Case of the Day: King v. King

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The case of the day is King v. King (Ft. Peck Ct. App. 2011). It’s something you don’t see every day: a recognition and enforcement decision in the courts of one Native American tribe concerning the judgments of the court of another tribe. The Fort Peck Tribal Court is the court of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana. Michael King sought recognition and enforcement of a child custody decision of the Fort Belknap Tribal Court, another tribal court, in 2011. The court recognized the Fort Belknap decision without a hearing, and Winona Runsabove King, the other party, appealed on the grounds that the petition for recognition was not verified and that the court had not given her a hearing to allow her to oppose recognition on due process grounds. Section 312, the relevant provision of the tribes’ Comprehensive Code of Justice provided:

The Tribal Court may as a matter of comity enforce the judgment of another Tribe, the United States, a state or foreign nation, provided, that such a judgment may be enforced only after hearing or trial, on an action or special proceeding in the Tribal Court, requesting enforcement relief [ellipsis].

On appeal, the court reversed. On the one hand, “Historically, the Fort Peck tribal court system has operated in a somewhat informal manner to promote access to justice.” On the other hand, the court felt it had to “maintain a balance between informality and the importance of complying with the law.” The failure to verify the petition was technically improper, but the judges determined that it was of little importance and did not justify reversal. The real issue was the failure to provide an evidentiary hearing. The court held that the right to a hearing in the statute was a right to an evidentiary hearing, which the appellant had not received.

The tribal statute is interesting in a number of respects. First, unlike the UFCMJRA and similar statutes, it is not limited to money judgments and does not exclude judgments in family law disputes. On the other hand, the statute appears entirely discretionary and does not create a mandatory rule of recognition for judgments that satisfy its requirements. The statute also appears to exclude the possibility of a summary judgment or judgment on the pleadings for the judgment creditor, though I really don’t know whether such procedures are available in other types of cases under the tribe’s laws.

2 responses to “Case of the Day: King v. King”

  1. Danna Runsabove

    A court system should be fair and impartial, provide equal protection to all that comes before it. You should find out how the Case of the Day: King v. King, that you blogged about actually started. The Fort Belknap Court through its dysfunctional judge, did not treat Ms Runsabove-King, the mother of the 3 children, very fair. They did not act impartial. The Tribal chairman at the time, exercised his powers over the court. Even her representative, a legal service attorney, kept telling her she would not get a fair hearing in Fort Belknap. She did not. The Fort Peck Court, through an outside judge from the Chippewa Cree tribes, an attorney, granted visitation. And while the case was ongoing, the father, Mike King, failed to return the kids to the mother. The Fort Belknap court has not, to this day, given any kind of fairness to the mother. In fact, the Fort Belknap Court of appeals did make a ruling, in the mother’s favor. (This was told to me by 2 of the Appeal justices, at that time) Both attorneys and both resigned from that Court because of the how bad the Fort Belknap court and Tribal Council operated. Because the father’s family controlled everything. To this date, she has not had any type of fair hearing from that either Court. The sad truth to this, is she has not seen her children from that visitation. She has no financial means to hire an attorney to help her. And even if she did, it would be a total waste because the Tribal Courts have treated people so unfairly.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Danna. You’re right that lawyers are expensive. You might encourage the mother to seek help from a legal services agency, for example the Montana Legal Services Association. Good luck!

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