California Inquiry and Notice Case [ICWA]

Ok, remember when I said this morning the California inquiry and notice process is in a . . . growth process? Here is another example. This case disagrees with the really not great In re Austin J. case and is from the same appellate district

In re T.G. returns to the low bar for notice and inquiry California appellate courts have traditionally adhered to. 

We agree the Department failed to adequately investigate Tamara’s claim of Indian ancestry and the juvenile court failed to ensure an appropriate inquiry had been conducted before concluding, if it ever actually did, ICWA did not apply to these proceedings. In reaching this result, we disagree with the holding in In re Austin J. (2020) 47 Cal.App.5th 870, 888-889 (Austin J.) that amendments enacted by Assembly Bill No. 3176 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.) (Assembly Bill 3176) were intended to limit the Department’s robust duty of inquiry. Accordingly, we conditionally reverse the orders for legal guardianship and remand the matters to allow the Department and the juvenile court to rectify their errors and to take all other necessary corrective actions.

So again, if you are practicing in California, this is a vital area to be following. If you are not practicing in California, I think it’s worth seeing how the new changes to the state laws shake out on appeals this year (2021). If you are a tribal attorney, know that California is supposed to be contacting a tribe very early in the proceedings, even if it is not with a formal notice packet. 

Application of ICWA Case out of Arkansas Court of Appeals

This is an interesting and frustration case on the law. There are a few states, and I believe both Arkansas and Missouri are two, where a parent has to preserve any ICWA issue for appeal. That is not the case in a number of other states. But in this case, the agency and state attorney agree there was error in not noticing the Tribe (Klamath) on the TPR, and that this failure could upend any permanency findings under 25 U.S.C. 1914. They ask the court to remand for notice. However, the Court held:

Accordingly, we cannot rely on Dominguez to remand in this instance. Unlike the situation in Dominguez, the final order herein terminated both parents’ rights, leaving no parental right unaddressed. Here, the application of the ICWA cannot be addressed on remand without reversing the circuit court’s TPR order. We hold that the ICWA issue is not preserved for appellate review.

Adjudication orders are immediately appealable. Ark. Sup. Ct. R. 6-9(a)(1)(A) (2019). A parent’s failure to appeal rulings made in an adjudication order precludes appellate review of those findings in an appeal from a subsequent order. Ashcroft v. Ark. Dep’t of Human Servs., 2010 Ark. App. 244, at 8, 374 S.W.3d 743, 747. No party appealed the circuit court’s findings that the ICWA did not apply or that neither Amanda nor A.W. were members of an Indian tribe. Further, we have held that compliance with the notice requirements of the ICWA must be raised below in order to be preserved for appellate review. Lauman v. Ark. Dep’t of Human Servs., 2010 Ark. App. 564, at 2.

I’m also just going to leave the facts here about the ruling, re. application of ICWA:

The court noted that Amanda had provided a roll number for the Klamath Modoc tribe at the probable-cause hearing, that the Klamath Modoc tribe had been notified on February 12, and that the tribe had not responded nor contacted DHS; therefore, the court found that “at this time,” the ICWA “does not apply.” In a separate finding, the circuit court stated, “[Amanda] does not have membership in or descent from an Indian tribe; the legal father does not have membership in or descent from an Indian tribe; the juvenile does not have membership in or descent from an Indian tribe.”

Notice Case from Montana [ICWA]

This is the year of notice and reason to know. Courts are finally wrestling with what the regulations do and do not require–and there is considerable concern about what to do if there is no response from a tribe. 

Whenever a court “knows or has reason to know” that a child is an “Indian child” under ICWA, the court is to verify the child’s status prior to conducting termination proceedings. 25 U.S.C. § 1912(a); In re L.D., 2018 MT 60, ¶ 13, 391 Mont. 33, 414 P.3d 768 (internal citations omitted). Whether a child is eligible for tribal membership is a question of fact dependent upon the child’s actual ancestry, and an Indian tribe provides the determination conclusively as a matter of law. 25 C.F.R. § 23.108(b); In re L.D., ¶ 14 (internal citations omitted); In re Adoption of Riffle, 273 Mont. 237, 242, 902 P.2d 542, 545 (1995).

¶22 It follows that a district court does not have authority to make a de novo conclusion regarding eligibility. 25 C.F.R. § 23.108(b); In re L.D., ¶ 14 (internal citations omitted). Instead, the district court must determine “(1) whether the court has reason to believe that a subject child may be an ‘Indian child’ and (2) whether an Indian tribe has conclusively determined that the child is a member or eligible for tribal membership.” In re L.D., ¶ 14 (internal citations omitted). Absent a conclusive tribal determination, a court abuses its discretion by terminating parental rights if there is “reason to believe” the child is an Indian child. In re L.D., ¶ 14 (internal citation omitted).

