2018 ICWA by the Numbers

Here’s our annual contribution to the ICWA data discussion. I’m nearing to the final set of 2018 ICWA cases. A note on the data–these are cases that are on Westlaw and/or Lexis Nexis, and ICWA (or state equivalent) was litigated. I collect the case name, the date, the court, the state, whether the case is reported (also called published) or not, the top two issues, up to three named tribes, the outcome of the case, and who appealed the case. I’m also still cleaning some of these numbers, so take this as it is–a quick and dirty survey of the cases.

These are standard state court ICWA cases, and  do not include any of the ongoing federal litigation. This is our fourth year writing this post (2015 and 2016 and 2017). Last year Addie Smith and I managed to get a survey completed and published for 2017. This year, we are dreadfully behind, but are still planning to have this into the American Indian Law Journal later this month. If you know we are missing a case based on the numbers, and it’s publicly available, *please* send it to me [fort at law.msu.edu] so we can add it. I’m also happy to answer questions at the same email.

There were 206 appealed ICWA cases this year, down 7 from last year. However, there were 50 reported cases this year, which is nearly 20 more than last year. As always, California leads the states with 125 cases, 9 were reported. Alaska is second with 11, 3 reported. Montana had 10, including 7 reported, which is up considerably from last year. Colorado had 8, 7 reported, as did Michigan with 2 reported. Arkansas had 6, with 5 reported, and Arizona, Ohio, and Texas all had four (1, 3, 1 reported, respectively). Illinois had three (finally) though reported none of them, and Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Washington all had two (only Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Dakota reported their cases).  Finally the following states had 1 appellate ICWA case: Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Wisconsin, North Dakota.

In California, the cases further breakdown as follows. The Second District and Third District both reported 2 cases, and the Fourth District reported 5 for a total of nine. The remaining 116 cases are spread through out the state, thought the Fourth, Second, and First have the highest number of appealed cases, followed by the Third, Fifth, and Sixth with the fewest. California is the only state where we track by appellate districts at this time.

Supreme Courts reported ICWA decisions in 17 cases this year, including in Alaska (3), Montana (7), Michigan (1), Nebraska (1), Nevada (1), North Dakota (1), South Dakota (2),  (of course some of these states don’t have an intermediate court of appeals–the remaining 11 unreported Supreme Court cases all come out of Alaska and Montana, for example).

125 of the cases affirmed the lower court, while 79 were remanded or reversed.

Top litigated issues across both reported and unreported cases were as follows: Notice (86), Inquiry (43), Placement Preferences (9), Active Efforts (13), Termination of Parental Rights (18), Foster Care Proceeding (4), Transfer to Tribal Court (1), and QEW (1). Also the cases determining if there is an Indian child are up (7), and cases involving California’s Tribal Customary Adoption popped up (4). Only 2 cases involved placement preferences this year. This year 44 of the Notice cases and 23 of the Inquiry cases were remanded for proper notice. The Notice cases are down from last year, and the other issues are up.

59 different tribes were named as the first named tribe in a case. In 27 cases the tribe was unknown (parent did not know name of tribe). In 24, the tribe was unnamed (court did not record name of tribe in the opinion).

Finally, of all the cases, not a single one was appealed by a tribe (that I can find). Cases  were appealed by mom, dad, mom AND dad, the guardian ad litem, aunt, prospective adoptive couple, and the state.

Cases I have been specifically highlighting in my presentations this year are as follows:

Colorado (Notice and Appellate Instruction)

Colorado (Foster Care Proceeding)

Minnesota (QEW)

Oklahoma (reason to know)

Ohio (transfer to tribal court)

South Dakota (application of Texas v. Zinke/Brackeen v. Zinke)

Other major ICWA stories this year that are not reflected in this post include, obviously, Texas v. Zinke, the dismissal of the Oglala Sioux class action case by the Eighth Circuit, and the spread of ICWA pro hac vice rules.