Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries
In re K.S.
In consolidated appeals, a mother challenged decisions by the family division of the superior court denying her motions for an extension of time to file a notice of appeal and to vacate the order terminating her parental rights to K.S., and concluding that K.S. was not an Indian child for purposes of the Indian Child Welfare Act. In March 2018, a relative reported that mother had “tossed” K.S. onto a bed during a family argument and that father had used excessive physical discipline on K.S.’s older brother. K.S. was later found to have a buckle fracture on her wrist, which her parents were unable to explain. The Department for Children and Families (DCF) sought and obtained emergency custody of K.S. and her brother, and filed petitions alleging that they were children in need of care or supervision (CHINS). Mother and father later stipulated to the merits of the CHINS petitions. At the October hearing, mother testified that she understood that she was permanently giving up her parental rights, that her decision was voluntary, and that she believed the decision was in K.S.’s best interests. The court accepted the parties’ stipulations and granted the termination petitions. In December 2019, mother hired a new attorney, who filed a motion for relief from the termination order pursuant to Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). Mother alleged that the attorney who represented her at the relinquishment hearing had rendered ineffective assistance, that the underlying facts did not support termination of mother’s parental rights, and that her relinquishment was involuntary because she did not understand the proceedings. The family division denied the motion, finding that mother’s relinquishment was knowing and voluntary and not the result of coercion by DCF or the foster parents. The court further concluded that it was not required to conduct a separate "best interests" analysis when mother voluntarily relinquished her rights, and she failed to establish that her counsel’s performance was ineffective. Mother untimely filed her notice of appeal, and while a decision on the untimely notice was pending, she filed a second motion to vacate the termination order, adding the argument that the court failed to give notice to the Cherokee tribes or to apply the substantive provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Vermont Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the termination orders. View "In re K.S." on Justia Law
Yellen v. Confederated Tribes of Chehalis Reservation
Title V of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocates $8 billion to “Tribal governments” to compensate for unbudgeted expenditures made in response to COVID–19, 42 U.S.C. 801(a)(2)(B). A “Tribal government” is the “recognized governing body of an Indian tribe” as defined in the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA), which refers to “any Indian tribe, band, nation, or other organized group or community, including any Alaska Native village or regional or village corporation as defined in or established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), which is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians.” 25 U.S.C. 5304(e).Consistent with the Department of the Interior’s view that Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) are Indian tribes under ISDA, the Department of the Treasury determined that ANCs are eligible for Title V relief, although ANCs are not “federally recognized tribes” (i.e., tribes with which the United States has entered into a government-to-government relationship). Federally recognized tribes sued. The D.C. Circuit reinstated the suit following summary judgment.The Supreme Court reversed. ANCs are “Indian tribe[s]” under ISDA and eligible for funding under Title V.. ANCs are “established pursuant to” ANCSA and “recognized as eligible” for that Act’s benefits. ANCSA, which made ANCs eligible to select tens of millions of acres of land and receive hundreds of millions of tax-exempt dollars, 43 U.S.C. 1605, 1610, 1611, is a special program provided by the United States to “Indians.” Given that ANCSA is the only statute ISDA’s “Indian tribe” definition mentions by name, eligibility for ANCSA’s benefits satisfies the definition’s “recognized-as-eligible” clause. The Court noted that even if ANCs did not satisfy the recognized-as-eligible clause, they would still satisfy ISDA’s definition of an “Indian tribe.” View "Yellen v. Confederated Tribes of Chehalis Reservation" on Justia Law
In re Dependency of G.J.A.
At issue in this case was whether the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (Department) met its burden under the Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act (WICWA) to provide active efforts to reunify C.A. with her children. After review, the Washington Supreme Court held the Department failed to provide active efforts when it provided untimely referrals and only passively engaged with C.A. from January through June 2019. The Supreme Court also held that the dependency court impermissibly applied the futility doctrine when it speculated that even had the Department acted more diligently, C.A. would not have been responsive. Therefore, the dependency court’s finding that the Department satisfied the active efforts requirement from January through June 2019 was reversed. The matter was remanded and the dependency court directed to order the Department to provide active efforts in accordance with the Court's opinion before the court proceeds to hear the filed termination of parental rights petitions. View "In re Dependency of G.J.A." on Justia Law
Interest of K.B.
