Eighth Circuit Dismisses Oglala Sioux v. Fleming Under Abstention Doctrine


This is the long running (initiated before Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl) case that is attempting to address the due process and ICWA violations against Native families in Pennington Co., South Dakota. Brought by Oglala Sioux, Rosebud Sioux and two individual tribal citizen mothers on behalf of a class of similarly situated parents, this case has highlighted the disturbing practices of the county (which, even more disturbingly, are not that surprising to trial level practitioners in our child welfare system). The District Court had found for the plaintiffs at each stage, and found specifically that abstention/Younger doctrine did not a apply to this case. The Eighth Circuit found differently.

Setting aside the due process claims for the sake of this point, ICWA itself creates a right of action under 25 USC 1914 (a parent, custodian, or tribe may petition a court of competent jurisdiction to invalidate any cases in violation of 1911 [jurisdiction], 1912 [notice/active efforts/burden of proof], or 1913 [voluntary proceedings]). This right, however, has often been limited by federal courts under abstention doctrines, which means the state courts that are causing the abuses of the law are the only places to address the abuses of the law. As the Court states, “Although the plaintiffs complain that state court proceedings do not afford parents an adequate opportunity to raise broad constitutional challenges under the Due Process Clause, they have not established that South Dakota courts are unwilling or unable to adjudicate their federal claims.” There are a number of federal cases on ICWA–that is, ones that are attempting to demonstrate a violation of the law–that end up with a hollow 1914. See Yancey v. Bonner, 2008 WL 4279760 (W.D. Okla. 2008), Navajo Nation v. LDS Family Services, 2006 WL 3692662 (D. Utah 2006), Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma v. Rader, 822 F.2d 1493 (10th Cir. 1987)

I’d also note while the Court said “[t]he relief requested would interfere with the state judicial proceedings by requiring the defendants to comply with numerous procedural requirements at future 48-hour hearings,” those procedural requirements are ones required by both the Constitution and the Indian Child Welfare Act.

The ICWA Appellate Project filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Navajo Nation, Cherokee Nation, the ICWA Law Center, NICWA and NCAI in this case.

Latest Orders and Injunctions in Oglala Sioux v. Fleming (Van Hunnik)

From Stephen Pevar:

Judge Viken issued four sweeping orders  in the Rapid City Indian Child Welfare Act case. One is a Permanent Injunction barring the defendants from continuing to violate seven federal rights of Indian children, their parents, and their tribes. It mandates an “immediate halt” to those violations. The Injunction is accompanied by a 27-page decision explaining the need for the remedies being imposed by the Court.





Motion and Briefing for Partial Summary Judgment in Oglala Sioux v. Fleming (Van Hunnik)

This filing is part of the ICWA class action case in South Dakota over the interpretation of 25 USC 1922 (emergency jurisdiction):

The third reason why this Court’s ruling on § 1922 has been inoperative is because the State’s Attorney for Pennington County, Defendant Mark Vargo, and the person Mr. Vargo has assigned to handle abuse and neglect cases in Pennington County, Deputy State’s Attorney Roxanne Erickson, see Erickson Dep. at 5-7, is failing to properly employ the federal standard. Indeed, Mr. Vargo’s interpretation of § 1922 threatens to forever prevent Plaintiffs from obtaining the benefit of this Court’s ruling on § 1922.6 The instant motion for partial summary judgment seeks to remove this final obstacle to the implementation of § 1922 in Defendants’ 48-hour hearings.

Plaintiffs deposed Ms. Erickson on May 25, 2016. Ms. Erickson testified that she interprets the word “harm” in § 1922’s standard “physical damage or harm” as including emotional harm. Id. at 131 made that ‘harm’ would also include emotional harm to the child. . . . [T]hat is how I would read it, that you have to show some form of harm which could include emotional harm.”). Thus, Defendant Vargo continues to use the state standard rather than the federal standard, given that Ms. Erickson interprets the federal standard to authorize DSS to consider emotional harm in determining whether to seek continued custody of an Indian child at the 48-hour hearing.

Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

Memorandum in Support of S.J.

Affidavit in Support of Motion

Statement of Undisputed Facts

Ex. 1-Vargo

Ex. 2-Vargo

Ex. 3-Vargo

Ex. 4-Vargo

Ex. 5-Vargo

Ex. 6-Vargo

Remedies Brief Filed in Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Fleming (Van Hunnik)

After winning a partial summary judgment (twice, if you count the motions for reconsideration), the plaintiffs in the federal class action ICWA/Due Process lawsuit have filed their brief requesting remedies.

Remedy Brief

The four Defendants in this action are largely ignoring this Court’s summary judgment ruling of March 30, 2015, Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Van Hunnik, 100 F. Supp. 3d 749 (D.S.D. 2015) (hereinafter “Oglala II”),1 in which the Court found that the Defen-dants were violating seven of Plaintiffs’ federal rights. Today, more than a year later, the Defendants continue to commit six of those violations, and only partially halted the seventh. As a result, more than one hundred additional Indian families have suffered the injuries Oglala II intended to prevent, and new families fall victim every week.

Mr. Hanna had previously written Judge Robert Mandel, the Seventh Judicial Circuit judge who heard most of the 48-hour hearings in 2015, to see if he would convene a meeting with Mr. Hanna and representatives from the States Attorney’s Office and Dakota Plains Legal Services to discuss how this Court’s summary judgment ruling could be implemented in the Seventh Circuit’s 48-hour hearings. Judge Mandel declined, and attached to his response a telling article entitled: “Federal law in the state courts: The freedom of state courts to ignore interpretations of federal law by lower federal courts.” (This correspondence and the article are attached as Plaintiffs’ Exhibit 2R). To Plaintiffs’ knowledge, in not one 48-hour hearing in 2015 did Judge Mandel incorporate the procedural protections this Court held in Oglala II are required by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.