415 F.3d 1038 (9th Cir. 2005), 04-15477, Doe v. Mann

Docket Nº:04-15477
Citation:415 F.3d 1038
Party Name:Doe v. Mann
Case Date:July 19, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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415 F.3d 1038 (9th Cir. 2005)

Mary DOE, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Arthur MANN, in his official capacity; Robert L. Crone, Jr., in his official capacity; Lake County Superior Court; Department of Social Services, Lake County; D., Mrs.; D., Mr., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 04-15477.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

July 19, 2005

Argued and Submitted October 6, 2004

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, D.C. No. CV-02-03448-MHP, Marilyn H. Patel, District Judge, Presiding.


Jeffrey L. Bleich, Munger, Tolles & Olson, San Francisco, California, for the plaintiff-appellant.

Marc A. Le Forestier, Deputy Attorney General, State of California, Sacramento, California; Robert L. Weiss, Deputy County Counsel, Lake County, Lakeport, CA, Alicia C. Park, Soter & Park, Attorneys at Law, San Francisco, CA, for the defendants-appellees.

Caroline J. Todd, Berkeley, California, for intervenor-appellee Jane Doe.

Bertram E. Hirsch, Great Neck, New York, for amici Association on American Indian Affairs, National Indian Child Welfare Association, and Tanana Chiefs Conference.

Thomas Weathers, Alexander, Berkey, Williams & Weathers, Berkley, California, for amicus Morongo Band of Mission Indians.

Brad S. Jolly, Smith & Jolly, Thornton, Colorado, for amicus Elem Indian Colony.

John W. Corbett, Klamath, California, for amicus Yurok Tribe.

Before: Stephen S. Trott, M. Margaret McKeown, Circuit Judges, and Milton I. Shadur, Senior District Judge.[*]


McKEOWN, Circuit Judge:

Mary Doe1 challenges the State of California's jurisdiction to terminate her parental rights over her Indian child, Jane Doe, who was domiciled on the Elem Indian Colony reservation at the time she was removed from Mary Doe's custody by the Lake County Department of Social Services. The case arises under the Indian Child Welfare Act ("ICWA"), which was passed in 1978 to ensure the tribes a role in adjudicating child custody proceedings involving Indian children. P.L. 95-608, codified at 25 U.S.C. §§ 1901-1963.2 ICWA provides that tribes will have exclusive jurisdiction over child custody proceedings involving Indian children domiciled or residing on the reservation "except where such jurisdiction is otherwise vested in the State by existing Federal law'' 25 U.S.C. § 1911 (a) (emphasis added). Under one such federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 1162(a) and 28 U.S.C. § 1360(a), commonly known as "Public Law 280," California is vested with broad criminal and certain civil jurisdiction over Indians.

This case presents an issue of first impression for the federal courts, requiring us to reconcile Public Law 280's grant of certain jurisdiction to the state of California over Indians with the exclusive jurisdiction granted to tribes by ICWA over child custody proceedings involving Indian children domiciled on Indian reservations.

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As a threshold matter, we conclude that the federal court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and, in conjunction with ICWA, may use that jurisdiction to review the state court judgment terminating Mary Doe's parental rights; the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not bar the district court from exercising jurisdiction. On the merits, we conclude that ICWA does not provide the Elem Indian Colony with exclusive jurisdiction over this child dependency proceeding involving Jane Doe, an Indian child. Consequently, we affirm the district court's entry of judgment in favor of the State of California.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Mary Doe is a member of the federally recognized Elem Indian Colony in Lake County, California.3 In 1999, Jane told her mother that a minor male cousin had sexually assaulted her. Mary Doe called the Department of Social Services, and the agency responded by removing Jane from her great-aunt's home on the Elem Indian Colony's reservation, where Jane was residing at the time.

The Department of Social Services initiated child dependency proceedings in Lake County Superior Court under California's Welfare and Institutions Code ("Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code") §§ 300(b) and (d) based on Mary Doe's failure to protect her daughter. Jane was placed in a licensed foster home while the state dependency proceedings were pending in state superior court. In the fall of 2000, the Elem Indian Colony intervened in the superior court proceedings. At the same time, the Tribal Council passed a resolution declaring that Jane should be placed for adoption with Mary Doe's brother and her sister-in-law.

