In re S.B.C., December 30, 2015 (Montana)

Synopsis: The Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division, sought permanent legal custody of Indian child with right to consent to adoption. The District Court, Missoula County, Edward P. McLean, P.J., terminated both parents’ rights to the child, and granted the Department permanent legal custody with right to consent to adoption. Mother and father appealed.

Holdings: The Supreme Court, en banc, Jim Rice, J., held that:
(1) good cause existed to deny transfer of jurisdiction over custody matter involving Indian child to the tribal court;
(2) the proceeding had not advanced to a stage that rendered the Tribe’s motion for transfer of jurisdiction to the tribal court untimely as a matter of law;
(3) Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) section, providing that “no termination of parental rights may be ordered in the absence of testimony of qualified expert witnesses, that the continued custody of the child by the parent or Indian custodian is likely to result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child,” did not apply where father never had custody of the child; and
(4) the District Court did not abuse its discretion in terminating mother’s parental rights.

Read the full decision at the National Indian Law Library website. Read the case briefs at the Turtle Talk website.