Simmonds v. Parks:
Briefs & Oral Arguments

 

Simmonds v. Parks is an Alaska Supreme Court case concerning the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and whether the tribal court of one tribe (Minto) had subject matter and personal jurisdiction over the father, who is a member of another tribe (Stevens Village).

Background

In 2009 the Minto Tribal Court terminated the parental rights of Edward Parks, a member of the Native Village of Stevens (Stevens Village), and Bessie Stearman, a member of the Native Village of Minto, over ongoing family violence. The tribal court granted permanent custody of their minor child S.P. to Jeff and Rozella Simmonds.  Jeff Simmonds, also a member of the Minto tribe, is Bessie Stearman's first cousin.

In September 2009, Parks sued in Fairbanks Superior Court to regain custody of S.P. Parks argued that Minto Tribal Court had no jurisdiction over him and that the tribal court had violated his right to due process by not permitting Parks' attorney to present oral argument.  Therefore, Parks argued, the tribal court's order terminating his parental rights was not entitled to full faith and credit under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).  The Simmonds argued that the Minto court's order was entitled to full faith and credit under ICWA and moved to dismiss the lawsuit, but the Superior Court denied the motion, ruling in November 2010 that the Minto court had violated Parks' due process rights.

In December 2010 the Simmonds petitioned the Alaska Supreme Court for review. The high court granted the petition in March 2011 and remanded the case to the trial court to make factual findings and legal conclusions on specific questions.  The Superior Court concluded in part that, outside of Indian Country, tribal courts may not have jurisdiction over nonmembers.

The Simmonds filed a second petition for review with the Alaska Supreme Court.  The Alaska Supreme Court granted the petition for review on July 9, 2012, listing eight questions for review:

 

  1. Did the Minto Tribal Court have subject matter jurisdiction to terminate Parks's parental rights?
  2. Did the Minto Tribal Court have personal jurisdiction over Parks and S.P.? Did Parks consent to the jurisdiction of the Minto Tribal Court? Did Parks as a non-Native parent have the right to transfer his case from the Minto Tribal Court to state court?
  3. Did the Minto Tribal Court provide Parks with a meaningful opportunity to present his case when it refused to let his attorney speak for him in the tribal court?
  4. Did the Minto Tribal Court provide Parks with adequate notice that his attorney would only be able to make arguments by submitting them in writing beforehand?
  5. If Parks was denied a meaningful opportunity to be heard in the tribal court, was the denial prejudicial if the Minto Tribal Court had jurisdiction?
  6. What effect, if any, does Parks's failure to exhaust his remedies by appealing in the tribal court have on his due process claim?
  7. Was the issue of jurisdiction fully and fairly litigated in the Minto Tribal Court?
  8. If the tribal court order is not entitled to full faith and credit, what is the appropriate remedy? If the tribal court order is vacated, should the instant action be converted to a CINA proceeding, remanded to the Minto Tribal Court for further proceedings, or remanded to the superior court?

 

Briefs were filed by in December 2012 through November 2013 and oral arguments were heard in Fairbanks by the Alaska Supreme Court on March 7, 2014.

 

In a decision issued on July 18, 2014, the Alaska Supreme Court held that because Mr. Parks failed to appeal the tribal court decision within the Minto tribal court system, he could not bring his case in the State of Alaska court system. Tribal court decisions are due the same respect in this regard as would be decisions from other states. The Supreme Court rejected Mr. Parks’ argument that an appeal would have been futile. Because the Supreme Court decided the case on this one narrow issue, it did not definitively decide the jurisdiction and due process arguments raised in the briefs. Click here for the decision.

Briefs and oral arguments

Date Briefs Brief type Document
Dec 17, 2012 Brief of Petitioner Petitioner Document in PDF format
Dec 17, 2012 Amici Brief of Kenaitze Indian Tribe, Native Village of Eek, Stony River Traditional Council, Native Village of Mekoryuk, Umkumiut Tribal Councill, and Tuntutuliak Traditional Council Amicus Document in PDF format
Apr 26, 2013 State's Brief Intervenor-Respondent Document in PDF format
Aug 1, 2013 Brief of Respondent, Edward Parks Respondent Document in PDF format
Aug 15, 2013 Bessie Stearman's Brief Respondent Document in PDF format
Nov 1, 2013 Petitioner's Reply Brief Petitioner's reply Document in PDF format
Date Oral arguments   audio file
(MP3)
Mar 7, 2014

Oral arguments, Simmonds v. Parks, Alaska Supreme Court Case S14103 (1:03:29)

Complete Alaska Justice Forum issue in PDF format