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In re Adoption of B.B.

Supreme Court of Utah

August 31, 2017

In the Matter of the Adoption of B.B., a minor,
R.K.B. and K.A.B., Appellees. E.T., Appellant,

         On Certification from the Court of Appeals Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable Ryan M. Harris No. 142900417

          Angilee K. Dakic, Salt Lake City, for appellant

          Larry S. Jenkins, Lance D. Rich, Salt Lake City, for appellees

          Justice Himonas authored the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts II.B., II.D., and III, in which JUSTICE DURHAM and Justice Pearce joined; and a dissenting opinion with respect to Parts I, II. A., and II.C, in which JUSTICE DURHAM joined.

          Associate Chief Justice Lee authored the opinion of the Court with respect to Part I of his opinion, in which CHIEF JUSTICE DURRANT and Justice Pearce joined; and a dissenting opinion with respect to Part II of his opinion, in which CHIEF JUSTICE DURRANT joined.

          Justice Himonas, opinion of the Court as to Parts II.B., II.D., and III:


          Himonas, Justice


         ¶ 1 Contested adoptions are gut-wrenching, and the longer they remain in flux, the greater the toll on the biological parents, the prospective adoptive parents, family members, and, most significantly, the child. But no one is better off for "judicial shortcuts, intentional or unintentional, which reach an expeditious result but fail to recognize the fundamental nature of the right of [biological] parents to the care, custody, and management of their child." In re Adoption of L.D.S., 155 P.3d 1, 8 (Okla. 2006), as supplemented on reh'g, No. 250 (Mar. 6, 2007). "In fact, the best interests of the child can be served in no legitimate manner except in obedience to the policies and procedures mandated by law." Id. So it is vital that the courts of this state, this court included, take care to ensure that adoption proceedings are as free as possible from fatal defects. Regrettably, this case is septic: Birth Mother admitted to having perpetrated a fraud on the district court and suborning perjury from her brother-in-law, all in an effort to keep Birth Father from intervening in the proceedings, and all against the backdrop of what I believe was untimely and therefore invalid consent.

         ¶ 2 Procedurally, this case is before us on certification from our court of appeals, the central issue presented by the parties being whether the district court got it right when it denied Birth Father's motion to intervene. Because both Birth Father and Birth Mother are members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and B.B. is eligible for enrollment in the tribe, the Child is an Indian child. Hence, in my view, we have to consider the interplay between the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and Birth Father's attempt to intervene, the application of ICWA to Birth Mother's consent, and the impact her invalid consent has on these proceedings.[1] I view these inquiries as raising the issues of (1) whether a district court has subject matter jurisdiction over an adoption proceeding where neither biological parent has validly consented to the adoption and where the order terminating their parental rights is therefore void, (2) whether the jurisdictional issue is properly before us by virtue of Birth Father's right to challenge the validity of Birth Mother's consent and the order terminating his parental rights, and (3) whether Birth Father is a "parent" for purposes of ICWA and entitled to intervene in the proceedings below.

         ¶ 3 The court is not of one mind on the issues. With respect to issue 1, a minority of this court would hold that where, as here, neither biological parent has validly consented to the adoption nor had their parental rights otherwise terminated, our courts lack subject matter jurisdiction to go ahead with adoption proceedings. With respect to issue 2, the minority would further hold that Birth Father has standing under our traditional approach to standing, and the right, under section 1914 of ICWA, to challenge Birth Mother's consent and the termination order and to argue the lack of subject matter jurisdiction. And with respect to issue 3, which is separate from the jurisdictional questions, a majority of this court holds that Birth Father is a "parent" under ICWA and, as such, is entitled to participate in the proceedings below on remand. The decision of the district court is therefore reversed and the matter remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.[2]


         ¶ 4 In December 2013, Birth Father and Birth Mother were in a committed relationship and engaged in sex leading to the conception of the Child.[3] Both Birth Father and Birth Mother are members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and they resided together on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota at the time of conception and for the first six months of Birth Mother's pregnancy. Birth Father supported Birth Mother during her pregnancy, paying for her phone bill and their rent, utilities, and groceries. Six months into the pregnancy, in June or July 2014, Birth Mother moved to Utah to be closer to friends and family. Birth Father was to join her later, once she was settled into their new apartment.