In this case, however, the issue was the Agency didn’t contact the Tribe at all, leading to the remand.

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 in the United Keetoowah. Since the United Keetoowah is a federally recognized Cherokee tribe,3 and the Department did not contact the tribe, the District Court made a de novo determination regarding M.T. and L.T.’s United Keetoowah tribal eligibility, a determination which is in the sole province of the tribe.

Notice Case out of California [ICWA]

If you find the current published notice and inquiry cases out of California particularly confusing, join the club (and I’ve been trying to sort them out!). I think the important thing for tribal attorneys to know is that California is trying to do very early contact during the inquiry phase before they send formal notice. For some tribes this is very welcome, and for others, it’s a big change in practice. However, this does mean that California is trying to formalized very specific steps into law–from initial inquiry, reason to believe, further inquiry, reason to know, notice (I think). This means California case law probably won’t be particularly useful in this area in other state appeals.  

Crosscut Article on Greer Case

Here

ICWA was thereafter applied to the case, but the damage was done — the children were placed in foster care without the normal protections the law would have offered them. Now, the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska are challenging the decision in the Washington State Supreme Court. If the court’s decision is upheld, advocates say the case could significantly weaken the use of ICWA in Washington by raising the bar for what qualifies as a “reason to know” that a child is “Indian” in the eyes of the law.

Kathryn Fort, director of Michigan State’s Indian Law Clinic, who is arguing on behalf of the tribes in the case involving Greer and Graham, says that it shouldn’t be so difficult. The burden of checking in with a tribe is low, she says, but the outcome has immense implications for the family, children and tribe.

Briefing and oral arguments here.

Notice Case out of California [ICWA]

Since April, the California courts of appeal have been wrestling with California’s new law defining “reason to know” from ICWA’s section 1912 and “reason to believe” (state law standard). In addition, the department has been regularly petitioning to make cases reported rather than unreported. Since April with the In re Austin J. case, California courts have been reshaping their very low bar for notice to tribes into a much higher one, with the caveat that the California standard of “reason to believe” does require contact with tribes though not necessarily formal notice. Given California’s outsized role in notice and inquiry ICWA cases, this is a trend that bears watching, with the understanding this is based on California state law, and not the federal ICWA.

Here is In re M.W., decided on May 11. The Department petitioned for publication on May 15 and it was published on June 5. Under the reason to believe standard, the social worker,

The report documented the social worker’s contact with the 12 tribes by telephone, fax, e-mail, and/or mail, the name of the designated agent for each tribe, the dates of attempted contact with each designated agent (all between May 15 and June 4, 2019), and that each tribe was provided with the minor’s “ICWA Family Tree.” As of the date of the report, four of the tribes had confirmed the minor was not an Indian child. As of the July 10, 2019 hearing, six additional tribes had confirmed the minor was not an Indian child, and the two remaining tribes (the Navajo Nation and the White Mountain Apache Tribe) had acknowledged contact but had not yet provided a definitive response.

I am curious to know how out of state tribes are feeling this system is working, given that while California may change its ways, tribes are generally set up to receive the paperwork to confirm a family’s tribal membership, and we already know that informal phone calls to confirm or deny a child’s eligibility can be problematic. Early outreach is great, if it works to give tribes MORE information and not less.

Notice and Enrollment Case from Colorado Court of Appeals [ICWA]

Here

This is a really interesting opinion, and balances a lot of interests. The issue of how to get a child who is both eligible for tribal membership and in foster care leads to a lot of questions about who gets to make the decision of enrollment. The agency has technical decision making authority for the children, but may choose to not enroll the children–as they did in this case–thus denying the application of ICWA (and a whole host of other citizenship related benefits and responsibilities). It may even mean the child can never be members, since some tribes don’t allow adults over the age of 18 to enroll. The Colorado Court of Appeals has just decided that the Court must make the final decision in those cases about whether a child should be enrolled or not.

In this case, mom told the agency the dad had Chickasaw heritage. This was enough for the agency to send notice to the Tribe. The Tribe responded that both the dad and the children were eligible for membership in the tribe, send membership applications, and asked the agency to assist the parents in enrolling the children.

