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Iowa Supreme Court Affirms Transfer of ICWA Case to Meskwaki Tribal Court February 18, 2008

Posted by rezjudicata in State Courts.

In the Interest of N.V. and P.V., No 18/07-0583 (Iowa Feb. 15, 2008)

Issue(s): Iowa ICWA > Child Welfare Proceedings >> Transfer to Tribal Court >>> Grounds for Denying Transfer

Aside from a few listed exceptions, under the Iowa ICWA, a state court must transfer a child welfare proceeding to tribal court upon the request of either parent. The State instituted child in need of assistance proceedings in 2005. In 2007, at the termination hearing, both the mother and father requested that the court transfer the case to Meskwaki Tribal Court. Can the state court deny the parents’ request because it was untimely?

The Iowa Supreme Court said no. Because the request came so late in the proceedings, the State argued that the state court could and should deny the parents’ transfer petition. The Iowa ICWA, however, says that good cause to deny a parent’s transfer request exists only when: a) the tribal court declines the transfer; b) the tribal court lacks jurisdiction; or c) the transfer would cause undue hardship to the parties and witnesses. The Supreme Court found that the Iowa legislature had unambiguously provided an exclusive list. The plain language of the Iowa ICWA does not allow the court to deny a transfer petition based on its timing. Moreover, Iowa followed federal ICWA regulations prior to enacting its own companion law. Federal guidelines provided timing requirements. But the legislature conspicuously left those guidelines out of the Iowa law.

The Court also found the Iowa ICWA’s enumerated exceptions inapplicable. The record did not show that undue hardship would result from a transfer to tribal court. The Court also held that doctrines of estoppel and laches could not override the Iowa ICWA’s clear statutory mandate. Therefore, the state court could not deny the transfer petition.



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