California Inquiry and Notice Case [ICWA]

Ok, remember when I said this morning the California inquiry and notice process is in a . . . growth process? Here is another example. This case disagrees with the really not great In re Austin J. case and is from the same appellate district

In re T.G. returns to the low bar for notice and inquiry California appellate courts have traditionally adhered to. 

We agree the Department failed to adequately investigate Tamara’s claim of Indian ancestry and the juvenile court failed to ensure an appropriate inquiry had been conducted before concluding, if it ever actually did, ICWA did not apply to these proceedings. In reaching this result, we disagree with the holding in In re Austin J. (2020) 47 Cal.App.5th 870, 888-889 (Austin J.) that amendments enacted by Assembly Bill No. 3176 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.) (Assembly Bill 3176) were intended to limit the Department’s robust duty of inquiry. Accordingly, we conditionally reverse the orders for legal guardianship and remand the matters to allow the Department and the juvenile court to rectify their errors and to take all other necessary corrective actions.

So again, if you are practicing in California, this is a vital area to be following. If you are not practicing in California, I think it’s worth seeing how the new changes to the state laws shake out on appeals this year (2021). If you are a tribal attorney, know that California is supposed to be contacting a tribe very early in the proceedings, even if it is not with a formal notice packet. 

Notice Case out of California [ICWA]

If you find the current published notice and inquiry cases out of California particularly confusing, join the club (and I’ve been trying to sort them out!). I think the important thing for tribal attorneys to know is that California is trying to do very early contact during the inquiry phase before they send formal notice. For some tribes this is very welcome, and for others, it’s a big change in practice. However, this does mean that California is trying to formalized very specific steps into law–from initial inquiry, reason to believe, further inquiry, reason to know, notice (I think). This means California case law probably won’t be particularly useful in this area in other state appeals.  

Inquiry and Notice Case out of California (Published!)[ICWA]


At the detention hearing, Father said he had Native American Indian heritage, but he was unable to identify the correct tribe. Father believed his heritage was through his paternal grandmother. He provided CWS and the juvenile court with the names of his father and grandmother.


Father argues CWS failed to comply with ICWA requirements and the juvenile court did not make findings on whether ICWA applied. He contends the court was “not authorized to proceed with foster care placement until ICWA notice has been sent and received.” He is correct.


Here, CWS had reason to know the children might be Indian children. Accordingly, CWS was required to comply with ICWA notification requirements at least 10 days before the disposition hearing, because the hearing was an involuntary proceeding in which CWS “was seeking to have the temporary placement continue[d].” (Jennifer A., supra, 103 Cal.App.4th at pp. 700-701; 25 U.S.C. § 1912(a).)

This is very different from the reasoning applied by the Washington Court of Appeals here.

California COA ICWA Notice Case

Here is the opinion in In re Michael V.

An excerpt:

Kristina C., the mother of five-year-old Alissa M. and two-year-old K.C., appeals the juvenile court‟s September 29, 2105 order terminating her parental rights and identifying adoption as the permanent plan for her two daughters. Kristina contends the court and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (Department) failed to comply with the inquiry and notice requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) (25 U.S.C. § 1901 et seq.). We agree the Department failed to adequately investigate Kristina‟s claim of Indian ancestry, remand the matter to allow the Department and the juvenile court to fully comply with ICWA and related California law and otherwise conditionally affirm the order.

California Court of Appeals, 2nd District (17 reported and unreported notice appeals so far in 2016), continues to state what the Department’s role is in ICWA notice and inquiry:

The Department’s brief in this court reflects its misunderstanding of its duty to meet ICWA’s requirements. The Department attempts to defend its investigation by asserting, “Mother’s paternal aunt, who was present at the detention hearing, also never spoke up to indicate mother’s paternal family believed mother might have Indian heritage.” It was not the paternal great-aunt’s obligation to speak up; it was the Department’s obligation to inquire, an affirmative and continuing duty imposed by both ICWA and California law. (See In re Isaiah W., supra, 1 Cal.5th at pp. 10–11.)

Published Decision out of the California Court of Appeals (ICWA Inquiry)


The father ultimately dropped his appeal of the ICWA inquiry, but the court’s comment is worth noting:

To be sure, the juvenile court’s analysis whether the evidence is sufficient to trigger ICWA’s notice requirements for Andrew and Kailey will be enhanced if additional information concerning Jonathan’s Indian ancestry is presented to the court. But the burden of developing that information is not properly placed on Jonathan alone. Section 224.3, subdivision (a), imposes on child protection agencies, as well as the juvenile court, the affirmative and continuing duty to inquire whether a dependent child is or may be an Indian child. (See In re Kadence P., supra, 241 Cal.App.4th at p. 1386; In re H.B. (2008) 161 Cal.App.4th 115, 121; see also Cal. Rules of Court, rule 5.481(a).) As soon as practicable, the social worker is required to interview the child’s parents, extended family members, the Indian custodian, if any, and any other person who can reasonably be expected to have information concerning the child’s membership status or eligibility. (§ 224.3, subd. (c); In re Shane G. (2008) 166 Cal.App.4th 1532, 1539; Cal. Rules of Court, rule 5.481(a)(4).) From the record presented to us, it appears the Department and the juvenile court failed to satisfy that duty; neither the court nor the Department made any effort to develop additional information that might substantiate Jonathan’s belief he may have Indian ancestry by contacting his siblings or other extended family members. Both federal and state law require more than has been done to date. On remand, an adequate investigation by the Department with a full report to the court must be promptly completed.

Reported ICWA Notice Case out of California


Here, the juvenile court properly inquired about Shahida’s Indian ancestry at each hearing, and the Department conscientiously interviewed several family members to obtain additional information. During these family interviews, the maternal great uncle informed the Department he had Creek and Seminole ancestry. The maternal grandmother also informed the Department she believed, based at least in part on photographs she no longer possessed, she had Blackfeet ancestry. The court found the Blackfeet claim insufficiently supported and, according to the Department, the Creek and Seminole ancestry too remote.
Neither explanation proffered by the court and the Department constitutes an adequate ground for failure to give notice of Kadence’s dependency case to the identified tribes. As to the remoteness of Kadence’s possible connection to the Seminole and Creek tribes, although the suggestion of Creek and Seminole ancestry was based on information about her great-great-great grandparents, nothing was presented to the juvenile court or included in the record on appeal concerning the membership rules for those tribes. It could well be, for example, that membership under tribal rules is passed to successive generations, as a matter of right, through bilineal or double descent without regard to intermarriage or blood quantum and that the absence of formal enrollment does not affect tribal membership. Under those circumstances Kadence could be an Indian child within the meaning of ICWA.(See Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez (1978) 436 U.S. 49, 72, fn. 21 [98 S.Ct. 1670, 56 L.Ed.2d 106 [Indian tribe is final arbiter of its membership rights] . . .

California Court of Appeals Decides Gaming Compact Dispute

Here is the unpublished opinion and assorted materials in San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians v. State (Cal. App.):

Unpublished Opinion

San Pasqual Opposition to State Motion for Summary J

San Pasqual Second Amended Complaint

Unpublished California ICWA Notice Case and the Passive Voice

Opinion here. Court reversed termination and remanded for notice to Navajo Nation.

Classic example of the passive voice here:

The responsibility for compliance with ICWA falls squarely and affirmatively on the court and the Department. (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 224.3, subd. (a); In re Antoinette S. (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 1401, 1409.)3 Both Robert and the paternal grandmother stated that there was native American heritage in the family. As early as the detention hearing, the juvenile court ordered the Department to make the necessary inquiries and send the required notices. Thereafter, as everyone acknowledges, the ball was dropped.