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State ex rel. Children v. Tanisha G.

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

June 4, 2019

TANISHA G. and ISAAC G., Respondents-Appellees. IN THE MATTER OF DAMIAN G., Child.


          Children, Youth & Families Department Rebecca J. Liggett, Chief Children's Court Attorney Santa Fe, NM Kelly P. O'Neill, Children's Court Attorney Albuquerque, NM for Appellant

          Law Offices of Jane B. Yohalem Jane B. Yohalem Santa Fe, NM for Appellee Tanisha G.

          Roybal-Mack & Cordova, P.C. Antonia Roybal-Mack Albuquerque, NM for Appellee Isaac G.

          Peter G. Tasso Albuquerque, NM Guardian Ad Litem


          MEGAN P. DUFFY, JUDGE.

         {¶1} The district court dismissed with prejudice the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department's (CYFD) abuse and neglect petition against Tanisha G. (Mother) and Isaac G. (Father, and collectively, Parents) for failure to timely adjudicate the petition within sixty days as required by Rule 10-343 NMRA and NMSA 1978, Section 32A-4-19(A) (2009) of the Abuse and Neglect Act, NMSA 1978, §§ 32A-4-1 to -35 (1993, as amended through 2018). CYFD appeals the district court's dismissal and contemporaneous refusal to grant CYFD's oral motion for an extension of time pursuant to Rule 10-343(D). We affirm.


         {¶2} CYFD took Child, then age four, into custody on January 26, 2018, after the Bernalillo County Sheriffs Office executed a warrant for Father's arrest, leaving no caregiver in the home to care for Child. On January 30, 2018, CYFD filed an abuse and neglect petition alleging that Mother was homeless and had left Child in Father's care, and that Mother had tested positive for certain controlled substances. CYFD further alleged that the conditions in Father's home were dangerous. A CYFD investigator provided a detailed description, stating that the home was heated by a single space heater and was very cold; that the home was "extremely cluttered[] and in disarray"; that there was uneaten old, moldy food on the kitchen counter and no clean place for Child to sleep; and that drug paraphernalia (needles and pipes) were found inside the home and in the yard, and potentially dangerous tools ("axes[, ] hatchets, screwdrivers, and knives") were strewn throughout the yard. Father argued that the police had "torn up" the home when executing the warrant and CYFD's impressions were inaccurately based on conditions as altered by the police.

         {¶3} Parents were served with the petition on February 6, 2018. By that time, Father had been released from custody and the charges against him dropped; his arrest was apparently the product of mistaken identity. The following day, Parents attended a custody hearing before a special master, who, in compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. §§ 1901 to 1963 (2018), and Rule 10-315(D) NMRA, asked about Parents' Native American ancestry to determine whether ICWA applied in this case. See 25 C.F.R. § 23.107(a) (2018) (stating that state courts must ask whether participants in a custody proceeding know or have reason to know that the child is an Indian child). Father testified about his Native American ancestry, stating that his mother is "Navajo-Apache," that his maternal grandmother was "full" and his maternal grandfather Was "half." Based on this testimony, the special master found that there was "reason to know" that Child is an Indian child and that ICWA applies. See § 1903(4) (defining "Indian child" as "any unmarried person who is under age eighteen and is either (a) a member of an Indian tribe or (b) is eligible for membership in an Indian tribe and is the biological child of a member of an Indian tribe"); NMSA 1978, § 32A-1-4(L) (2016) (same). CYFD's attorney stated that it would "abide" by the ICWA finding. The district court adopted the special master's recommendations, as set forth in an order prepared by CYFD during the hearing, and entered a temporary custody order on February 8, 2018, which included a finding that Child is an Indian child. The court further ordered that "[b]ecause there is reason to know [C]hild meets the definition of Indian child as set forth in ICWA, the [c]ourt shall treat [C]hild as an Indian child subject to [ICWA] unless and until it is determined on the record that [C]hild does not meet the definition of an Indian child under applicable law." The custody order stated that Child shall remain in CYFD's custody pending adjudication.

         {¶4} In the ensuing seventy-seven days, the parties appeared for three hearings: a status conference on February 27, 2018, and two adjudicatory hearings that had been set for April 2, 2018, and April 24, 2018, respectively. The district court declined to commence the adjudication on either April 2 or April 24, however, because although CYFD had mailed ICWA notices to several tribal entities on February 8, 2018, and the tribal entities had received those notices shortly thereafter, CYFD had not filed proof of service to establish receipt in the record.

         {¶5} On April 25, 2018, Parents filed separate motions to dismiss, arguing that CYFD had failed to commence the adjudication within sixty days as required by the Abuse and Neglect Act. Section 32A-4- 19(A) (stating that "[t]he adjudicatory hearing in a neglect or abuse proceeding shall be commenced within sixty days after the date of service on the respondent"); see also Rule 10-343(A) (same). CYFD finally filed proof of service of the ICWA notices on April 26, 2018, but filed no response to either of the motions to dismiss.

         {¶6} The district court heard the motions to dismiss on the morning of May 24, 2018, at which time CYFD orally moved for an extension of time to commence the adjudicatory hearing. The district court denied CYFD's request, noting that the court and parties had attempted multiple times to commence the adjudication, that CYFD's failure to comply with ICWA's notice requirements had precluded the court from timely adjudicating the matter, that the court had reminded CYFD that the time limits were running, and that CYFD had failed to file a motion to extend the time limits when the parties were last in court.[1] The district court granted the Parents' motions to dismiss the petition with prejudice.

         {¶7} Hours later, Father filed an emergency motion for contempt of court, stating that arrangements had been made for Child to be reunited with Parents at 11:15 a.m., but CYFD refused to return Child. The district court conducted an emergency hearing at 3:00 p.m., during which CYFD stated that it intended to file a motion to reconsider or, alternatively, to stay the judgment. The district court admonished CYFD for keeping Child without ...

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