The superior court terminated Mary Doe's parental rights in 2001. Jane's foster parents, Mr. and Mrs. D, petitioned to adopt her. Mrs. D is an Indian but not a member of the Elem Indian Colony. Despite the Elem Indian Colony's resolution, the superior court approved the adoption by Mr. and Mrs. D. The petition for adoption stated that Jane was an Indian child under ICWA and was affiliated with the Elem Indian Colony.

A year and a half after her parental rights were terminated, Mary Doe filed a complaint in federal court for declaratory and injunctive relief. Among other claims, Mary Doe challenged the superior court's jurisdiction to terminate her parental rights and to approve Jane's adoption by Mr. and Mrs. D. Mary Doe named as defendants two Superior Court Judges and the Superior Court (collectively "Court-Appellees"), Mr. and Mrs. D, and the Department of Social Services.

The district court held that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not bar it from exercising subject matter jurisdiction over Mary Doe's complaint because § 1914 provides a cause of action in federal court to invalidate certain state court child custody proceedings. Doe v. Mann, 285 F.Supp.2d 1229, 1233-34 (N.D. Cal. 2003). Applying its jurisdiction, the district court held that, because the Elem Indian Colony did not have exclusive jurisdiction over child dependency proceedings under § 1911 (a), the

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superior court had jurisdiction to terminate Mary Doe's parental rights and approve Jane's adoption. Id. at 1238-39. The district court entered a final judgment against Mary Doe, thus leaving intact the state court parental termination and adoption orders.

II. Jurisdiction

Mary Doe's district court complaint asserted that the state judges and "the Superior Court erroneously deprived [Mary Doe] of custody of [Jane] without jurisdiction." Invoking § 1914, 4 which provides that a parent "may petition any court of competent jurisdiction to invalidate" a parental rights termination order, Mary Doe sought a declaration that the state court judgments terminating Mary Doe's parental rights and approving the adoption of Jane were null and void for lack of jurisdiction under ICWA. Mary Doe contended that § 1911 (a) provides the Elem Indian Colony exclusive jurisdiction over Jane's dependency proceedings because Jane was domiciled within Indian country at the time dependency proceedings commenced.

Typically, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars federal courts from exercising subject-matter jurisdiction over a proceeding in "which a party losing in state court" seeks "what in substance would be appellate review of the state judgment in a United States district court, based on the losing party's claim that the state judgment itself violates the loser's federal rights." Johnson v. De Grandy, 512 U.S. 997, 1005-06 (1994). The nature of Mary Doe's federal complaint falls squarely within the confines of a "de facto appeal" of a state court judgment that would be outside the subject-matter jurisdiction of the federal district court under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See Noel v. Hall, 341 F.3d 1148, 1156 (9th Cir. 2003) (federal district court must refuse to hear "a forbidden de facto appeal from a judicial decision of a state court"). We ultimately conclude, however, that the federal district court had jurisdiction to consider Mary Doe's complaint because the federal district court had federal question jurisdiction over Mary Doe's claims, and § 1914 grants federal district courts the authority to invalidate state court actions that violate §§ 1911, 1912, and 1913.

A. Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine derives its name from two Supreme Court cases: Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923), and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). In simple terms, "[u]nder Rooker-Feldman, a federal district court is without subject matter jurisdiction to hear an appeal from the judgment of a state court." Bianchi v. Rylaarsdam, 334 F.3d 895, 896 (9th Cir. 2003).

The Supreme Court has applied the doctrine only three times, in the named cases and, just this year, in Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., where it emphasized the narrow scope of the doctrine:

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine . . . is confined to cases of the kind from which

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the doctrine acquired its name: cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments. Rooker-Feldman does not otherwise override or supplant preclusion doctrine or augment the circumscribed doctrines that allow federal courts to stay or dismiss proceedings in deference to state-court activities.

--- U.S. ----, ---- - ----, 125 S.Ct. 1517, 1521-22 (2005).5 Our earlier precedent is consistent. As we explained in Noel v. Hall,

[a] federal district court dealing with a suit that is, in part, a forbidden de facto appeal from a judicial decision of a state court must refuse to hear the forbidden appeal. As part of that refusal, it must also refuse to decide any issue raised...

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