Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Native American Law
In re Dependency of J.M.W.
The Washington Supreme Court exercised discretionary interlocutory review in this case primarily to decide whether the Washington Indian Child Welfare Act (WICWA) required the State to take active efforts to prevent the breakup of J.M.W.’s family before taking him into emergency foster care. Consistent with the plain text and purpose of WICWA, the Supreme Court concluded that it did. The Court also concluded the trial court was required to make a finding on the record at the interim shelter care hearing that J.M.W.’s out of home placement was necessary to prevent imminent physical damage or harm. The matter was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "In re Dependency of J.M.W." on Justia Law
In re Dependency of G.J.A.
At issue in this case was whether the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (Department) met its burden under the Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act (WICWA) to provide active efforts to reunify C.A. with her children. After review, the Washington Supreme Court held the Department failed to provide active efforts when it provided untimely referrals and only passively engaged with C.A. from January through June 2019. The Supreme Court also held that the dependency court impermissibly applied the futility doctrine when it speculated that even had the Department acted more diligently, C.A. would not have been responsive. Therefore, the dependency court’s finding that the Department satisfied the active efforts requirement from January through June 2019 was reversed. The matter was remanded and the dependency court directed to order the Department to provide active efforts in accordance with the Court's opinion before the court proceeds to hear the filed termination of parental rights petitions. View "In re Dependency of G.J.A." on Justia Law
Washington v. Towessnute
On May 15, 1915, the State of Washington charged Alec Towessnute, a Yakama tribal member, with multiple fishing crimes. These criminal charges stemmed from the fact that he was fishing in the usual and accustomed waters of the Yakama tribe the day before without a state-issued fishing license using an unpermitted fishing hook. The parties stipulated that the United States had entered into a treaty with the Yakama Nation on June 9, 1855 (ratified by the United States Senate on March 8, 1859), and that the area where Mr. Towessnute fished “has been used and enjoyed by said Indians during the fishing season of each and every year since said treaty was made; that said fishing place has from time immemorial been used and enjoyed by said Indians and their ancestors and known by the Indian name of ‘Top-tut’.” Mr. Towessnute objected to the charges. Relying on the stipulation, he explained that Benton County had no jurisdiction over the matter because he had committed no crime by exercising his treaty fishing rights. The trial court judge agreed: on June 10, 1915, Benton County Superior Court entered a final judgment in the matter, dismissing all the charges against Mr. Towessnute. The 1916 Washington Supreme Court reversed, mandating that the criminal charges be reinstated, overruling Mr. Towessnute’s objections. In 2015, the descendants of Mr. Towessnute sought vacation of any record of conviction against Mr. Towessnute. Given that such a conviction could not be proved by the record, the trial court declined to take any action. Under the Rules of Appellate Procedure (RAP) 1.2(c), the 2021 Washington Supreme Court acted to waive any of the RAP “to serve the ends of justice.” The mandate issued by the Washington Supreme Court in 1916 was recalled and any conviction existing then or now against Mr. Towessnute was vacated. View "Washington v. Towessnute" on Justia Law
In re Dependency of A.L.K., L.R.C.K.-S., D.B.C.K.-S.
Two of L.K.’s three children were Indian children for the purposes of federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) and Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act (WICWA). L.K. claimed the State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (Department) removed her children without making "active efforts" to keep the family together as was required under the two laws. The Court of Appeals did not address this issue but, instead, sua sponte found that under the invited error doctrine, L.K. was precluded from raising this issue on appeal, holding that because L.K. repeatedly contended she did not need services, she could not now claim on appeal that the Department did not provide her sufficient services under ICWA and WICWA. It did not reach the issue of whether the Department provided active efforts. The Washington Supreme Court reversed appellate court's holding regarding "invited error." With respect to "active efforts," the Supreme Court found the Department did not engage in the statutorily required active efforts to prevent the breakup of an Indian family. Accordingly, the dispositional order continuing L.R.C.K.-S. and D.B.C.K.-S.’s foster care placement was vacated. The matter was remanded for immediate return of these two children to their mother, unless the trial court finds returning the children put them in “substantial and immediate danger or threat of such danger.” The finding of dependency was unaffected. View "In re Dependency of A.L.K., L.R.C.K.-S., D.B.C.K.-S." on Justia Law
In re Dependency of Z.J.G.
