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Watso v. Piper

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 27, 2018

Kimberly Watso, individually and on behalf of C.H and C.P., her minor children; and Kaleen Dietrich, Plaintiffs,
v.
Emily Piper, in her official capacity as Commissioner of the Department of Human Services; Scott County; Judge John E. Jacobson, in his official capacity; Tribal Court of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians; Judge Mary Ringhand, in her official capacity; and Tribal Court of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Dakota Community. Defendants.

          Erick G. Kaardal, Esq., and William F. Mohrman, Esq., Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson, P.A., Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Plaintiffs.

          Aaron Winter, Assistant Attorney General, Minnesota Attorney General's Office, St. Paul, MN, on behalf of Defendant Emily Piper.

          James R. Andreen, Esq., Erstad & Riemer, P.A., Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Defendant Scott County.

          Cicely R. Miltich, Esq., Faegre Baker Daniels, Chicago, IL; Greg S. Paulson, Esq., Brodeen & Paulson, P.L.L.P., Minneapolis, MN; Joshua T. Peterson, Esq., and Richard A. Duncan, Esq., Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Defendants Judge John E. Jacobson and Tribal Court of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux (Dakota) Community.

          Joseph M. Plumer, Esq., Plumer Law Officer, Bemidji, MN, and Richard A. Duncan, Esq., Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Defendants Tribal Court of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians and Judge Mary Ringhand.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ANN D. MONTGOMERY, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the undersigned United States District Judge for a ruling on Plaintiffs Kimberly Watso and Kaleen Dietrich's (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) Objection [Docket No. 119] to Magistrate Judge Katherine M. Menendez's December 5, 2017 Report and Recommendation [Docket No. 117]. In the R&R, Judge Menendez recommends granting Defendants Judge John E. Jacobson and Tribal Court of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux (Dakota) Community's Motion to Dismiss [Docket No. 12], granting Defendant Emily Piper's Motion to Dismiss [Docket No. 29], granting Defendant Scott County's Motion to Dismiss [Docket No. 46], granting Defendants Judge Mary Ringhand and Tribal Court of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians' Motion to Dismiss [Docket No. 53], and denying as moot Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Docket No. 103].[1] For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs' Objection is overruled.

         II. BACKGROUND

         This lawsuit challenges child custody transfers from Scott County, Minnesota to the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux (Dakota) Community Court (“SMSC Court”). Plaintiffs argue that federal law requires a prior state court proceeding before a tribal court may exercise jurisdiction over child custody proceedings. Plaintiffs seek prospective declaratory, injunctive, and other relief, and also seek to invalidate tribal court proceedings and to regain parental control over the minor children.

         A. Factual Background

         Kimberly Watso (“Watso”) is the mother of minor children C.P. and C.H. Compl. [Docket No. 1] ¶ 1. C.P. is a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians (“Red Lake Band”). Id. ¶ 2. C.H. is a member of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux (Dakota) Community (“SMSC”). Id. ¶ 3. Kaleen Dietrich (“Dietrich”) is the maternal grandmother of C.H. and C.P. Id. ¶ 5. Neither Watso nor Dietrich are Indians. Id. ¶¶ 1, 5.

         On January 22, 2015, a representative of the SMSC Family and Children Services Department filed a Petition in the SMSC Court seeking a determination that C.P. and C.H. were children in need of assistance, and requesting a transfer of their custody to the SMSC Child Welfare Office. Watso v. Jacobson, et al. No. 16-983, Docket No. 1 ¶ 52 (D. Minn. May 31, 2016). At a January 28, 2015 hearing, Watso was present to dispute the SMSC Court's jurisdiction. Id. ¶ 54.

         On February 24, 2015, C.H. was examined at a medical center. Compl. ¶ 18. The exam resulted in a report of possible child abuse or neglect by Watso and Isaac Hall, the biological father of C.H. and a member of SMSC. Id. ¶¶ 15, 19. A detective with the Shakopee Police Department issued a Notice of 72-Hour Police Health and Safety Hold, notifying the parents that C.P. and C.H. would be held at Children's Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota.[2]

         On February 25, 2015, the SMSC Court received an Emergency Ex Parte Motion to Transfer Legal and Physical Custody of the children. Id. Ex. 4. This motion was brought in the context of preexisting child welfare proceedings initiated on January 22, 2015. Although filed ex parte, Watso was notified of the motion and she objected to the SMSC Court's exercise of jurisdiction. Compl. ¶¶ 130-36. The SMSC Court overruled Watso's objections, and transferred temporary legal and physical custody of C.P. and C.H. to SMSC Family and Children Services Development. In so ruling, the SMSC Court rejected Watso's argument that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because a Minnesota state court had not first determined that jurisdiction should be transferred to a tribal court. Id. Ex. 5.

         On January 17, 2017, the SMSC Court granted the Red Lake Band's motion to dismiss the tribal court proceedings regarding C.P., “allowing the Red Lake Nation to take jurisdiction over C.P.” Id. ¶ 21.

         Watso claims that the transfer of custody from Scott County violated the Indian Child Welfare Act, 25 U.S.C. §§ 1901-1963, her federal constitutional rights, and other provisions of federal law.

         B. ...


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