New Mexico Notice and Time Frame Case from Court of Appeals [ICWA]

Children, Youth & Families Department v. Tanisha G. and Isaac G.

This is an interesting and remarkable case, and a way to deal with continued notice violations and delay by an agency. Here are the highlights of this disturbing case of agency overreach:

CYFD took Child, then age four, into custody on January 26, 2018, after the 12 Bernalillo County Sheriffs Office executed a warrant for Father’s arrest, leaving no caregiver in the home to care for Child.

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Parents were served with the petition on February 6, 2018. By that time, Father  had been released from custody and the charges against him dropped; his arrest was apparently the product of mistaken identity.

Meanwhile,

In the ensuing seventy-seven days, the parties appeared for three hearings: a status conference on February 27, 2018, and two adjudicatory hearings that had been set for April 2, 2018, and April 24, 2018, respectively. The district court declined to 14 commence the adjudication on either April 2 or April 24, however, because although CYFD had mailed ICWA notices to several tribal entities on February 8, 2018, and the tribal entities had received those notices shortly thereafter, CYFD had not filed proof of service to establish receipt in the record.

On April 25, 2018, Parents filed separate motions to dismiss, arguing that 19 CYFD had failed to commence the adjudication within sixty days as required by the Abuse and Neglect Act.

THEN,

The district court heard the motions to dismiss on the morning of May 24, 6 2018, at which time CYFD orally moved for an extension of time to commence the adjudicatory hearing. The district court denied CYFD’s request, noting that the court and parties had attempted multiple times to commence the adjudication, that CYFD’s failure to comply with ICWA’s notice requirements had precluded the court from timely adjudicating the matter, that the court had reminded CYFD that the time limits were running, and that CYFD had failed to file a motion to extend the time limits when the parties were last in court.  The district court granted the Parents’ motions to dismiss the petition with prejudice.

Hours later, Father filed an emergency motion for contempt of court, stating that arrangements had been made for Child to be reunited with Parents at 11: 15 a.m., but CYFD refused to return Child. The district court conducted an emergency hearing at 3:00 p.m., during which CYFD stated that it intended to file a motion to reconsider or, alternatively, to stay the judgment. The district court admonished CYFD for keeping Child without jurisdiction and ordered reunification before 5:00 p.m. that day, which occurred. CYFD appeals the district court’s dismissal order.

The Court of Appeals upholds the lower courts dismissal and ADDS THIS:

Finally, we briefly address CYFD’s assertion that the district court “was … inexplicably dismissive of [CYFD]’s concerns for Child’s welfare, which is not only an abuse of discretion, but demonstrates a conscious disregard by the [district] court of its statutory duty to ensure that ‘a child’s health and safety shall be the paramount concern.'” Contrary to CYFD’s characterization, however, we note that the district court heard from Father’s attorney that the conditions in the home had been remedied. The guardian ad litem (GAL) reiterated that Parents’ attorneys had suggested that the home was now clean and safe for Child. The GAL stated that Child and Parents share a strong bond and that Child was suffering from anxiety due to his separation from Parents. The GAL believed it was safe to return Child to  Parents. Moreover, the criminal allegations against Father, which had brought Child into CYFD’s custody in the first place, were a product of mistaken identity and had been dismissed months earlier. Based upon this testimony, we disagree with CYFD’s characterization that the district court disregarded Child’s health and safety.