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In Re A.L., A Person Coming Under the Juvenile Court Law. v. M.L.

December 22, 2010


Sonoma County Super. Ct. No. 27675J

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rivera, J.

In re A.L. CA1/4


California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

A.L. (Minor) and his mother M.L. (Mother) appeal orders voluntarily committing Minor to a locked psychiatric hospital facility and restricting Mother's right to control Minor's psychotropic medications. Mother and Minor contend on appeal that the Sonoma County Human Services Department (the Department) failed to comply with the requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (25 U.S.C. § 1901 et seq.) (ICWA). Minor also contends he was not afforded the appropriate procedural protections to ensure his commitment was voluntary. We shall affirm the orders.


Minor is now 17 years old. A petition pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code*fn1 section 300 was filed in March 2004, alleging that Minor, then 11 years old, had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourette's syndrome, attention deficient hyperactivity disorder, and anxiety disorder, and that he was in need of residential mental health treatment. According to the petition, Minor had been hospitalized in psychiatric facilities at least twice, and had exhibited "aggressive, self injurious, and psychotic behaviors including suicidal ideation and statements, auditory and visual hallucinations, property damage, fire starting, attempting to light himself on fire, physical assaults on others, illegal drug use and refusal to take prescribed psychotropic medications." His father A.L. (Father)*fn2 was in jail. According to an assessment by the Department, Mother had a history of mental health issues and was unable to meet Minor's special needs.

On March 25, 2004, the day after Minor was detained, Father told a social worker he might have some Native American heritage, but did not know the details. Mother said she might have "Indian heritage, Cherokee," but she did not have the paperwork. Minor was attending "Indian health" under Medi-Cal. At the detention hearing on March 29, 2004, the juvenile court found ICWA might apply.

The jurisdiction/disposition report stated that Minor might be an Indian child with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. According to the report, Mother had said on March 29, 2004, that her family had Native American ancestry. The social worker had "obtained all known family history from [Mother] and notification was made to the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma." No response had yet been received. At a May 18, 2004, jurisdiction hearing, the juvenile court found the allegations of the petition true, and again found that ICWA might apply.

The Department had sent the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the BIA notice of the proceedings by certified mail. According to the cover letter, Mother had claimed affiliation with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. The enclosed notice of involuntary child custody proceeding involving an Indian child and request for confirmation of child's status as Indian included names used by Mother and the names of her parents and two of her grandparents. The documentation indicated Father did not have tribal affiliation, and the Mother's tribal affiliation was Cherokee Indian and that she claimed ancestry from Oklahoma. An ancestor chart, containing information about Minor's parents, maternal grandparents, and other maternal ancestors dating back to the 18th century, was included.

The Department's report for the six-month status review hearing indicated that the Cherokee Nation had advised the Department that Minor "[would] not be considered an 'Indian Child' in relationship to the Cherokee Nation."*fn3 The report did not note what response, if any, the BIA had given. The Department asked the juvenile court to find ICWA did not apply. Mother submitted on the proposed findings, and sought further consideration only of the issue of visitation. Father's counsel indicated that he would speak with Father, who was incarcerated, and inform the court of any objections Father had; he did not subsequently lodge any objection. On November 18, 2004, the juvenile court found ICWA did not apply to the case.

A report for the 12-month review hearing, filed in July 2005, reiterated that ICWA did not apply to the case. On July 25, 2005, the juvenile court terminated reunification services as to Father and continued them as to Mother.

The status review report prepared for the November 1, 2005, 18-month review hearing recommended that reunification services be terminated for Mother, concluding that Mother could not provide appropriate parenting for Minor because of her own mental health issues and Minor's behavioral problems. The report stated that ICWA did not apply. The juvenile court terminated reunification services as to Mother and approved a permanent plan of a planned permanent living arrangement in residential care, with a goal of a less restrictive foster care setting.

The Department reported in April 2006 that Minor was at a level 14 residential treatment program, and that he tended to act out frequently, including missing class without permission, assaulting staff, throwing objects at staff, urinating on the play structure, attempting to swallow staples, spitting, and making sexual comments and gestures in class. He ...

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