Rare Published Notice Opinion out of California Court of Appeals

In re EH (Fourth District, 1st Div). For reference, so far this year California has had 48 unpublished notice decisions and 19 unpublished inquiry decisions. This is the first published notice case this year.

We agree with Mother that, considering Sally Y.H.’s statement to the Agency that her paternal family had Tohono O’odham Nation heritage, the Agency had a duty to attempt to obtain Sally Y.H.’s father’s identifying information and to provide notice of any such information obtained to the Tohono O’odham Nation. We further conclude that the Agency has not demonstrated that it fulfilled that duty by providing the Tohono O’odham Nation with information pertaining to an individual named Bruno Y. since it is not clear from the record that Bruno Y. is Sally Y.H.’s father. Moreover, if Bruno Y. is Sally Y.H.’s father, and E.H.’s great-great-grandfather, the Agency failed to properly describe his ancestral relationship to E.H. on the notice provided to the Tohono O’odham Nation. Finally, given that Sally Y.H. told the Agency that her paternal family had heritage from the Tohono O’odham Nation, we cannot conclude that the Agency’s errors were harmless. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment for the limited purpose of having the Agency provide the Tohono O’odham Nation with proper notice of the proceedings in this case, including accurate information pertaining to all known direct lineal ancestors of E.H., in accordance with all applicable law.3

***

FN 3. Mother also contends that the notice that the Agency provided to the Tohono O’odham Nation was deficient for several additional reasons, including that the Agency erred in listing her current address as being “no information available,” and in failing to update the notice when information about her residence became available. In light of our reversal, we need not consider these contentions, but we direct the juvenile court to ensure that the Agency provides Mother’s correct current address at the time of noticing upon remand, if known.

In addition, Mother contends that the Agency provided the tribe an incorrect address for Sally Y.H. The Agency concedes that the address that it provided for Sally Y.H. contained typographical errors, including listing the city of her residence as ” ‘Alpaso’ ” rather than ” ‘El Paso,’ ” but argues that any errors were harmless. In support of its harmlessness argument, the Agency asks this court to take judicial notice of the fact that “El Paso is a city in the state of Texas and Alpaso is not.” The juvenile court is directed to ensure that the Agency provides Sally Y.H.’s correct current address at the time of noticing upon remand, if known. We deny the Agency’s request for judicial notice as moot.

Finally, Mother states that the Agency was required to list Mother’s and Sally Y.H.’s telephone numbers on the notice that it provided to the Tohono O’odham Nation. On remand, the juvenile court shall direct the Agency to provide Mother’s and Sally Y.H.’s telephone numbers, if known. (See Welf. & Inst. Code, § 224.2 [specifying that notice sent to a tribe shall include “[a]ll names known of the Indian child’s biological parents . . . and great-grandparents . . . as well as their current and former addresses, birthdates, places of birth and death, tribal enrollment numbers, and any other identifying information, if known”], italics added; unless otherwise specified, all subsequent statutory references are to the Welfare and Institutions Code.)

***

This argument is unpersuasive since the letter from the Tohono O’odham Nation does not indicate the basis upon which the tribe made its determination as to E.H.’s Indian child status. Nor can we agree with the Agency’s suggestion that the fact that the Tohono O’odham Nation did not ask for further information demonstrates that the Agency’s error was harmless. The tribe was not required to ask the Agency to provide information that the record indicates the Agency should have reasonably attempted to obtain and provide to the tribe. Thus, we decline to find the Agency’s error harmless simply because the tribe did not indicate that further information might have altered its determination, particularly given the other noticing errors acknowledged by the Agency.