         ¶ 5 For the first few weeks after Birth Mother's move to Utah, she and Birth Father stayed in contact over the phone, but after Birth Mother encountered a former boyfriend, she cut off all contact with Birth Father. She stopped calling Birth Father, stopped answering his calls, and even changed her phone number. At Birth Mother's request, mutual friends told Birth Father that she was fine and would soon return to South Dakota. Birth Father indicated that he "figured . . . [she] just needed some space" and that she "would return to South Dakota before she delivered [their] baby, or that she and the baby would return together after the delivery."

         ¶ 6 On August 29, 2014, Birth Mother gave birth to the Child in Utah. Twenty-four hours and six minutes later, she signed a form titled "Relinquishment of Parental Rights and Consent of Natural Birth Mother to Adoption" in the presence of a notary public and an adoption agency representative. Birth Mother also signed a Statement Concerning Birth Father, naming her brother-in-law, rather than Birth Father, as the biological father. Based on Birth Mother's misrepresentations concerning the biological father, the adoption agency and counsel for the adoptive parents had the brother-in-law sign a sworn affidavit declaring that he was the Child's biological father, relinquishing his rights to the Child, consenting to the adoption, and representing that he was neither an enrolled member of nor eligible for membership in a Native American tribe.

         ¶ 7 On September 8, 2014, ten days from the Child's birth, Birth Mother executed a Voluntary Relinquishment of Parental Rights, Consent to Adoption, and Consent to Entry of Order Terminating Parental Rights in open court, again naming her brother-in-law as the Child's biological father. On September 25, 2014, the district court issued an order terminating Birth Mother's parental rights and determining the biological father's rights. Birth Mother had expressly objected to any Indian tribe receiving notice of the proceedings, and the district court determined that the proceedings were voluntary and that therefore no Indian tribe was entitled to notice. The court held that "the unwed biological father[], whether he be [Birth Mother's brother-in-law] or any other man, " had "forfeited, surrendered, or waived" his parental rights and that his consent to the adoption was not required. The court also determined that the unmarried biological father had not acknowledged or established paternity to the Child and was therefore not a "parent" under ICWA. See 25 U.S.C. § 1903(9). The court then transferred custody of the Child to the adoption agency and authorized it to delegate custody to the prospective adoptive parents.

         ¶ 8 Birth Mother returned to South Dakota at the end of September 2014. On or about September 27, 2014, she saw Birth Father and told him that she had given birth to the Child and placed him for adoption. According to Birth Father, she told him that she listed no father on the birth certificate and that she later misrepresented the identity of the father. According to his affidavit, Birth Father "was completely shocked and devastated because [he] did not know that [their] son had been born, and [he] never knew [Birth Mother] had even considered placing him for adoption." Birth Father also stated that he "immediately sought assistance to establish paternity and intervene in this matter, " although it is unclear from the record what his immediate action was.

         ¶ 9 According to Birth Father, he and Birth Mother "contacted the Utah vital records office to add [Birth Father's] name to [their] son's birth certificate, but [were] advised by counsel not to[, ] due to [Birth Mother's] rights being terminated." Both Birth Father and Birth Mother informed the tribe of the situation. Over a period of a couple of months, Birth Father consulted with Dakota Plains Legal Services. On or before October 30, 2014, Dakota Plains Legal Services contacted counsel for the prospective adoptive parents and left a message regarding Birth Mother, apparently communicating Birth Mother's desire to withdraw her consent and requesting that the Child be returned to her. In November 2014, Birth Mother contacted the adoption agency to correct her misrepresentation, informing the adoption agency that Birth Father was the true biological parent.[4] In late November or December 2014, according to Birth Father, Dakota Plains Legal Services referred him to Utah Legal Services, Inc., and on December 31, 2014, Birth Father filed a motion to intervene in the proceedings "in order to establish paternity, and thereafter file a petition to have his parental rights determined."[5]The case had been inactive from the entry of the termination order on September 25, 2014, until the filing of the motion to intervene on December 31, 2014.

         ¶ 10 Birth Father's motion to intervene was mistakenly granted on January 5, 2015, before the prospective adoptive parents' time to respond to or oppose the motion had run. Birth Father then filed a Motion for Paternity Test, and the prospective adoptive parents filed a motion requesting that the district court reconsider its decision to grant Birth Father's motion to intervene and objecting to his motion for paternity testing. A few days later, Birth Father filed a Paternity Affidavit. Subsequently, Birth Mother filed an affidavit with the court stating that Birth Father was the biological parent and a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Birth Father then filed an Answer, Objection, and Verified Counterpetition to the Verified Petition for Adoption, objecting to the petition for adoption. He also filed a Notice of Commencement of Paternity Proceeding with the Utah Department of Health Office of Vital Records and Statistics. On January 27, 2015, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe filed a motion to intervene in the proceedings.

