ICWA Decision out of Missouri on Tribal Intervenor (Relator) Standing and Writ of Prohibition

From the facts in this opinion, it’s clear this is a pretty contested post termination of parental rights/foster care adoption case from the southern district of Missouri (Poplar Bluff, Springfield). What is not in the opinion but is available on the Westlaw decision page are the attorneys involved in the case. I’m sure it’s some local southern Missouri attorneys:

Attorneys for Relator – Heidi Doerhoff Vollet of Jefferson City, MO; James R. Layton of St. Louis, MO
Attorney for Respondent Judge – Scott S. Sifferman Acting Pro Se
Attorneys for Minor – William Petrus of Mt. Vernon, MO (GAL); Matthew D. McGillDavid W. Casazza, Robert Batista, Todd Shaw of Washington, D.C.
Attorneys for Respondents Foster Parents – Toni M. Fields of Cassville, MO; Paul Clement, Erin Murphy of Washington, D.C.; Kevin Neylan of New York, NY


Even so! In this case, the Court of Appeals found the Choctaw Nation had standing to to bring the writ of prohibition against the judge and the Court of Appeals entered the writ (Respondent is the trial judge)(also, this is why formal legal intervention is so important for tribes whenever possible)(also why it’s good to find local family law attorneys who can talk about things like “writs of prohibition” with expertise):

In his brief, Respondent argues that the Choctaw Nation does not have standing to seek this writ of prohibition. On two occasions, Respondent granted the Choctaw Nation the right to intervene in this protective custody proceeding under 25 U.S.C. § 1911(c), and also granted the Choctaw Nation the right to intervene in Foster Parents’ adoption proceeding. We see no error in these rulings. The Choctaw Nation has standing to seek
this writ of prohibition.


Respondent did not have the express or implied authority to interfere in the Children’s Division’s administrative review of a nonfinal administrative recommendation for adoption, and then substitute Respondent’s judgment for that of the Children’s Division and compel the Children’s Division to reach or adhere to a particular recommendation.

2021 Federal Lawyer Article Spotlight: Out of State Legal Representation in ICWA Cases

So happy to see April Olson’s article on the issue of legal representation for tribes in out of state cases. This is easily the top question I get–both from lawyers nervous about intervening out of state and also from lawyers trying to find pro hac partners. Get your state to pass a pro hac vice exception. It makes a huge difference–in 2020 alone the Indian Law Clinic saved over $500 in appellate pro hac fees due to these rules, but it makes an even bigger difference at the trial level so tribes can avoid appeals in the first place.

Read April’s article, then figure out how to get your state on board if they aren’t already. Today I’m specifically looking at Oklahoma ($350 in pro hac fees plus a complicated process via the state bar, so another $100 in expedited good standing certificate requests and overnight mailing).

All the ICWA pro hac rules are collected here.

Maine Supreme Judicial Court Affirms Denial of Intervention in Child Welfare Case


The State removed non-member children from their tribal member mother, and opposed the Passamaquoddy Tribe’s request for intervention. While intervention is one of right under ICWA, because these children are non-member children, the Court found that ICWA did not apply. In addition, the Court denied the Tribe’s request for permissive intervention in a cursory paragraph. The Court based much of its interpretation and decision on the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, making it fairly specific to tribes in Maine. Regardless, the reasoning is frustrating, especially for a permissive intervention, which is apparently allowed “when a ‘[nonparty’s] claim or defense and the main action have a question of law or fact in common’ and intervention will not ‘unduly delay or
prejudice the adjudication of the rights of the original parties.’” M.R. Civ. P. 24(b).

The dissent, pointing out that “In the matter before us, for the safety of the children, the District Court (Calais, D. Mitchell, J.) rejected the request to place the children in a kinship placement with their maternal grandmother. Instead, it authorized the Department of Health and Human Services to seek a foster placement for the children off the reservation and with caregivers who are not related to the children and are not members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe”, therefore “[w]ith the prospect of the children being removed from their Passamaquoddy relatives and the reservation community, the Passamaquoddy Tribe sought to intervene as a matter of right or, alternatively, with the court’s permission.” The dissent also acknowledges the Tribe’s assertion that”their participation in decisions related to the placement and resources available to the children are matters of importance to the court in addressing the needs of the children, whose mother is a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe. The Tribe’s role, distinct from the role of family members, is important in informing the court of options regarding tribal resources and connections to tribal culture.”

