Unpublished ICWA Notice Case from Michigan Court of Appeals

This is a pretty standard unpublished ICWA notice case (there have been 62 so far this year, 53 out of California, 3 from Michigan, 2 from Texas, and 1 each from Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, and New Jersey). We’re posting it for two (three) reasons. From the opinion:

We also reject the father’s challenges to the notices’ failures to include a copy of the petition in LC No. 13–514918–NA. The father cites only 80 CFR 37, 10146, 1153–1154 (2015). This regulation contains the requirements for Native–American tribal notifications under 25 USC 1912(a). In relevant part, the regulation demands that a notice of a pending child custody proceeding contain “clear and understandable language and include” identifying information concerning the child, the tribes “in which the child … may be eligible for membership,” and “[a] copy of the petition, complaint or other document by which the proceeding was initiated.” 80 CFR 37(B)(6)(a)(1)-(3). But the father fails to identify any authority in support of the proposition that the failure to strictly adhere to the requirement that a tribal notice contain a petition copy demands conditional reversal.

(emphasis added).

1. There is still mass confusion over Guidelines v. Regulations, including which is currently effective, their binding nature, and how to cite them. It appears father’s attorney meant to cite 80 Fed. Reg. 10153-4 (Feb. 25, 2015), which are the 2015 Guidelines, not regulations, and not a CFR. The following quote is from the same source, though I admit I was stumped on where that 37 came from–BUT that’s the number of the applicable Federal Register: Volume 80, No. 37. Page 10153, Section B.6(a). But the Court of Appeals didn’t catch this mis-cite either.

2. Yes, the Guidelines are not binding, but the Court of Appeals apparently considered them regulations for the purposes of the opinion. And yes, the 2016 Regulations are not binding until December. However, that’s also not the court’s reasoning. The Michigan Court of Appeals here says there is no remedy for not following the Regulations. That there must be additional authority beyond that of the language of federal Regulations to justify sending it back to the lower court to do the work required–father (mis)cites only binding federal Regulations. This is a small issue in this case–it appears that notice on the whole was proper. But it also demonstrates the problem with the continued lack of an enforcement mechanism in these cases.

3. For the record, either the attorney or the court could have cited to the current Regulations, 23 CFR sec. 23.11(d)(4)(2005)(“a copy of the petition, complaint, or other document by which the proceeding was initiated”), which are currently binding. The attorney or court could also point to the Regulations which will be binding in December and moved that same requirement to sec. 23.111(d)(5)(“a copy of the petition, complaint, or other document by which the child custody proceeding was initiated . . .”), 81 Fed. Reg. 38864, 38871 (June 14, 2016).

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