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In re Termination of Parental Rights of Doe

Supreme Court of Idaho

May 28, 2015

JOHN DOE (2014-25), Respondent-Appellant

2015 Opinion No. 51

Appeal from the District Court of the Sixth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Bannock County. Hon. David R. Kress, Magistrate Judge.

The magistrate court's judgment terminating Doe's parental rights is affirmed.

Bannock County Public Defender's Office, Pocatello, for appellant. Rilie M. Fry argued.

Thomas D. Smith Law, PLLC, Pocatello, for respondents. Thomas D. Smith argued.

HORTON, Justice. Chief Justice BURDICK and Justices EISMANN, J. JONES and W. JONES CONCUR.


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HORTON, Justice.

This is an expedited appeal from a magistrate court's judgment terminating John Doe's parental rights and allowing his son C.C. to be adopted. Doe argues that the magistrate court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. We affirm.


Doe and C.C.'s mother (Mother) are the biological parents of C.C., who was born in 2008. Doe, Mother, and C.C. are all members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation (Tribes). Doe and Mother were never married, but lived together sporadically during the initial portion of C.C.'s life until Mother ended the relationship in 2010.

In July of 2010, Doe shot Mother in front of C.C. Doe pleaded guilty to Attempted First Degree Murder and was sentenced to serve fifteen years, with nine years fixed. He is not eligible for parole until July of 2019. Doe has been an inmate in the custody of the Department of Correction in Boise throughout these proceedings. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Court (Tribal Court), granted Mother full legal and physical custody of C.C. with no visitation rights for Doe on July, 23, 2010. The Tribal Court also entered a protection order preventing Doe from contacting Mother and C.C. until July 23, 2035.[1] Mother married C.C.'s stepfather (Stepfather) on October 15, 2010. Stepfather

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is also a member of the Tribes. Mother, Stepfather, and C.C. currently reside within the Fort Hall Reservation.

On February 6, 2014, Mother and Stepfather filed a petition in the Bannock County magistrate court, asking the magistrate court to terminate Doe's parental rights and allow Stepfather to adopt C.C.[2] In response, Doe repeatedly claimed that the magistrate court lacked jurisdiction and that the Tribal Court had exclusive jurisdiction over the proceedings. On March 3, 2014, Doe's sister filed a Motion to Deny and Dismiss on Doe's behalf arguing the magistrate court lacked jurisdiction. The magistrate court denied this motion and ordered Mother and Stepfather to file an amended petition and provide notice to the Tribes. On May 7, 2014, Doe filed his second motion to dismiss, alleging the magistrate court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. § § 1901-1963, and alleging the Tribes had not received notice. In the meantime, on May 23, 2014, Mother and Stepfather filed their amended petition and provided notice to the Tribes. The magistrate court denied Doe's second motion to dismiss. Doe filed an answer to the amended petition on May 28, 2014, denying the magistrate court's jurisdiction. Doe also filed a motion to reconsider, arguing the Tribes had exclusive jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 1911 of ICWA. The motion to reconsider was denied. Subsequently, Doe asked permission to file an interlocutory appeal on June 26, 2014. The permission for the interlocutory appeal was denied.

On July 15, 2014, the Tribes filed a petition for intervention, which was granted. The Tribes also filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. However, on July 30, 2014, the Tribes withdrew their motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and withdrew from the proceedings.

Trial was held on September 12, 2014. Regarding the conditions in Mother and Stepfather's home, an ICWA expert testified:

. . . I wish that there were lots of homes like this, because in child protection, there's not enough Native homes. And I wish that they [had] room for 15 kids. . . . They, they do all the things that -- they really present the spirit of ICWA. You know, they provide what the child needs in that home. They have the Native customs and culture. And they're honored there and it was very impressive. I felt so good about being in that home and knowing that they have children that they are raising.

Ultimately, the magistrate court determined the requirements of ICWA were " amply satisfied" and terminated Doe's parental rights, granting leave for Mother and Stepfather to present C.C. to the magistrate court for adoption. Doe timely appealed.


" Whether a court lacks jurisdiction is a question of law that may be raised at any time . . . and over which appellate courts exercise free review." State v. Jones, 140 Idaho 755, 757, 101 P.3d 699, 701 (2004). The meaning and application of a statute is a question of law over which this Court exercises free review. Idaho Dep't of Health & Welfare v. Doe, 150 Idaho 88, 90, 244 P.3d 232, 234 (2010). " Whether the trial court correctly applied ICWA to the facts of this case is a question of law and is subject to free review by this Court." Matter of Baby Boy Doe, 127 Idaho 452, 456, 902 P.2d 477, 481 (1995).


The magistrate court rejected all of Doe's claims that it did not have jurisdiction. The issues presented in this appeal concern whether: (1) judicial estoppel precludes Doe from challenging jurisdiction; (2) the State and the Tribes have an agreement to exercise concurrent jurisdiction under ICWA; (3) the State has concurrent jurisdiction under Idaho Code section 67-5101 and Public Law 280 over terminations of parental rights; and (4) ICWA precludes the State from exercising

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concurrent jurisdiction in this case because C.C. resides within the Fort Hall Reservation. We ...

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