ICWA Case out of Texas Court of Appeals Declines to Extend Baby Girl

Here is the opinion.

The Court reversed a termination of parental rights because there was no qualified expert witness testimony. The State argued that because of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, the section of ICWA governing burden of proof and QEW (25 U.S.C. 1912(f)) did not apply. The Court rejected this argument.

In addition, the Court used the 2015 Guidelines to determine if a proper QEW testified:

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has created guidelines for state courts to use in Indian child custody proceedings. Bureau of Indian Affairs Guidelines for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceedings, 80 Fed.Reg. 10147 (February 25, 2015). These guidelines do not have binding legislative effect, but Texas appellate courts have utilized the Guidelines when interpreting ICWA. See In re K.S., 448 S.W.3d 521, 529 (Tex.App.–Tyler 2014, pet. denied) (utilizing the earlier version of the Guidelines); In re J.J.C., 302 S.W.3d 896, 900 (Tex.App.–Waco 2009, no pet.)(same); In re R.R., 294 S.W.3d at 217 (same); see also Yavapai-Apache Tribe v. Mejia, 906 S.W.2d 152, 163-64 (Tex.App.–Houston [14th Dist.] 1995, orig. proceeding). The updated BIA Guidelines address the applicable standards of evidence.

The updated BIA Guidelines address the applicable standards of evidence. Section D.3(b) states:

The court may not order a termination of parental rights unless the court’s order is supported by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, supported by the testimony of one or more qualified expert witnesses, that continued custody of the child by the parent or Indian custodian is likely to result in serious harm to the child. [Emphasis added].

80 Fed.Reg. 10156. Thus, the challenged finding cannot stand unless it is supported by the testimony of a qualified expert witness.

Section D.4 pertains to the qualifications an expert witness must possess.


After reviewing the entire record, we conclude that the challenged finding is not supported by the testimony of a qualified expert witness. The caseworker, Lizette Frias, was not shown to possess the required knowledge or expertise. There is no evidence that Frias is a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe or another tribe, or that she is recognized by any tribe as having substantial experience in the delivery of child and family services to Indians. Further, there is no evidence that she has knowledge of the prevailing social and cultural standards and childrearing practices within the Oglala Sioux tribe.

Appellant Brief
State Brief

Briefing Completed in Nat’l Council for Adoption v. Jewell (Guidelines Litigation) on Motion to Dismiss

Hearing on the matter is set for 11/13. Government’s Reply Brief here.

Even if BAF’s claims were not precluded by the Memorandum Opinion, however, they would fail in their own right. BAF does not have standing, either for itself or to assert the interests of unspecified birth parents, nor has it alleged any basis for this Court to conclude that its claims are ripe. If adoption proceedings are underway, then the Court should abstain from hearing the present suit or dismiss the declaratory relief as contrary to the Anti-Injunction Act. BAF cannot demonstrate that “legal consequences flow” from the Guidelines so as to render them reviewable because it concedes that Defendants do not enforce the Guidelines, and makes no argument that Defendants otherwise treat them as controlling. Nor does BAF cite any binding authority for the propositions that the Guidelines are race-based, that birth parents have a fundamental right to dictate the adoptive placement of their child, that ICWA exceeds the Indian Commerce Clause, or that non-binding Guidelines may commandeer state entities. For these reasons, and because they have not alleged a basis for relief under Bivens, Plaintiffs’ claims fail for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and as a matter of law and must be dismissed.

Previous filings here. (documents 52, 56, 64, 67)

Op-Ed in The Hill’s Congress Blog on Maine TRC and ICWA


ICWA and its guidelines recognize that indigenous children have a right to maintain their cultural and familial relations, and that tribal governments have a sovereign right to protect their children from wholesale removal.  At its core, ICWA is about keeping children with their families and communities, which is why it has been recognized by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and other national child welfare groups as the “gold standard for child welfare policies and practices in the United States.” These aims are consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the United States endorsed in 2010. And the aims are as important today as they were forty years ago when ICWA was passed, given the ongoing issues in Maine, South Dakota, and elsewhere in the United States.

Complaint in National Council for Adoption v. Jewell–Litigation Challenging the 2015 ICWA Guidelines


Plaintiffs argue the 2015 Guidelines violate the APA, due process of birth parents and children, equal protection of birth parents and children, the 10th amendment, and manage a quick sideswipe at ICWA itself on page 38 (exceeds Congress’s authority under the Indian Commerce Clause).