Cherokee Nation v. Nomura

160 P.3d 967 (2013)

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Cherokee Nation v. Nomura

Oklahoma Supreme Court
160 P.3d 967 (2013)

Facts

An Indian woman (the birth mother) gave birth in Oklahoma to a child who was entitled to the protections of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) because of his connection to the Cherokee Nation (the nation) (plaintiff). The birth mother chose to place the child for adoption with non-Indian adoptive parents who resided in Florida, using the services of American Adoptions of Florida, Inc. (the agency) (defendant). After the child’s birth, the adoptive parents filed a motion in Oklahoma court, asking the state to pay for the child’s adoption expenses, and then filed an adoption petition in Florida. The birth mother and child traveled to Florida to complete the adoption. The agency filed and was granted a petition in Florida court to terminate the birth mother’s parental rights. The birth mother requested that the court waive ICWA requirements, which the court did, finding that notice to the nation was unnecessary because the adoption proceeding was voluntary and that there was good cause to waive the ICWA preferred-placement hierarchy. The nation received notice of the proceeding almost one month later and moved to intervene in Florida court. The nation then filed suit in Oklahoma, which had continuing jurisdiction as a result of the adoption-expense motion. The nation sought a temporary restraining order against Michael Nomura (defendant), the administrator of the Oklahoma Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, for the purpose of preventing Nomura from approving the child’s removal from Oklahoma. The Oklahoma court found that the adoption matter constituted a child-custody proceeding and therefore ICWA and the Oklahoma Indian Child Welfare Act (OICWA) applied. The Oklahoma court held that Nomura had the duty to ensure that ICWA regulations were followed and that the governmental interest in promoting the interests of the nation outweighed whatever parental rights remained with the birth mother after she relinquished her rights. The agency appealed, arguing, among other things, that OICWA conflicted with ICWA because ICWA applied only to involuntary proceedings but OICWA applied to voluntary and involuntary proceedings, rendering OICWA unconstitutional.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Watt, J.)

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