Jurisdiction Case out of Alaska Supreme Court [ICWA]

sp-ord-116

These kind of cases feel like they are coming in a rapid speed right now–this is the third one I am aware of that have been/will be decided this spring. The issue is the attempted interference by foster parents in a transfer to tribal court proceeding, usually by trying to achieve party status.

Having considered the parties’ briefing — and assuming without deciding
both that J.P. and S.P. were granted intervenor-party status in the superior court and that such a grant of intervenor-party status would have been appropriate4 — we dismiss this
appeal as moot.
“If the party bringing the action would not be entitled to any relief even
if it prevails, there is no ‘case or controversy’ for us to decide,” and the action is
therefore moot.5 As explained in our order of July 9, 2021, even if we were to rule that
the superior court erred in transferring jurisdiction, we lack the authority to order the
court of the Sun’aq Tribe, a separate sovereign, to transfer jurisdiction of the child’s
proceeding back to state court.6 And we lack authority to directly review the tribal
court’s placement order.7

The Court cites my all time favorite transfer case–In re M.M. from 2007. Not only is that decision a complete endorsement of tribal jurisdiction, it also explains concurrent jurisdiction (especially useful when you are operating in a PL280 state), which is not the power to have simultaneous jurisdiction, but the power to chose between two jurisdictions.

When we speak of “concurrent jurisdiction,” we refer to a situation in which two (or perhaps more) different courts are authorized to exercise jurisdiction over the same subject matter, such that a litigant may choose to proceed in either forum.FN13 As the Minnesota Supreme Court explained in a case involving an Indian tribe, “[c]oncurrent jurisdiction describes a situation where two or more tribunals are authorized to hear and dispose of a matter *915 and the choice of which tribunal is up to the person bringing the matter to court.” (Gavle, supra, 555 N.W.2d at p. 290.) Contrary to Minor’s apparent belief, that two courts have concurrent jurisdiction does not mean that both courts may simultaneously entertain actions involving the very same subject matter and parties.