The "[Indian Child Welfare Act] ICWA and [Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act] WICWA were enacted to remedy the historical and persistent state-sponsored destruction of Native families and communities. . . . The acts provide specific protections for Native children in child welfare proceedings and are aimed at preserving the children’s relationships with their families, Native communities, and identities. The acts also require states to send notice to tribes so that tribes may exercise their independent rights and interests to protect their children and, in turn, the continuing existence of tribes as thriving communities for generations to come." At issue in this case was whether the trial court had “reason to know” that M.G and Z.G. were Indian children at a 72-hour shelter care hearing. The Washington Supreme Court held that a trial court had “reason to know” that a child was an Indian child when a participant in the proceeding indicates that the child has tribal heritage. "We respect that tribes determine membership exclusively, and state courts cannot establish who is or is not eligible for tribal membership on their own." The Court held that an indication of tribal heritage was sufficient to satisfy the “reason to know” standard. Here, participants in a shelter care hearing indicated that M.G. and Z.G. had tribal heritage. The trial court had “reason to know” that M.G. and Z.G. were Indian children, and it erred by failing to apply ICWA and WICWA standards to the proceeding. View "In re Dependency of Z.J.G." on Justia Law
Confederated Tribes & Bands of the Yakama Nation v. Yakima County
Granite Northwest sought to expand its mining operations in Yakima County, Washington. The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation (Yakama) opposed the expansion, arguing it would disturb ancient burial grounds and a dedicated historical cemetery. Despite these objections, Yakima County issued a conditional use permit and a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), ch. 43.21C RCW, mitigated determination of nonsignificance to Granite Northwest. Yakama challenged both in superior court. The court later stayed the SEPA challenge while Yakama exhausted its administrative appeal of the conditional use permit as required by the Yakima county code. In Yakama’s administrative appeal, the hearing officer modified the conditional use permit to require a separate permit from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation but affirmed Yakima County’s issuance of the permit. Yakama appealed the hearing examiner’s decision to the county board of commissioners. On April 10, 2018, at a public meeting where Yakama representatives were present, the board passed a resolution affirming the hearing officer’s decision and denying Yakama’s appeal. Three days later, a county planner sent an e-mail and letter to Yakama with the resolution attached. The letter noted the county code required written notification of the decision and stated that the administrative appeal had been exhausted. On May 2, 2018, 22 days after the resolution was adopted and 19 days after the county planner’s letter, Yakama filed a new petition in superior court. Yakima County and Granite Northwest (collectively, Granite NW) moved to dismiss the second petition as untimely under RCW 36.70C.040(4)(b) because the 21-day filing period began on the date the board of commissioners passed its resolution and Yakama’s petition was 1 day late. Granite NW also moved to dismiss the previously stayed petition, arguing the stay was conditional on Yakama timely filing its administrative appeal. Yakama responded that RCW 36.70C.040(4)(b) was inapplicable and instead RCW 36.70C.040(4)(a) governed the filing period, which began when the county planner transmitted the written resolution to Yakama. The superior court agreed with Yakama, finding Yakama’s land use petition was timely filed, and accordingly, did not dismiss Yakama’s earlier petition. The Court of Appeals reversed in an unpublished decision, concluding the later petition was not timely and did not address the previously stayed petition. After review, the Washington Supreme Court concluded Yakama's petition was timely filed. The Court of Appeals was reversed. View "Confederated Tribes & Bands of the Yakama Nation v. Yakima County" on Justia Law
Robbins v. Mason County Title Ins. Co.
