Jurisdiction Case out of Alaska Supreme Court [ICWA]

sp-ord-116

These kind of cases feel like they are coming in a rapid speed right now–this is the third one I am aware of that have been/will be decided this spring. The issue is the attempted interference by foster parents in a transfer to tribal court proceeding, usually by trying to achieve party status.

Having considered the parties’ briefing — and assuming without deciding
both that J.P. and S.P. were granted intervenor-party status in the superior court and that such a grant of intervenor-party status would have been appropriate4 — we dismiss this
appeal as moot.
“If the party bringing the action would not be entitled to any relief even
if it prevails, there is no ‘case or controversy’ for us to decide,” and the action is
therefore moot.5 As explained in our order of July 9, 2021, even if we were to rule that
the superior court erred in transferring jurisdiction, we lack the authority to order the
court of the Sun’aq Tribe, a separate sovereign, to transfer jurisdiction of the child’s
proceeding back to state court.6 And we lack authority to directly review the tribal
court’s placement order.7

The Court cites my all time favorite transfer case–In re M.M. from 2007. Not only is that decision a complete endorsement of tribal jurisdiction, it also explains concurrent jurisdiction (especially useful when you are operating in a PL280 state), which is not the power to have simultaneous jurisdiction, but the power to chose between two jurisdictions.

When we speak of “concurrent jurisdiction,” we refer to a situation in which two (or perhaps more) different courts are authorized to exercise jurisdiction over the same subject matter, such that a litigant may choose to proceed in either forum.FN13 As the Minnesota Supreme Court explained in a case involving an Indian tribe, “[c]oncurrent jurisdiction describes a situation where two or more tribunals are authorized to hear and dispose of a matter *915 and the choice of which tribunal is up to the person bringing the matter to court.” (Gavle, supra, 555 N.W.2d at p. 290.) Contrary to Minor’s apparent belief, that two courts have concurrent jurisdiction does not mean that both courts may simultaneously entertain actions involving the very same subject matter and parties.

Transfer to Tribal Court Case from Iowa Supreme Court [ICWA]

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This is a very useful decision directly addressing one for the most difficult parts of a transfer process–whether the state court will use a best interest analysis to determine jurisdiction.

These are not reasons to deny a tribe jurisdiction over a child welfare case:

The State argued that transfer should be denied because of the lack of
responsibility by Mother and Father, the efforts of the foster parents to promote
the children’s Native American heritage, and the good relationship between the
current professionals and the children. The guardian ad litem for the children
joined the State in resisting the transfer of the case to tribal court.

Oh, and would you look at that, a CASA:

The juvenile court noted that the court appointed special
advocate (CASA) for the children recommended that the parental rights of the
parents be terminated and the children continue living with the foster parents.

But don’t worry–the Iowa Supreme Court clearly channeled the Washington Supreme Court in its thoughtful discussion of ICWA and its purpose, summarizing that

The federal ICWA and accompanying regulations and guidelines establish a framework for consideration of motions to transfer juvenile matters from state court to tribal court. Although good cause is not elaborated at length, both the statute and regulations state in some detail what is not good cause. Absent an objection to transfer or a showing of unavailability or
substantial hardship with a tribal forum, transfer is to occur. Clearly, Congress
has an overall objective in enacting ICWA to establish a framework for the preservation of Native American families wherever possible.

The Court goes on to discuss the Iowa ICWA at length, along with some bad caselaw in Iowa, specifically the In re J.L. case, which is a really awful decision and has been a pain to deal with for years.

This Court states,

State courts have struggled with the statutory question of whether federal
or state ICWA statutes permit a child to raise a best interests challenge to
transfer to tribal courts. In In re N.V., 744 N.W.2d 634, we answered the
question. After surveying the terms of the federal and state ICWA statutes, we
concluded that the statutes did not permit a child to challenge transfer on best
interests grounds. Id. at 638–39.

***

In short, there can be no substantive due process violation arising from a
statute that refuses to allow a party to present on an issue irrelevant to the
proceeding. To that extent, we overrule the holding ofIn re J.L. (emphasis ADDED)

***

In conclusion, if there is no objecting child above the age of twelve, we hold
that the transfer provisions of ICWA which do not permit a child from raising the
best interests of the child to oppose transfer does not violate substantive due
process.

Therefore,

In an ICWA proceeding, the United States Supreme Court observed that
“we must defer to the experience, wisdom, and compassion of the . . . tribal
courts to fashion an appropriate remedy” in Indian child welfare cases. Holyfield,
490 U.S. at 54 (quoting In re Adoption of Halloway, 732 P.2d at 972). These
observations apply in this case

There is a small dissent on whether the Father could appeal this case, but no issues with the Tribe’s appeal. Also, a reminder that the issue of jurisdiction was never a question Brackeen and decisions like this one are tremendously helpful for tribes seeking to transfer cases.

Most Claims against Federal Approvals of Keystone XL Allowed to Proceed

Here is the order in Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. Trump (D. Mont.):

92 DCT Order

Briefs here.

Briefs in Rosebud Sioux Tribe and Fort Belknap Indian Community v. Trump (Keystone XL)

Here are the briefs on the United States’ and TransCanada’s Motions to Dismiss Rosebud and Fort Belknap’s treaty and jurisdiction claims regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline.

News coverage here, and more information here.  Previous posts on this case are here.

Sixth Circuit Affirms Tribal Court Decision in Spurr v. Pope

Decision

But our review involves no probing of the facts, just a pure question of law: Does a tribal court have jurisdiction under federal law to issue a civil personal protection order against a non-Indian and non-tribal member in matters arising in the Indian country of the Indian tribe? Because 18 U.S.C. § 2265(e) unambiguously grants tribal courts that power, and because tribal sovereign immunity requires us to dismiss this suit against two of the named defendants, we AFFIRM the district court’s dismissal of Spurr’s complaint.

Reply
Answer Brief
Appellant Brief

Lower court materials here.

Tribal supreme court decision here.

Update:

Cert Petition

Brief in Opposition

Grandparent Standing Case in Arizona Court of Appeals

Here.

While the Court of Appeals found that the grandmother didn’t have standing and properly dismissed the case, opinion notes the Tribal Court had already been exercising jurisdiction over the child in a concurrent child custody matter.

Child Welfare Jurisdiction Case out of Utah

Here

The child welfare case did not fall under ICWA because the child was not as a member or eligible for membership in the tribe, so the Court used the UCCJEA to determine jurisdiction.