Split Montana SCT Affirms Denial of Indian Child Welfare Matter’s Transfer to Blackfeet Tribe

Here is the opinion and the various briefs in In the Matter of S.B.C.:

Appellant Brief — Blackfeet Tribe

Appellant Brief — Father

Appellant Brief — Mother

Appellee Brief — Response to Father

Appellee Brief — Response to Tribe

Appellee Brief — Response to Mother

Reply — Blackfeet Tribe

Reply Brief — Father

Reply Brief — Mother

Montana SCT Opinion


N.B. (Birth Mother) and S.B.C. (Biological Father) appeal from the order entered by the Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County, terminating both parents’ rights to their minor child, S.B.C, Jr. (S.B.C), and granting the Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division (Child Services) permanent legal custody with right to consent to adoption. The Birth Mother and Biological Father also challenge the District Court’s order denying transfer of jurisdiction to the Blackfeet Tribal Court. The Blackfeet Tribe (Tribe) has filed a cross-appeal likewise challenging the denial of its motion to transfer jurisdiction to the Blackfeet Tribal Court and the termination of Biological Father’s parental rights. We affirm.


Lastly, the Tribe argues the District Court improperly considered the socio-economic conditions of the Tribal Court. Subsection (c) of the Guidelines prohibit the consideration of the “[s]ocio-economic conditions and the perceived adequacy” of the tribal court system in making a determination of good cause. 44 Fed.Reg. 67591. In an attempt to demonstrate that the court based its decision on the inadequacy of the Tribal Court system, the Tribe draws our attention to a number of assertions the District Court made in its findings of fact and conclusions of law. The District Court remarked throughout its findings of fact and conclusions of law that the Tribe “chose to sit on its hands and delay seeking jurisdiction over [S.B.C] for tribal financial reasons.” Further, the court insinuated that the Tribe believes its children are sacred “only when it is in its best financial interests to do so.”

From the dissent:

I disagree with the majority’s analysis of the “advanced stage” guideline. The State filed its termination petition on March 6, 2013. The Tribe, having intervened early in the case, moved to transfer jurisdiction on April 10, 2013, thirty-five days later. The District Court order faulted the Tribe for seeking transfer after “all the critical court proceedings [were] completed and decisions made,” yet the District Court had not conducted a hearing nor made a decision to terminate the parents’ rights. The hearing was not held until September 10, 2013, and the order of termination was not signed until January 15, 2014, eight months after the motion to transfer was filed. This situation does not implicate the dangers the “advanced stage” rule is designed to protect against and there is no indication of manipulation by any party.


Finally, I agree with the majority that the District Court’s repeated statements that the Tribe “sat on its hands” until it had a financial reason to seek jurisdiction were inappropriate. The BIA Guidelines specifically provide that a state court cannot base the “good cause” determination on “socio-economic conditions and the perceived adequacy of tribal social services or judicial system.” 44 Fed.Reg. 67,591. These statements reflect, at best, a refusal to comply with the Guidelines and, at worst, a strong bias against the Tribe and the Tribal judicial system. Such statements have no place in the District Court’s order and were highly inappropriate.