|by Kate Fort via Turtle Talk|
Under the circumstances presented here, we conclude the district court's order permitting a deviation from ICWA's placement preferences did not dispose of the entire merits of the case and left open the possibility of future action by the district court with respect to T.S.W.'s placement. Thus, the Tribe has not appealed from a "final order, judgment or decree" under K.S.A. 2011 Supp. 59-2401a(b)(1), and we lack statutory authority to hear this appeal.
But that holding does not end our analysis. Alternatively, the Tribe urges us to exercise jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine. That doctrine, which we sparingly apply, provides a narrow exception to the final order requirement. It "allows appellate courts to reach 'not only judgments that "terminate an action," but also a "small class" of collateral rulings that, although they do not end the litigation, are appropriately deemed "final." [Citation omitted.]'" Kansas Medical Mut. Ins. Co., 291 Kan. at 611-12 (quoting Mohawk Industries, Inc. v. Carpenter, 558 U.S. ___, 130 S. Ct. 599, 605, 175 L. Ed. 2d 458 ).
In this case, we need not extensively consider whether the Agency followed the placement preferences before seeking a deviation from those preferences. It did not. While the Agency made some effort to satisfy the second placement preference when it requested the Tribe provide available adoptive family profiles, the Agency impermissibly qualified its request in at least two ways. First, the Agency provided the Tribe with Mother's extensive "criteria" for any prospective adoptive family. Second, the Agency specified that prospective adoptive families be able to pay the Agency's $27,500 fee requirement. And while the Agency eventually indicated a willingness to modify its fee based on an unspecified sliding scale, the parties never agreed as to the parameters of that scale because Mother chose a non-Indian family based on profiles presented to her from the Agency.
Essentially, the Agency grafted its substantial fee requirement as well as Mother's placement criteria (which ironically specified that the adoptive parents be Caucasian) onto ICWA's placement preferences. Common sense dictates that ICWA's placement preferences cannot be undermined in this manner. In fact, the Agency's actions appear to fly in the face of Congress' intent in enacting ICWA. See Holyfield, 490 U.S. at 37 (ICWA "'seeks to protect the rights of the Indian child as an Indian and the rights of the Indian community and tribe in retaining its children in its society' . . . by establishing 'a Federal policy that, where possible, an Indian child should remain in the Indian community'" and ensuring that Indian child welfare determinations are not based on a white, middle-class standard that often forecloses placement with an Indian family).