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Renteria v. Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 26, 2016




         Through this lawsuit, Plaintiffs Efrim and Talisha Renteria (“Plaintiffs”) seek to overturn a ruling by the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians Tribal Court’s ruling which appoints Defendant Regina Cuellar as the legal guardian of Plaintiffs’ three nieces. Their Complaint attacks the Tribal Court’s jurisdiction over the custody proceedings in the first instance, and further alleges that the Tribal Court custody proceedings violated Plaintiffs’ right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs filed an Application for a Temporary Restraining Order concurrently with their Complaint. ECF No. 8. Their Application seeks to enjoin the enforcement of the Tribal Court’s order during the pendency of this action. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs’ Application is GRANTED.


         Plaintiffs are the maternal great aunt and uncle of three young girls (“AC (older), ” “AC (younger), ” “NC, ” and, collectively, “Minors”). The Minors’ parents were killed in a car accident on December 17, 2015. Their late father was a member of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians ("Tribe"), a federally recognized Indian tribe, but the Minors resided and were domiciled with their parents in Visalia, California. They have never resided or been domiciled on tribal lands. Until the death or their parents, the Minors have had little contact with their paternal family and almost no contact with the Tribe.

         Plaintiffs cared for the Minors in the weeks following the accident. On January 5, 2016, members of the children's paternal family appeared at Plaintiffs' house in Visalia, thrust a copy of an emergency order issued by the Tribal Court of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians (“Tribal Court”) into Plaintiffs' hands, and forcibly removed AC (younger) and NC.[2] On January 22, 2016, the Tribal Court held a review hearing regarding guardianship, appointed Plaintiffs as temporary guardians for the Minors, and established a schedule of visitations for the paternal family.

         Beginning in February 2016, the two older children repeatedly reported that their paternal step-grandfather (“Joseph”) was sexually abusing them during their visits.[3]Plaintiffs reported the abuse to the Visalia Police Department and the Tulare County Health & Human Services Agency. In the days that followed Plaintiffs' initial police report, the children were interviewed outside of Plaintiffs' presence on three separate occasions by social workers with no connection to the family. The two older children continued to report instances of sexual abuse by Joseph to these social workers. After Plaintiffs made these reports, the Tribal Court modified the visitation order such that Joseph was not to have access to the minors.

         On June 3, 2016, the Tribal Court appointed Defendant Regina Cuellar as the Minors’ guardian effective June 12, 2016. At the same time, the Tribal Court issued a visitation order that failed to restrict Joseph’s access to the Minors. The Minors then went for visitation with Defendant Regina Cuellar on June 4 and 5.

         The failure to restrict Joseph’s access to the Minors during this visit resulted in yet another instance of alleged sexual abuse. Specifically, when the Minors returned to Plaintiffs’ home on the evening of June 5, AC (older) reported an additional instance of sexually abusive behavior by Joseph. Plaintiffs declined to give custody of the Minors to the paternal family on June 12, and caused a “Good Cause” Report to be filed with the Tulare County District Attorney. Plaintiffs are currently proceeding with a Petition Re Good Cause under California Penal Code section 278.7 and California Family Code section 3041 to retain temporary guardianship of the three minor children in Tulare County Superior Court.

         Plaintiffs filed this action on July 21, 2016 seeking injunctive relief and a declaration that the Tribal Court lacks jurisdiction in the guardianship proceedings and that the June 3, 2016 proceedings, which resulted in the appointment of Ms. Cuellar as guardian, violated Plaintiffs’ due process rights.


         The purpose of a temporary restraining order is to preserve the status quo pending the complete briefing and thorough consideration contemplated by full proceedings pursuant to a preliminary injunction. See Granny Goose Foods, Inc. v. Teamsters, 415 U.S. 423, 438-39 (1974) (temporary restraining orders “should be restricted to serving their underlying purpose of preserving the status quo and preventing irreparable harm just so long as is necessary to hold a hearing, and no longer”); see also Reno Air Racing Ass’n., Inc. v. McCord, 452 F.3d 1126, 1131 (9th Cir. 2006); Dunn v. Cate, No. CIV 08-873-NVW, 2010 WL 1558562, at *1 (E.D. Cal. April 19, 2010).

         Issuance of a temporary restraining order, as a form of preliminary injunctive relief, is an extraordinary remedy, and Plaintiffs have the burden of proving the propriety of such a remedy. See Mazurek v. Armstrong, 520 U.S. 968, 972 (1997). In general, the showing required for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction are the same. Stuhlbarg Int’l Sales Co., Inc. v. John D. Brush & Co., Inc., 240 F.3d 832, 839 n.7 (9th Cir. 2001).

         The party requesting preliminary injunctive relief must show that “he is likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.” Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008); Stormans, Inc. v. Selecky, 586 F.3d 1109, 1127 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Winter). The propriety of a TRO hinges on a significant threat of irreparable injury that must be imminent in nature. Caribbean Marine Serv. Co. v. Baldridge, 844 F.2d 668, 674 (9th Cir. 1988).

         Alternatively, under the so-called sliding scale approach, as long as the Plaintiffs demonstrate the requisite likelihood of irreparable harm and show that an injunction is in the public interest, a preliminary injunction can still issue so long as serious questions going to the merits are raised and the balance of hardships tips sharply in Plaintiffs’ favor. Alliance for Wild Rockies v. Cottrell, 632 F.3d 1127, 1131-36 (9th Cir. 2011) (concluding that the ...

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