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Alaska Supreme Court Refuses to Enforce Tribal Adoption Resolution January 27, 2008

Posted by rezjudicata in State Courts.
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Starr v. George, No. S-12456 (Alaska, Jan. 18, 2008)

Issue(s): Full Faith and Credit > Foreign Judgments >> Enforcement; ICWA > Divorce Exception; ICWA > Full Faith and Credit >> Child Custody Proceedings

The Starrs and Georges are the maternal and paternal grandparents of two Tlingit children. After their daughter killed her husband, the Starrs took guardianship of the children. The Georges received visitation privileges. When disputes over visitation surfaced, the Georges sought custody in Alaska state court. Without informing the Georges, the Starrs then obtained Angoon tribal council authorization to adopt the children. Must the Alaska state court enforce the council resolutions and dismiss the Georges’ custody suit?

No. The ICWA requires state courts to give full faith and credit to tribal child custody proceedings. Under the so-called “divorce exception,” however, state courts don’t have to honor these tribal court decisions in custody issues between the parents. Because grandparents are extended family, the Alaska Supreme Court held that this exception did not apply.

For the Court, this conclusion did not resolve the full faith and credit issue. More specifically, the ICWA requires state courts to give the same deference to tribal court judgments as sister state judgments. Alaskan full faith and credit analysis follows two steps. First, the issuing court must have had subject matter jurisdiction. Second, the proceeding afforded the parties due process. The Starrs never informed the Georges of their adoption petition, nor told the tribal council about the Georges. The Georges held visitation rights and were interested parties to the tribal council proceedings. Therefore, by failing to give notice to the Georges, the tribal council proceeding violated due process.

The Court then tested the Angoon proceedings under federal full faith and credit standards. Again, the lack of notice proved fatal. Without it, the tribal council proceedings did not meet “minimum procedural requirements of due process.” Thus, he Alaska Supreme Court refused to enforce the Angoon Community Association’s resolutions.

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