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Doe v. Piper

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

August 4, 2017

JANE DOE and JOHN DOE, individually, and on behalf of Baby Doe, Plaintiffs,
v.
EMILY JOHNSON PIPER, in her official capacity as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, and LORI SWANSON, in her official capacity as Minnesota Attorney General, Defendants.

          JEFFREY S. STORMS, ANDREW M. IRLBECK, MARK D. FIDDLER, AND R. DANIEL RASMUS, FOR PLAINTIFFS.

          SCOTT H. IKEDA AND AARON WINTER, ASSISTANT ATTORNEYS GENERAL, FOR DEFENDANTS.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JOHN R. TUNHEIM CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Plaintiffs Jane and John Doe (the “Does”) brought this action seeking injunctive relief and a declaration that the portions of the Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act (“MIFPA”), Minn. Stat. §§ 260.751-260.835, that require notice to Indian tribes for any voluntary adoption involving an “Indian child” and provide relevant Indian tribes a right of intervention are unconstitutional. The remaining defendants in this case are the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Resources, Emily Johnson Piper, and the Minnesota Attorney General, Lori Swanson (collectively, “Defendants”). Both sides move for summary judgment. While this case presents interesting and unclear questions of constitutional law, the Court finds the Does' action is now moot, and therefore, the Court must grant Defendants' motion and deny the Does' motion.

         BACKGROUND

         I. MIFPA

         The Does challenge several adoption procedures codified in MIFPA.

The purposes of [MIFPA] are to (1) protect the long-term interests, as defined by the tribes, of Indian children, their families as defined by law or custom, and the child's tribe; and (2) preserve the Indian family and tribal identity, including an understanding that Indian children are damaged if family and child tribal identity and contact are denied.

Minn. Stat. § 260.753. MIFPA is broader than its federal counterpart - the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (“ICWA”) - which similarly seeks to address the concern “that an alarmingly high percentage of Indian families [have been] broken up by the removal, often unwarranted, of their children from them by nontribal public and private agencies and that an alarmingly high percentage of such children are placed in non-Indian foster and adoptive homes and institutions.” 25 U.S.C. § 1901(4); see also Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, 133 S.Ct. 2552, 2557 (2013) (discussing the motivation for ICWA).

         Both ICWA and MIFPA establish procedures for Indian tribes to push state courts to place Indian children with Indian families when those children are put up for adoption. The statutes establish preferences for placing Indian children with Indian families absent a showing of good cause justifying action to the contrary. 25 U.S.C. § 1915(a); Minn. Stat. § 260.771, subd. 7. Both statutes also require notice to tribes and allow for the tribes' intervention in proceedings under certain circumstances. See 25 U.S.C. § 1912(a); Minn. Stat. § 260.761, subds. 2-3, 6.

         Notably, ICWA's adoption provision applies only to involuntary adoption proceedings. See 25 U.S.C. § 1912(a); Adoptive Couple, 133 S.Ct. at 2557 (discussing ICWA's governance of “involuntary termination of parental rights”). MIFPA's adoption provisions apply more broadly, encouraging placement of Indian children with Indian parents in voluntary as well as involuntary adoptions. Compare 25 U.S.C. § 1912 (involuntary proceedings only), with Minn. Stat. § 260.761, subd. 3 (voluntary proceedings).

         MIFPA's definition of “Indian child” is also broader than ICWA's. MIFPA defines “Indian child” as any “unmarried person who is under age 18” who is either “(1) a member of an Indian tribe; or (2) eligible for membership in an Indian tribe.” Minn. Stat. § 260.755, subd. 8 (emphasis added). In contrast, ICWA defines “Indian child” as “any unmarried person who is under age eighteen and is either (a) a member of an Indian tribe or (b) is eligible for membership in an Indian tribe and is the biological child of a member of an Indian tribe.” 25 U.S.C. § 1903(4) (emphasis added). The Does note that at least three Indian tribes allow for membership on the grounds of blood quantum or lineage.[1] Thus, based on a child's ancestry alone, MIFPA could extend to the children of non-members of tribes that rely solely on blood quantum for eligibility.[2]

         The Does challenge two particular MIFPA provisions. First, the Does challenge the “notice” provision, under which “a local social services agency, private child-placing agency, petitioner in the adoption, or any other party” must notify the applicable “tribal social services agency” if the agency or person “has reason to believe that a child who is the subject of an adoptive or preadoptive placement proceeding is or may be an ‘Indian child'” under the statute. Minn. Stat. § 260.761, subd. 3. Second, the Does challenge the “intervention” provision, which provides an Indian child's tribe the right to intervene at any point in adoption proceedings involving the child. Id., subd. 6.

         II. THE DOES' ADOPTION ...


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