2016 ICWA Appellate Cases by the Numbers

Here’s our annual contribution to the ICWA data discussion. While a few cases might yet come in, we have our final list of 2016 appealed ICWA cases sorted. A note on the data–these are cases that are on Westlaw and/or Lexis Nexis, and ICWA (or state equivalent) was litigated. We 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. These are standard state court ICWA cases, and do not include any of the ongoing federal litigation. We did this last year as well. Sadly no, I haven’t yet published this anywhere but Turtle Talk, and yes, it is next on the to-do list. 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 175 appealed ICWA cases this year, down 74 from last year. There were 30 reported ICWA cases this year. As always, California leads the states with 114 cases, 10 reported. Michigan is second with 13, 2 reported. Texas, which didn’t have any cases we could find last year, had 7 cases this year, 1 reported. Then Iowa with 6, 1 reported, Oklahoma with 4 reported, Nebraska with 3, 2 reported, and Alaska and Arizona with 3, 1 reported each. States with 2 appealed ICWA cases include Arkansas (none reported), Indiana (none reported), Ohio (none reported), Oregon (2 reported), Washington (1 reported), Illinois (1 reported). Finally the following states had 1 ICWA case: Idaho, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, Kansas, North Carolina, Vermont, Kentucky, and Massachusetts.

In California, the cases further breakdown to 37 in the 4th Appellate District, 33 in the 2nd, 24 in the 1st, 9 in the 5th, 6 in the 3rd, and 3 in the 6th. California is the only state where we track by appellate districts at this time.

Supreme Courts in Oklahoma (2), Alaska (2), Idaho, Nebraska (2), South Dakota, California (2), Vermont and Washington all decided ICWA cases this year.

Of the 175 total appeals, 90 were affirmed, 67 were remanded, 14 were reversed, and the four remaining were affirmed in part and reversed in part (1), denied as moot (1), dismissed (1), vacated and remanded (1).

Top litigated issues were as follows: Notice (106), Inquiry (21), Placement Preferences (10), Active Efforts (8), Determination of Indian Child (8), Burden of Proof (5), Transfer to Tribal Court (5), Intervention, Termination of Parental Rights, Existing Indian Family, (2 cases for each one). The other cases with 1 each: Qualified Expert Witness, Indian Custodian, Tribal Customary Adoption, Application to Divorce, Ineffective Assistance of Counsel, Foster Care Placement

52 different tribes are represented in the first named tribe in a case. There were 56 cases involving claims of Cherokee citizenship. Of those appeals, 48 involved issues of notice and inquiry. In 21 cases the tribe was unknown (parent did not know name of tribe). In 14, the tribe was unnamed (court did not record name of tribe in the opinion).

4 cases were appealed by tribes (Cherokee Nation, Gila River, Shoshone Bannock). 92 were appealed by mom, 49 by dad, and 24 by both. Other parties who appealed include agency (1), child’s attorney (1), foster parents (1), great aunt and uncle (1), Indian custodian (1), and state and foster mother (1).