In 1854, the Washington Territory and nine Native American tribes, including the Squaxin Island Tribe (the Tribe), entered into the 1854 Treaty of Medicine Creek (the Treaty), under which the Tribe relinquished their rights to land but retained “the right of taking fish at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations . . . , in common with all citizens of the Territory.” The District Court for the Western District of Washington has interpreted “fish” under the Treaty to include shellfish. In 1978, Leslie and Harlene Robbins (Robbins) purchased property in Mason County, Washington that included tidelands with manila clam beds. In connection with the purchase of the property, Robbins obtained a standard policy of title insurance from Mason County Title Insurance Company (MCTI) which provided MCTI would insure Robbins “against loss or damage sustained by reason of: . . . [a]ny defect in, or lien or encumbrance on, said title existing at the date hereof.” For years Robbins had contracted with commercial shellfish harvesters to enter Robbins’s property to harvest shellfish from the tidelands. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether MCTI had a duty to defend Robbins when the Tribe announced it planned to assert its treaty right to harvest shellfish from the property. The Court affirmed the Court of Appeals and remanded to the superior court for further proceedings. The Supreme Court held that because the insurance policy conceivably covered the treaty right and no exceptions to coverage applied, MCTI owed the property owners a duty to defend and, in failing to do so, breached the duty. Because this breach was unreasonable given the uncertainty in the law, MCTI acted in bad faith. Further, because the property owners did not seek summary judgment on MCTI’s affirmative defenses, the Supreme Court remanded to the superior court for consideration of the defenses. View "Robbins v. Mason County Title Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Cougar Den, Inc. v. Dep’t of Licensing
The issue in this case centered on the interpretation of the "right to travel" provision Article III of the Yakama Nation Treaty of 1855, in the context of importing fuel into Washington State. The Washington State Department of Licensing (Department) challenged Cougar Den Inc.'s importation of fuel without holding an importer's license and without paying state fuel taxes under former chapter 82.36 RCW, repealed by LAWS OF 2013, ch. 225, section 501, and former chapter 82.38 RCW (2007). An administrative law judge ruled in favor of Cougar Den, holding that the right to travel on highways should be interpreted to preempt the tax. The Department's director, Pat Kohler, reversed. On appeal, the Yakima County Superior Court reversed the director's order and ruled in favor of Cougar Den. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "Cougar Den, Inc. v. Dep't of Licensing" on Justia Law
Lundgren v. Upper Skagit Indian Tribe
The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court’s review was whether the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe's (Tribe) assertion of sovereign immunity requires dismissal of an in rem adverse possession action to quiet title to a disputed strip of land on the boundary of property purchased by the Tribe. The superior court concluded that because it had in rem jurisdiction, it could determine ownership of the land without the Tribe's participation. An inquiry under CR 19, involved a merit-based determination that some interest will be adversely affected in the litigation. Where no interest is found to exist, especially in an in rem proceeding, nonjoinder presents no jurisdictional barriers. The Supreme Court found that the Tribe did not have an interest in the disputed property; therefore, the Tribe's sovereign immunity was no barrier to this in rem proceeding. The trial court properly denied the Tribe's motion to dismiss and granted summary judgment to the property owner. View "Lundgren v. Upper Skagit Indian Tribe" on Justia Law
City of Snoqualmie v. King County Exec. Constantine
At issue in this case was whether a certain governmental charge imposed on Indian tribes was a tax. After the legislature amended a statute to expand the types of tribal property that were eligible for a property tax: exemption, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe applied for and received an exemption on its Salish Lodge property pursuant to the amendment. As required by statute, the tribe negotiated and paid an amount to the county in lieu of taxes. The issue before the Washington Supreme Court centered on the constitutionality of this payment in lieu of tax (PILT). The Court found that the PILT was not a tax at all but, rather, a charge that tribes pay to compensate municipalities for public services provided to the exempt property. View "City of Snoqualmie v. King County Exec. Constantine" on Justia Law