         ¶ 11 The district court held a hearing on the pending motions (not including the tribe's motion to intervene) on February 24, 2015. On the day of the hearing, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) released new ICWA guidelines. Birth Father filed the guidelines with the district court that very day, requesting that the court review them and drawing the court's attention to the guidelines regarding notice requirements, placement preferences, consent requirements, and the relationship between ICWA and state law. The prospective adoptive parents filed a motion objecting to Birth Father's submission of that supplemental memorandum. On March 12, 2015, Birth Mother filed a Verified Withdrawal of Consent to Adoption and Motion for Return of Custody with the court. On March 26, 2015, the court made a minute entry, granting Birth Father's motion for review based on the new ICWA guidelines and denying the prospective adoptive parents' motion to strike those guidelines.

         ¶ 12 The next day, the district court signed an order denying the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe's motion to intervene on the bases (1) "that an Indian tribe . . . cannot appear in court without the assistance of a licensed attorney" and (2) "that, under ICWA, a tribe has a right to intervene only in involuntary proceedings, and not in voluntary proceedings like this one." On April 21, 2015, the court issued another order, denying Birth Father's motion to intervene on the basis that he was "not a 'parent' under either ICWA or . . . Utah's adoption statutes." Because Birth Father was not permitted to intervene, his motion for paternity testing was mooted. The April 21, 2015 order also denied Birth Mother's motion to withdraw her consent to the termination of her parental rights on the basis "that once a birth mother's parental rights have been terminated by order of a court, that birth mother no longer has the right under ICWA to withdraw her consent, even if an adoption decree has not yet been entered."

         ¶ 13 Birth Father filed a motion for a new trial, and on May 20, 2015, he filed a notice of appeal. The district court denied the motion for a new trial on June 4, 2015. The appeal was then certified for immediate transfer to us. Neither the tribe nor Birth Mother appealed the denial of their motions. Birth Father also filed a Motion for Stay Pending Appeal, which the court granted, and pursuant to which "[t]he finalization of [the Child's] adoption will wait until the conclusion of the appeal." After the stay, Birth Father's parents filed a motion to intervene and a counter-petition for adoption based on ICWA's placement preferences, but their motion was also denied, and they did not appeal the denial. Thus, only Birth Father's claims are before us on appeal.

         ¶ 14 After oral argument, we asked for supplemental briefing on three issues: (1) whether Birth Mother's consent complied with ICWA's timing requirement, and if not, what effect that had on the validity of her consent; (2) if Birth Mother's consent was invalid, whether that would affect the district court's jurisdiction to enter or finalize an adoption decree; and (3) what, if any, other effect an invalid consent would have on the proceedings below.

         ¶ 15 We have jurisdiction pursuant to Utah Code section 78A-3-102(3)(b).


         ¶ 16 Whether Birth Mother's consent was valid under ICWA is a question of statutory interpretation, which we review "for correctness, affording no deference to the district court's legal conclusions." State v. Gallegos, 2007 UT 81, ¶ 8, 171 P.3d 426. And whether a district court has subject matter jurisdiction over a proceeding is a matter of law, which we review for correctness. Canfield v. Layton City, 2005 UT 60, ¶ 10, 122 P.3d 622.

         ¶ 17 Whether Birth Father has acknowledged or established paternity under ICWA is a question of statutory interpretation, which we also review for correctness. Gallegos, 2007 UT 81, ¶ 8. "As a general matter, the factual findings underpinning [a ruling on a motion to intervene] are subject to a clearly erroneous standard, and the district court's interpretation of rule 24(a) is reviewed for correctness." Gardiner v. Taufer, 2014 UT 56');">2014 UT 56, ¶ 16, 342 P.3d 269 (internal quotation marks omitted). "[W]hether a particular statute affords a particular class of persons an unconditional intervention right . . . is a pure question of law because it involves abstract statutory construction." In re United Effort Plan Tr., 2013 UT 5, ¶ 21, 296 P.3d 742. Thus, "[a] district court would not be entitled to any deference to the extent it misinterpreted an intervention statute in the abstract." Id.