J.B. appealed a juvenile court order terminating her parental rights. On appeal, J.B. argued that the district court erred in terminating her parental rights, because the qualified expert witness’s testimony did not satisfy the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The North Dakota Supreme Court remanded for additional, specific findings under the ICWA: "A qualified expert witness’s expressed preference to deny termination of parental rights does not preclude the court from making findings sufficient to satisfy ICWA and ordering termination." View "Interest of K.B." on Justia Law
Deschutes River Alliance v. Portland General Electric Co.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for PGE and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon in a citizen suit brought by DRA, alleging that PGE was operating the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project (the Project) in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA).The panel agreed with the district court that the Tribe was a required party, but disagreed on the question of the Tribe's sovereign immunity. The panel held that the CWA did not abrogate the Tribe's immunity and that the suit should have been dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19. The panel concluded that the inclusion of "an Indian tribe" in the definition of "municipality" (and, in turn, in the definition of "person") does not indicate—let alone clearly indicate—that Congress intended in the CWA to subject tribes to unconsented suits. The panel agreed with the district court that the Tribe is a required party because it has a legally protected interest in the subject of the suit that may be impaired by proceedings conducted in its absence. Therefore, the Tribe's sovereign immunity requires dismissal of this suit, in which DRA challenges the operation of a large hydroelectric project co-owned and co-operated by the Tribe, and located partly on the Tribe's reservation. The panel did not reach the question of whether PGE and the Tribe violated the CWA. The panel remanded with instructions to vacate the judgment and to dismiss the suit for failure to join the Tribe. View "Deschutes River Alliance v. Portland General Electric Co." 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
Big Sandy Rancheria Enterprises v. Bonta
California cigarette tax regulations apply to inter-tribal sales of cigarettes by a federally chartered tribal corporation wholly owned by a federally recognized Indian tribe.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by Big Sandy, a chartered tribal corporation wholly owned and controlled by the Big Sandy Rancheria of Western Mono Indians, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the Attorney General of California and the Director of the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration regarding taxes applied to inter-tribal sales of cigarettes.The panel concluded that the district court properly dismissed the Corporation's fifth cause of action on jurisdictional grounds pursuant to the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. 1341, and properly declined to apply the Indian tribes exception to the Tax Injunction Act's jurisdictional bar. The panel also concluded that the district court properly dismissed the Corporation's remaining causes of action challenging the Directory Statute and California's licensing, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements in connection with cigarette distribution. In this case, the Corporation challenged the Directory Law on two grounds: (1) applying the challenged regulations to the Corporation's cigarette sales to tribal retailers on other reservations violates "principles of Indian tribal self-governance;" and (ii) federal regulation of "trade with Indians within Indian country" under the Indian Trader Statutes preempts the challenged regulations as applied to the Corporation's intertribal wholesale cigarette business. The panel concluded that the district court properly dismissed both theories for failure to state a claim. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the district court's dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. View "Big Sandy Rancheria Enterprises v. Bonta" on Justia Law
United States v. Martinez
Defendant-Appellant Eric Martinez appealed a district court’s imposition of a 27-month sentence for his burglary conviction under the Indian Major Crimes Act. In February 2016, Martinez and two accomplices burglarized a residence within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation in McKinley County, New Mexico. During the burglary, Martinez used a hammer to break a hole in the front door near the doorknob to gain entry to the residence. He and his accomplices took valuable items from the residence, including electronics, jewelry, and ceremonial shawls and robes. Martinez ultimately pled guilty to an “assimilated” New Mexico burglary offense under N.M. Stat. Ann. 30-16-3. At sentencing, Martinez argued that federal law permitted the district court to impose a conditional discharge, which would allow a term of probation without entry of a judgment of conviction -- a sentence possible had his case been adjudicated in New Mexico state court. He also objected to a two-level sentencing enhancement under U.S.S.G. 2B2.1(b)(4) for possessing a dangerous weapon on the basis that he did not use the hammer as a weapon during the burglary. The district court rejected these arguments. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Martinez’s conviction and sentence. View "United States v. Martinez" on Justia Law
Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation v. Klickitat County
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's holding, following a bench trial, that the Yakama Reservation includes a 121,465.69-acre tract (Tract D) that partially overlaps with Klickitat County. The present dispute between the Yakamas and Klickitat County arose when the County attempted to prosecute P.T.S., a minor and enrolled Yakama member, for acts that occurred within Tract D. Contending that Klickitat County lacked jurisdiction to prosecute P.T.S. for an incident that took place within Tract D, the Yakamas filed suit against the County, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.Under the highly deferential clear error standard, the panel upheld the district court's findings that the spur described in the Treaty does not exist and that the Yakamas understood the Treaty to include Tract D within the Reservation's boundaries. Applying de novo review, the panel concluded that the Treaty language is inherently ambiguous. Consequently, in light of the Indian canon of construction, the panel agreed with the district court's interpretation that the Treaty included Tract D within the Reservation. Finally, the panel held that Congress did not conclusively exclude Tract D from the Reservation through the 1904 Act. View "Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation v. Klickitat County" on Justia Law
Kalispel Tribe of Indians v. U.S. Department of the Interior
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of the DOI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, federal officials, and the Spokane Tribe of Indians, in an action brought by the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, challenging the Secretary of DOI's decision determining that the Spokane Tribe of Indians' proposed gaming establishment on newly acquired off-reservation land would not be detrimental to the surrounding community. Kalispel raised challenges pursuant to the the Administrative Procedure Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.The panel held that IGRA requires the Secretary to weigh and consider the various interests of those within the surrounding community when deciding whether additional off-reservation gaming would be detrimental to the surrounding community. A showing that additional gaming may be detrimental to some members of the surrounding community, including an Indian tribe, does not dictate the outcome of the Secretary's two-step determination. The panel agreed with the DC Circuit and rejected Kalispel's argument that any detriment to Kalispel precluded the Secretary from issuing a favorable two-part determination. Rather, the panel concluded that the Secretary had the authority to issue a two-step determination, and the Secretary's decision to issue a favorable decision here was neither arbitrary nor capricious. The panel declined to reach the merits of Kalispel's contention, which was not advanced in the district court, that the Secretary previously announced a policy that additional off-reservation gaming would not be approved if a nearby Indian tribe could show that additional gaming would be detrimental to it. Finally, the panel concluded that Kalispel has not shown that the Secretary failed to consider its claimed harms or to comply with the relevant statutes and regulations, and thus it has not shown that the Secretary violated the federal government's trust duty owed to Kalispel. View "Kalispel Tribe of Indians v. U.S. Department of the Interior" on Justia Law