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In Re J.M., et al., Persons Coming Under the Juvenile Court v. V.M

May 23, 2012


APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles. Jacqueline Lewis, Juvenile Court Referee. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. CK56447)

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




V.M. (mother) challenges the juvenile court's order terminating her parental rights to now four-year-old J.M. and three-year-old B.M. Father is not a party to this appeal. Mother contends that the order must be reversed because the Department of Children and Family Services failed to comply with the notice requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)*fn1 in that: (1) the notices sent did not include the names of maternal great-great-grandparents, alleged by the maternal grandmother to have Papago Indian heritage; and (2) J.M. was not included in the notices. We disagree, finding the law does not require the inclusion of information about great-great-ancestors in ICWA notices, and any error in failing to include J.M. was harmless. We therefore affirm.


Because this appeal concerns only the sufficiency of the ICWA notices, we will provide a brief overview of the facts relating to the dependency. In May 2010, the Department received a referral that mother left J.M. and B.M home alone at night while she worked. The children were not detained at the beginning of the Department's investigation. At a team decisionmaking meeting, mother admitted to monthly use of methamphetamines. She agreed to participate in outpatient treatment, but the week following the team decisionmaking meeting, she was jailed for possessing drugs for sale, tried to hide the children from the Department, and did not seek medical attention when the children became sick with high fevers and were vomiting. J.M. and B.M. were therefore taken into protective custody and detained in July 2010. The Department alleged, among other things, that mother had unresolved substance abuse issues and neglected the children's medical needs, and that father did not provide for the children. Mother has a long history with the Department, having lost parental rights to J.M. and B.M.'s three older siblings due to her neglect and substance abuse. Therefore, the trial court denied mother reunification services.

Mother did not appear at any hearing concerning J.M. and B.M. except for two hearings to decide whether the court should terminate her parental rights, the first of which was held nearly eight months after the children were removed from her custody and placed in foster care. She was often out of contact with the Department, and she was not addressing her drug problem. Meanwhile, the children were thriving in their foster placement. Their foster mother provided them with a safe and stable home, had an approved home study, and was committed to adopting them.

The July 2010 Detention Report noted that mother "believes she might have American Indian Ancestry, but stated she has no information on any tribal registration; therefore, she signed the 'Indian Ancestry Questionnaire' indicating that she has no information regarding any Indian Ancestry of the children[.]" However, more than seven months later, mother appeared for the first time at the selection and implementation hearing (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 366.26). When termination of her parental rights was in issue, mother completed a "Parental Notification of Indian Status" form, advising the court that maternal grandmother was "full Apache." A maternal uncle, who was present at the hearing, reported that maternal grandmother never registered with the tribe, and that the Indian heritage was inadequate for registration.

The court continued the hearing and ordered the Department to contact maternal grandmother to inquire about possible Indian ancestry. On March 23, 2011, the Department provided the court with information from maternal grandmother about her Indian heritage. Maternal grandmother reported that her parents, the children's great-grandparents, O.M.M. and J.P.M., were registered members of the Apache, Yaqui, and Papago Tribes. She also reported that her paternal grandparents, the children's great-great-grandparents, R.M. and P.P.M., were members of the Papago Tribe. She knew the names of the children's great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents but nothing else about them, such as dates of birth or death. Based on this information, the court ordered the Department to provide ICWA notices.

On April 20, 2011, notices were sent concerning B.M. to various Apache and Yaqui Tribes. In May 2011, notice was sent to the Papago Tribe, known as the O'odham Nation. J.M.'s name was not included in the notices. The notices properly included all the necessary information known about B.M. and the children's mother, grandmother, and great-grandparents, but did not include the names of the great-great-grandparents (alleged to be members of the Papago Tribe but not alleged to be members of the Apache or Yaqui Tribe). Responses were received from the Tohono O'odham Nation (Papago Tribe), the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and several Apache Tribes, all reporting that B.M. was not eligible for enrollment.

On September 1, 2011, at the continued selection and implementation hearing, the trial court found J.M. and B.M. were not Indian children and that ICWA did not apply. The trial court terminated mother's parental rights, and this timely appeal followed.


Mother challenges the order terminating her parental rights, contending there was inadequate ICWA notice because: (1) the notice to the Papago Tribe did not include the names of the great-great-grandparents, and (2) the notices did not include information about J.M. Mother does not claim the Department failed to send notice to any tribe to which it was required to send notice, or that the notices were deficient in any other way. We find the ...

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