RAPID CITY (AP) - A federal appeals court has overturned an earlier ruling that said a South Dakota county must give Native American parents more rights during initial hearings of child-removal cases.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals focused on jurisdictional issues in its Friday ruling, saying the Pennington County case is a state issue and shouldn't have gone to federal court, The Rapid City Journal reported .
The case stems from a 2013 lawsuit filed by three parents who challenged the practices of the state's 7th Judicial Circuit, the Pennington County State's Attorney Office and the state Department of Social Services during temporary custody hearings. The lawsuit alleges the hearings, under the U.S. Indian Child Welfare Act, are too brief and violate parents' constitutional rights.
The chief U.S. district judge for South Dakota, Jeffrey Viken, sided with the parents in rulings in 2015 and 2016. He ordered changes to give parents more rights at those initial hearings, which are required to be held within 48 hours of a child's removal from the home to decide whether the child should be returned to the home or be placed in the custody of the state Department of Social Services. Parents previously weren't guaranteed legal protections until a later stage in the process.
The 8th Circuit ruling didn't address the fairness of the child-removal hearings. The judges instead argued that a federal court ruling on the state's procedures interferes with the state's judicial system.
Dana Hanna, a lawyer for the Oglala and Rosebud Sioux tribes, which are working on behalf of the parents, said she plans to ask the federal appeals court to rehear the case. If that fails, an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is possible.
"We are convinced, we strongly believe that the panel's decision was wrong," she said.
State Department of Social Services Secretary Lynne Valenti said she's happy with the ruling.
"DSS has maintained from the beginning the (federal) district court should have abstained from exercising jurisdiction in this case, and we are pleased that our position prevailed at the Eighth Circuit," she said in a press release.