The agency did NOT enroll the children, and did NOT tell the court of the Tribe’s response. The court only became aware of the response in the petition for termination. The court found ICWA did not apply, and terminated mom’s rights. The Court of Appeals determined that was not appropriate, and has created the process of an “enrollment hearing,” where the agency must deposit the Tribe’s request for enrollment with the court, and then the court must have a hearing–

Thus, once the response from the tribe has been deposited
with the juvenile court as set forth in Part II.B, we conclude that the
court must set the matter for a hearing to determine whether it is in
the best interests of the children to enroll them in the tribe. See
People in Interest of L.B., 254 P.3d 1203, 1208 (Colo. App. 2004) (A
juvenile court “must conduct a hearing to determine the proper
disposition best serving the interests of the child.”).

¶ 23 Of course, at an enrollment hearing, as at any other hearing in
a dependency and neglect proceeding, the court must give primary
consideration to the children’s best interests. See K.D., 139 P.3d at
698; C.S., 83 P.3d at 640.

¶ 24 And, in determining the children’s best interests, the juvenile
court must hear and consider the positions of the parents, as well
as the department and the guardian ad litem (GAL), all of whom
have standing, as relevant here, to speak to the merits of the tribe’s
enrollment request.

Though everyone can be heard, the court goes on to say,

Thus, at an enrollment hearing, the juvenile court should not
treat an objection, even from a parent, as a veto. On the contrary,
any reason for objection must be compelling considering ICWA’s
intent to maintain or foster the children’s connection with their
tribal culture.

Of course, the Tribe sent that letter requesting assistance enrolling the children in October of … 2018. Which means, of course, the twins who were a month old in May, 2018 are now two years old, never had any ICWA protections, and will now have their case go back to the trial court for a membership determination and a re-do of their child welfare case.

Inquiry and Notice Case out of California (Published!)[ICWA]

B300468

At the detention hearing, Father said he had Native American Indian heritage, but he was unable to identify the correct tribe. Father believed his heritage was through his paternal grandmother. He provided CWS and the juvenile court with the names of his father and grandmother.

***

Father argues CWS failed to comply with ICWA requirements and the juvenile court did not make findings on whether ICWA applied. He contends the court was “not authorized to proceed with foster care placement until ICWA notice has been sent and received.” He is correct.

***

Here, CWS had reason to know the children might be Indian children. Accordingly, CWS was required to comply with ICWA notification requirements at least 10 days before the disposition hearing, because the hearing was an involuntary proceeding in which CWS “was seeking to have the temporary placement continue[d].” (Jennifer A., supra, 103 Cal.App.4th at pp. 700-701; 25 U.S.C. § 1912(a).)

This is very different from the reasoning applied by the Washington Court of Appeals here.

Reason to Know Decision from Washington Court of Appeals [ICWA]

Here.

ICWA and WICWA require a court conducting a 72-hour shelter care hearing to inquire whether the child is or may be an Indian child. A court substantially complies with that requirement if prior to the hearing the Department has begun a good faith investigation into the child’s Indian status, the parties elicit the relevant evidence during the hearing, and the court considers that evidence before ruling on shelter care.

Ok, sounds good.

The reason-to-know standard turns on evidence that the child is a tribal member, or the child is eligible for tribal membership and a biological parent is a tribal member. If there is a reason to know a child is or may be an Indian child, then ICWA and WICWA require the court to treat the child as an Indian child pending a conclusive membership determination by a tribe. A parent’s mere assertion of Indian heritage absent other evidence is not enough to establish a reason to know a child is or may be an Indian child. Because the Department’s good faith investigation before the shelter care hearing did not reveal evidence that a parent or a child was a tribal member, the court did not err in concluding that there was no reason to know the children were Indian children based on the evidence available at the time of the shelter care hearing, Of course, the Department has an obligation to continue its investigation before proceeding to a dependency or termination hearing.

Oohkay. Then what did the investigation reveal?

The investigation revealed that the mother was eligible in the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida, where her mother is enrolled, the Klawock Cooperative Association, and that father was potentially eligible at Umatilla.  This was not just the parent’s assertion (which frankly, given the specificity, should be enough*)–this included the testimony of the social worker who called Central Council. It turns out what this Court means by reason to know is actual evidence of membership:

Because the Department’s good faith investigation before the shelter care hearing did not reveal evidence that a parent or a child was a tribal member,

The children were removed on June 27. The first hearing (shelter care) took place on July 2-3. At that point, the state social worker had called Central Council and knew grandma was enrolled, but not mom. She then testified that “to her knowledge”, dad was not enrolled, but there is nothing in the opinion on how she would know that. The social worker then testifies it was possible the children were eligible for enrollment.  But then, the court’s shelter care order states there is “not a reason to know” the children are Indian children. When Central Council intervenes in the case on July 30, the Court then decided there was reason to know (well, yes, because then we all know).

