the state may deprive a person of a protected liberty or property interest. Because parents have a fundamental liberty interest in the companionship, care, custody, and management of their children, the due process clause requires child welfare agencies to exercise reasonable diligence in attempting to locate and notify them of dependency proceedings.   The court explained that this case presents a textbook example of a due process violation. DCFS initiated dependency proceedings concerning J.R. on the ground that his father physically abused him. Even though Father told the agency at the outset of the proceedings that Mother resided in El Salvador, the record does not show that DCFS made any attempt to ascertain Mother’s location in that country. The court concluded that Father has standing to assert DCFS’s violation of Mother’s due process rights. View "In re J.R." on Justia Law

by
T.T. (Mother) challenged a juvenile court’s finding that the federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) did not apply to the dependency proceedings concerning her son, Dominick D. She argued the juvenile court failed to ensure that San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS) discharged its duty of initial inquiry into Dominick’s possible Indian ancestry under California Welfare & Institutions Code section 224.2(b). To this, the Court of Appeal agreed, but declined to address the parties’ arguments concerning harmlessness, because ICWA inquiry and notice errors did not warrant reversal of the juvenile court’s jurisdictional or dispositional findings and orders other than the finding that ICWA did not apply. The Court accordingly vacated that finding and remanded for compliance with ICWA and related California law, but otherwise affirmed. View "In re Dominick D." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court affirming the judgment of the standing master amending the parties' parenting plan regarding their minor child, L.D.C., and the related standing master judgment denying Mother's subsequent motion to transfer jurisdiction to the Tribal Court of the Blackfeet Indian Tribe, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.Mother and Father, members of the Blackfeet Indian Tribe, entered into a final parenting plan providing for them to co-equally parent L.D.C. The standing master later entered a written judgment amending the parties' parenting plan to place L.D.C. exclusively in Father's custody and care. Mother subsequently filed a state court motion for "transfer" of jurisdiction over the matter to the tribal court and a parallel child custody petition in the tribal court. The standing master denied both motions, and the district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) had jurisdiction to amend the prior parenting plan; and (2) properly amended the prior parenting plan. View "In re Parenting of L.D.C." on Justia Law

by
Wisconsin assessed property taxes on lands within four Ojibwe Indian reservations. The tribal landowners have tax immunity under an 1854 Treaty, still in effect, that created the reservations on which they live. Supreme Court cases recognize a categorical presumption against Wisconsin’s ability to levy its taxes absent Congressional approval. The parcels in question are fully alienable; their current owners can sell them at will because the parcels were sold by past tribal owners to non-Indians before coming back into tribal ownership. Wisconsin argued that the act of alienating reservation property to a non-Indian surrendered the parcel’s tax immunity. No circuit court has considered whether the sale of tax-exempt tribal land to a non-Indian ends the land’s tax immunity as against all subsequent tribal owners, nor does Supreme Court precedent supply an answer.The district court ruled in favor of the state. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Once Congress has demonstrated a clear intent to subject land to taxation by making it alienable, Congress must make an unmistakably clear statement to render it nontaxable again but these Ojibwe lands have never become alienable at Congress’s behest. Congress never extinguished their tax immunity. The relevant inquiry is: who bears the legal incidence of the tax today--all the relevant parcels are presently held by Ojibwe tribal members. View "Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin v. Evers" on Justia Law

by
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

by
The Chickasaw Nation, a sovereign and federally recognized Indian tribe, operates its own healthcare system, which includes five pharmacies. Under federal law, members of federally recognized Native nations are eligible to receive healthcare services at the nations’ facilities at no charge, and a nation may recoup the cost of services that it provides to a tribal member from that member’s health insurance plan. Caremark is the pharmacy benefit manager for health insurance plans that cover many tribal members served by the Chickasaw Nation’s pharmacies. The Nation signed agreements with Caremark. Each of these agreements incorporated by reference a Provider Agreement and a Provider Manual. The Provider Manual included an arbitration provision with a delegation clause requiring the arbitrator, rather than the courts, to resolve threshold issues about the scope and enforceability of the arbitration provision. The Nation sued Caremark, claiming violations of 25 U.S.C. Section 1621e, a provision of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act referred to as the “Recovery Act.”   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order granting the petition to compel arbitration. The court rejected the Nation’s argument that it did not actually form contracts with Caremark that included arbitration provisions with delegation clauses. The court concluded that the premise of the Nation’s argument— that an arbitration agreement always and necessarily waives tribal sovereign immunity—was incorrect. Rather, the arbitration agreement simply designated a forum for resolving disputes for which immunity was waived. View "CAREMARK, LLC V. CHICKASAW NATION" on Justia Law

by
Defendant appealed after a jury convicted him of abusive sexual contact of a minor. Defendant contends the evidence was insufficient to establish the offense occurred in Indian Country, that the district court erred by admitting uncharged conduct as propensity evidence, and that the use of acquitted conduct to increase his sentence violated his constitutional rights.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained Major Crimes Act gives the federal government exclusive jurisdiction over certain crimes committed by an Indian within Indian Country, including abusive sexual contact. Here, the deputy superintendent of the trust for the BIA’s Yankton Agency with nearly 32 years of experience, testified that the tract was part of the Yankton Sioux Reservation in 2006. Accordingly, the court held that it would not disturb the conviction because the deputy’s testimony provided a reasonable basis for the jury to find the offense occurred in Indian Country. Further, the court wrote that in affording great weight to the district court’s balancing, it found no abuse of discretion in admitting the evidence under Rules 413 and 414. View "United States v. Frank Sanchez" on Justia Law

by
Defendant, a mother of ten children, was accused of physically abusing several of her children. In November 2017, the court sustained allegations of a petition and ordered the children removed from the parents. Throughout the proceedings, DCFS was given contact information for and/or had contact with a variety of extended family members. However, there was no indication in the record that an ICWA inquiry was made of any of these extended family members.Defendant claims that CFS failed to make an adequate ICWA inquiry because it did not of certain family members. Thus, Defendant asked the court to send the case back to the juvenile court. DCFS countered that Defendant denied any Indian ancestry, which is sufficient to end the inquiry.The Second Appellate District found that there was no evidence conflicting with Defendant's statement that her children were not of Indian ancestry. Additionally, the court concluded that the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion by finding that DCFS made a proper and adequate inquiry and acted with due diligence. And finally, even if the juvenile court erred by finding DCFS’s inquiry adequate, that error was not prejudicial. View "In re Ezequiel G." on Justia Law

by
In two separate cases, an Alaska superior court decided that it could not terminate parental rights to children with alleged Indian heritage without cultural expert testimony, and that the cultural expert testimony presented was too vague and generalized to be helpful. Although it was error to construe the Alaska Supreme Court precedent to require cultural expert testimony in every ICWA case, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision to require expert testimony based on its explanation that it could not competently weigh the evidence of harm in these cases without cultural context. And because the cultural expert testimony presented did not provide a meaningful assessment of tribal social and cultural standards and was not grounded in the facts of these particular cases, the Supreme Court held the court did not clearly err by giving the testimony no weight. The Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's decision to deny termination of parental rights in each case. View "Alaska Dept. Health & Soc. Serv. v. C.A., et al." on Justia Law