Here are the materials in State v. Wellknown (Mont. S. Ct.):
Just yesterday, a colleague mentioned an article I wrote a few years ago in the Federal Lawyer about ICWA and military families, and I said, yes, we really need to update that. And today, I read this case:
Father was present at the March 23, 2017 adjudication hearing and stipulated to
adjudication of Child as a YINC and stipulated to the proposed treatment plan.1 At this time, Father was participating in the Veterans’ Treatment Court (VTC). As the Department did not want to duplicate services, the Department agreed that tasks Father successfully completed in VTC would satisfy tasks delineated in his treatment plan.
Father continued to participate in VTC. Throughout his participation and beyond
his successful graduation from VTC on August 7, 2018, CPS repeatedly reported Father was doing well and did not indicate dissatisfaction with Father’s compliance with his treatment plan or level of engagement with the Department.
In the permanency plan filed with the court on February 2, 2018, the Department
wrote “the permanency plan for the child is reunification with the birth father once he has completed Veterans Court.” Approximately one month later, the Department abruptly changed course. On March 22, 2018, CPS and his supervisor met with Father to discuss reunification and gave him a letter, advising Father that he needed to step-up his parenting by April 19 or the Department would file for termination. . . . This letter basically advised Father it was time to sink or swim as a parent. Here, over a year into the case, was the first time the Department expressed that Father was not meeting the Department’s expectations in terms of compliance with his treatment plan and engagement with the Department.
Less than two months later, on September 7, 2018, the Department filed to terminate Father’s parental rights for failure to complete his court-ordered treatment plan.
In the accompanying affidavit, CPS listed the following efforts he considered to be active efforts taken by the Department:
(a) Investigation into the current report;
(b) Review of prior reports/investigation;
(c) Interviews with collateral contacts;
(d) Communication with Benefis Labor and Delivery / NICU;
(e) Ongoing Collaboration with placement, [M.D.];
(f) Conducted diligent search to locate extended family;
(g) Ongoing communication with Allen Lanning, counsel for birth father;
(h) Communication with Probation and Parole.
Prior to filing the termination petition, there is nothing in the record evidencing the Department had even referred Father to any ancillary services required by the treatment plan—parenting classes, mental health assessment or anger management classes—or assisted father in addressing the transportation, daycare, or housing deficiencies asserted by the Department in its March letter.
In “good” news, the Court held the Department did not accomplish active efforts and reversed the termination order, as it should, because none of those things listed above are active efforts, and frankly are not even reasonable efforts.
And a long excerpt:
Contrary to the Department’s assertion and the apparent corresponding view of the District Court, the “reason to know” standard does not necessarily require an evidentiary showing, and certainly not by the parents, that a child or parent may be eligible for tribal membership. See 25 U.S.C. § 1912(a); 25 C.F.R. §§ 23.107-08. Nor does ICWA require that an assertion of potential tribal eligibility be certain. Gerardo, 14 Cal. Rptr. 3d at 802; Kahlen, 285 Cal. Rptr. at 511. See also 25 C.F.R. §§ 23.107(a), (c), -108(a). Any more stringent construction as suggested by the State would defeat ICWA’s manifest purpose and command. Certainly, a “reason to know” is a low standard, but not an unlimited one. In re Jeremiah G., 92 Cal. Rptr. 3d 203, 207-08 (Cal. App. 2009); In re Z.H., 740 N.W.2d 648, 653-54 (Iowa App. 2007). A “reason to know” requires something more than a bare, vague, or equivocal assertion of possible Indian ancestry without reference to any identified Indian ancestors with a reasonably suspected tribal connection. See Jeremiah G., 92 Cal. Rptr. 3d at 207-08; Z.H., 740 N.W.2d at 653-54. Pursuant to 25 C.F.R. § 23.107(c)(1), Mother’s asserted belief that she may be eligible for enrollment in the Crow Tribe was minimally sufficient to constitute a reason to know that the children were Indian children under the circumstances of this case.