Everyone knows (ahem) that three-five days is not enough time for a full notice as required by the law (by mail, return receipt requested). Those of us who do this work ALSO know it may take a tribe longer than that to determine membership. The purpose of the Regs (to treat potential/reason to know Indian children as Indian children until determined otherwise) was to ensure those children were treated as Indian children until membership is all sorted out. The Washington Court of Appeals manages to do the opposite–equating “reason to know” with just plain old “know”. Why does this all matter? The legal standard applied at the shelter care hearing:

Specifically, the information before the court at the shelter care hearing as a
result of the Department’s good faith investigation did not establish a reason to know Z.G. and M.G. were Indian children. Because there was no reason to know,
the normal serious threat of substantial harm standard applied at the shelter care hearing.

Unless a Tribe responds the parent is absolutely a member at that first phone call from the state (not even legally required notice), or the parent happens to have legal evidence of membership on him or her, Washington will claim there is no reason to know, and apply a lower burden of proof than the emergency standard required by ICWA under 1922.

*I decided not to rant about why the parent’s testimony isn’t enough/why parents in court aren’t listened to, but imagine I did.

Published Notice Case from California Court of Appeals [ICWA]

Here

One might think, given that as of the end of July, California had more than 70 ICWA notice violation cases and in 41 one of them (fifty six percent of the time) the appellate court sent it back down to get inquiry and notice correct, the state agency might spend less time arguing why they shouldn’t do notice at all and instead just do notice right the first time. Also, this is one of those cases that makes me furious given that the Tribe intervened in mother’s case when SHE was a dependent child. But instead, let’s look at what the state argued it should do rather than give notice to the Picayune Rancheria:

It is well established that a non-Indian parent has standing to assert an ICWA notice violation on appeal. (In re Jonathon S. (2005) 129 Cal.App.4th 334, 339.) Nonetheless, the County argues that this court does not have jurisdiction, the case is not ripe for appeal, and parents do not have standing because they did not first bring a petition for invalidation in the juvenile court.

***

The County argues that because this specific remedy [25 U.S.C. 1914]  for ICWA violations exists, appeal is an improper remedy. It argues that a petition for invalidation is the exclusive remedy available for ICWA notice and inquiry violations and, as such, parents were required to unsuccessfully pursue such a petition in the juvenile court prior to seeking relief on appeal. Because they did not do so, it reasons, this court is without jurisdiction to hear their appeal.

Yet despite arguing that a petition for invalidation is the exclusive remedy for an ICWA violation, the County also argues parents do not have standing to file such a petition for invalidation. It argues the petition is only available to parents of Indian children—not parents of a potential Indian child for whom ICWA inquiry and notice was not effectuated. (emphasis added)

***

We also decline the County’s invitation to reexamine the “non-forfeiture doctrine”—or, more accurately described as the principle that a parent is not foreclosed from raising an ICWA inquiry or notice violation even if the issue could have been more timely raised by appeal from an earlier order.

***

Again, the County suggests we revisit established case law and depart from the requirement that the agency give ICWA notice to tribes when there is reason to know a child may be eligible for membership and require notice only when the court knows or has reason to know the child is definitively a member (or knows a parent is definitively a member and the child is eligible for membership). We decline the invitation.

Therefore,

Here, having reason to know the minor may be an Indian child, the juvenile court ordered the County to provide notice to the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians tribe in accordance with the ICWA. The County knew that the maternal grandfather was a member of that tribe and that he lived on the tribe’s reservation. It also knew, or should have known, that mother was found to be an Indian child when she was a dependent of the court and that the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians tribe had intervened in that case. We conclude, as did the juvenile court in this case, that the County was required to send ICWA notice to the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians tribe in this case. (emphasis added)

And the kicker (court’s emphasis not italics, mine in red):

Here, the County sent notice to the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians tribe on January 25, 2016, of the “Pre-Jurisdictional Status Conference,” which was scheduled for February 9, 2016. The juvenile court was apprised that the tribe had not received the notice but proceeded with the hearing, which was ultimately held on February 23, 2016. Thereafter, no notice of any subsequent hearing was ever sent to either the tribe or the BIA. Nonetheless, the court held the jurisdiction and disposition hearing on February 23, 2016, sustained the petition, removed the minor, and ordered reunification services. After that hearing, the County “resent” notice—apparently resending the same documents (i.e. the family history, section 300 petition, and notice of the then-passed February 9, 2016 hearing date)—thus, only providing the tribe with notice of a hearing which had already passed. The tribe received that notice on March 3, 2016. On April 26, 2016, less than 60 days thereafter, the juvenile court held an unnoticed ICWA compliance hearing and found the ICWA did not apply.