(You had to know I’d end a series of ICWA posts on the case I found the most frustrating.)

Doe v. Jesson Case (MN Federal ICWA Case) Dismissed as Moot

Here is the opinion.

After two years, the Minnesota federal district court dismissed the voluntary adoption case challenging the provisions of the Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act (MIFPA) allowing for notice and intervention of a child’s tribe in the proceedings. While the court states that the case presented Constitutional questions, the proceedings were moot and did not meet the standard for capable of repetition but evading review to keep the case live. There’s a nice discussion of that standard for practitioners who have been wondering how that might work in a child welfare case.

Plaintiffs have 30 days to file a notice of appeal if they so choose.

This is the last of the summer 2015 batch of federal ICWA challenges filed. All of them were ultimately dismissed. Carter v. Washburn is currently on appeal to the 9th Circuit.

Oregon Proposed Pro Hac Vice Waiver for Tribal ICWA Attorneys

Here is the proposed rule:

{(9) An applicant is not required to associate with local counsel pursuant to subsection (1)(c) of this section or pay the fee established by subsection (6) of this section if the applicant establishes to the satisfaction of the Bar that:

(a) The applicant seeks to appear in an Oregon court for the limited purpose of participating in a child custody proceeding as defined by 25 U.S.C. §1903, pursuant to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, 25 U.S.C. §1901 et seq.;

(b) The applicant represents an Indian tribe, parent, or Indian custodian, as defined by 25 U.S.C. §1903; and

(c) The Indian child’s tribe has executed an affidavit asserting the tribe’s intent to intervene and participate in the state court proceeding and affirming the child’s membership or eligibility of membership under tribal law.}

The proposed change is to rule 3.170, and comments in support of the rule change must be made by February 24th. Now both Michigan and Oregon have these proposed rule changes in the works. These are really important state rule changes for tribes and Native families–the cost of pro hac in Oregon alone is $500, and in other states tribal attorneys are still being denied the right of intervention without following long and onerous pro hac requirements–sometimes making it impossible to participate in child welfare hearings involving Native kids. 

Proposed Court Rule in Michigan to Waive Pro Hac Fees and Other Limits for Out of State Tribal ICWA Attorneys


In ICWA cases, the tribe has a right of intervention in whatever state court is hearing the case of the tribal child. While it is true that the “tribal representative” does not have to be attorneys, when they are attorneys, there may be concerns about practicing without finding local counsel or using the local “pro hac” rule. Michigan has proposed a court rule that would waive those requirements for tribal attorneys representing the tribe in a state court where the attorney is not barred. This proposed rule is in direct response a number of requests from tribal ICWA attorneys nationwide. We are hopeful other states will consider a similar rule (though in Nebraska this is right is guaranteed by statute, which is another great fix). This rule was proposed by the Michigan Tribal-State Judicial Forum.

Also, if you are an out of state attorney who would benefit from this proposed Rule (or in state) please send in comments by March 1.

Doe v. Jesson, now Piper, Partially Survives Motion to Dismiss

Here. This is the federal case challenging the Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act.

The Court finds that it has jurisdiction to hear the Does’ complaint, but only against the government defendants. The Court will dismiss Commissioner Moose from the case because he is a tribal officer and not a state officer; does not enforce MIFPA; and is not restricted by the constitutional clauses at issue here. But even though the Court may proceed to the merits of the Does’ complaint against the government defendants, the Court will not decide the merits now. The parties necessarily and understandably devoted nearly all of the briefs to the numerous preliminary issues. Although the jurisdictional questions were well briefed, the Does’ equal protection and due process claims received less attention than they deserved. Accordingly, in deciding these motions the Court will express no opinion on the merits – only on the preliminary matters. It may be that Defendants’ positions on the merits are correct – or incorrect – but those questions will be decided another day.