¶22 We are further troubled by the Department’s apparent view that it has no affirmative duty to make further inquiry or provide tribal notice and inquiry when parents are not cooperative. Lack of parental cooperation is immaterial, is not a basis for equitable waiver or estoppel, and does not otherwise relieve state agencies and courts of the duty to comply with ICWA requirements. Kahlen 285 Cal. Rptr. at 512. ICWA vests Indian children and related Indian tribes with a federal right, independent of but on par with the right of Indian and related Indian tribes with a federal right, independent of but on par with the right of Indian parents, to specified tribal notice and eligibility determinations regardless of the conduct or disregard of the parents. Miss. Band of Choctaw Indians, 490 U.S. at 49-53, 109 S. Ct. at 1609-11; Kahlen, 285 Cal. Rptr. at 512. The practical difficulty or inability of a state agency to identify the correct tribe or substantiate an assertion of requisite Indian ancestry does not relieve the agency of its duty to comply with ICWA requirements. See Kahlen, 285 Cal. Rptr. at 512.
In affidavits supporting the TIA and TLC petitions, Child Protection Specialists (CPS) noted they had no reason to believe that any of the children were subject to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). However, at a May 2016 show cause hearing, the District Court was notified that ICWA possibly applied to K.J. considering K.J.’s father received benefits from the Arapahoe Tribe. The benefits signaled potential for K.J. to meet the “Indian child” designation of ICWA. Yet, further correspondence with the Arapahoe Tribe conclusively determined that ICWA was inapplicable to K.J. The District Court granted the Department authority to investigate and work with the parents and children.
In October 2016, the Department again filed petitions for adjudication as YINC and TLC for all three children. CPS Mariesa Wallis submitted three identical affidavits in support which included the statement: “To the best of my knowledge and belie[f] the child is an Indian Child subject to [ICWA].” Wallis’ affidavit did not reference specific tribes or details concerning possible tribal affiliations. The petition and accompanying affidavits are the sole documents in the record suggesting J.J.C. or R.G. were Indian children.
Emphasis added. The Court found that ICWA did not apply (actually, that there was no reason to believe the child was an Indian children, which . . . seems like the wrong finding). Assuming, however, the communication with the Tribe was accurate, it is correct for the trial court to follow that determination rather than the state social worker’s affidavit.
¶28 In this case, CPS Lebrun’s testimony that an unidentified person orally confirmed that “they are not eligible, just they can only be descendent members” does not satisfy the Department’s ICWA burden. As a direct result of the Department’s failure to satisfy this burden—and likely assuming the Department had, prior to filing its Notice of No ICWA Involvement, followed up with formal inquiry with the Blackfeet Tribe as CPS Lebrun testified he would—the District Court proceeded to termination without conclusive determination from the Tribe. No documentation or testimony of an authorized tribal representative either dispelled or confirmed the District Court’s and Department’s belief that the children were not Indian children as defined by ICWA. Under the circumstances of this case, we hold the District Court erred by proceeding to terminate Mother’s rights to D.E. and A.E. without a conclusive tribal determination of their tribal membership status and eligibility.¶29 Accordingly, we hold the District Court abused its discretion in terminating Mother’s parental rights without a conclusive tribal determination of tribal membership status and enrollment eligibility. We reverse and remand for an appropriate threshold determination of whether D.E. and A.E. are Indian children based on a conclusive tribal determination of tribal membership and eligibility in the Blackfeet Tribe. Further, if D.E. and A.E. are conclusively identified as Indian children subject to the requirements of ICWA, the District Court shall hold further proceedings as may be necessary to meet the evidentiary burdens of ICWA.
Appellant M.D. (Father) challenges the Thirteenth Judicial District Court’s decision to terminate his parental rights to his minor child, A.L.D. Father contends that the State of Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services (Department) did not provide the active efforts required under 25 U.S.C. § 1912(d) to prevent the breakup of an Indian family; that A.L.D. was placed in a foster home in violation of the placement preferences set forth in 25 U.S.C. § 1915; and that Father’s attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel. We affirm.
In this case, as early as 2014, the State, through the Department, had reason to believe and, as asserted in its various petition averments and request for the District Court to proceed under ICWA, did believe that L.D. was an Indian child by affiliation with the Chippewa Cree Tribe. Though it gave due notice to the Tribe of the pendency of the initial foster care and subsequent parental rights termination proceedings, there is no evidence that the Department ever formally sought or received a conclusive tribal determination that L.D. was or was not eligible for tribal enrollment. Instead, the Department passively relied on the inaction of the Tribe and the assertions or beliefs of the parents that L.D. was not eligible for tribal membership. However otherwise reasonable, this passive reliance was insufficient to satisfy the Department’s ICWA burden to actively investigate further and ultimately make formal inquiry with the Tribe for a conclusive determination of L.D.’s membership eligibility.
Also, with briefing (a rarity in ICWA cases)!