         ¶ 18 The first question I address is whether Birth Mother's lack of valid consent, and the resultant invalid order terminating all parental rights, deprived the district court of subject matter jurisdiction to move forward with the adoption. Based on controlling Utah law and in keeping with the overwhelming majority of the courts of this country, I answer that question in the affirmative. Because the jurisdictional issue is properly before us only if Birth Father could have raised it on appeal, I then turn to a determination of whether Birth Father had the ability to challenge the validity of Birth Mother's consent and to put the jurisdictional issue before us. I conclude that Birth Father was empowered to do so under our traditional approach to standing and 25 U.S.C. section 1914. Finally, a majority of the court concludes that apart from the foregoing, Birth Father is a parent under ICWA and eligible to intervene in this matter and that to hold otherwise would subvert ICWA's core policies.


         ¶ 19 Although neither party originally raised the issue, we have an independent obligation to address the existence of subject matter jurisdiction. See Nevares v. Adoptive Couple, 2016 UT 39, ¶ 23, 384 P.3d 213 ("[S]ubject matter jurisdiction is an issue that can and should be addressed sua sponte when jurisdiction is questionable." (alteration in original) (citation omitted)); People ex rel. J.G.C., 318 P.3d 576, 578 (Colo.App. 2013) (after requesting supplemental briefing on "the district court's jurisdiction to determine the nonpaternity of [the] presumptive father, " concluding that "the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to make a paternity determination"); see also In re Adoption of L.D.S., 155 P.3d 1, 8 (Okla. 2006), as supplemented on reh'g, No. 250 (Mar. 6, 2007). I would hold that invalid consent in adoption proceedings is a subject matter jurisdictional issue.

          A. Valid Consent Is a Jurisdictional Prerequisite to an Adoption

         ¶ 20 Without valid parental consent to an adoption, there is no justiciable matter and therefore nothing for the district court to exercise jurisdiction over.[6] This is because the subject of an adoption proceeding is a child and a court cannot proceed with the adoption unless the child has been validly placed within its purview. And absent consent, that placement has not happened, leaving a court without authorization to interfere with the fundamental right that is the parent-child relationship. In re Adoption of Strauser, 196 P.2d 862, 867 (Wyo. 1948) ("The first duty of the judge is to see that the necessary consents are given. If they are not, the proceeding is at an end. There is nothing for the judge to approve."); cf. Atwood v. Cox, 55 P.2d 377, 381 (Utah 1936) ("Jurisdiction is the power to decide a justiciable controversy . . . ." (citation omitted)).

         ¶ 21 The principle that invalid consent deprives the district court of subject matter jurisdiction in adoption proceedings has been a part of Utah law for more than six decades. In Deveraux' Adoption v. Brown, two children were placed in foster care but their mother's parental rights were never permanently terminated. 268 P.2d 995, 998 (Utah 1954). When the children were placed for adoption, the mother objected that her consent was never validly given. Id. at 996. We held that it was unnecessary to even look at other issues in the adoption proceeding because "the court never obtained jurisdiction to exercise the power to grant the adoptions and therefore any questions pertaining to the welfare or custody of the children [were] not before it in such a proceeding." Id. at 998. We therefore remanded, instructing the district court to set aside as void the orders granting the adoptions. Id. In doing so, we did not consider consent, as the majority on this point urges, to be "just one of many statutory prerequisites to the issuance of a valid adoption decree." Infra ¶ 124. Rather, we meant what we said: because of the mother's lack of consent, the district court "never obtained jurisdiction." Deveraux' Adoption, 268 P.2d at 998 (emphasis added); see also In re Adoption of Walton, 259 P.2d 881, 883 (Utah 1953) ("So jealously guarded is the parent-child relation[ship] that uniformly it is held that the abandonment or desertion firmly must be established [as a statutory exception to obtaining parental consent] . . . before any question as to the best interests or welfare of the child can be the subject of inquiry.").

         ¶ 22 The majority argues that Deveraux' Adoption has been implicitly overruled by our cases that adopt a jurisdictional clear statement rule, according to which we construe a statute as jurisdictional only if it is "clearly denominated as such." See infra ¶ 143. This is wrong. It is true that Labelle v. McKay Dee Hospital Center outlines a presumption "that our district courts retain their grant of constitutional jurisdiction in the absence of a clearly expressed statutory intention to limit jurisdiction." 2004 UT 15, ¶ 8, 89 P.3d 113. But this presumption does not require the statutory provision to explicitly state that it is jurisdictional. Instead, a statute clearly expresses the "intention to limit jurisdiction" when the statute imposes a prerequisite to an action that is "of the essence of the thing to be done, " and not "given with a view merely to the proper, orderly and prompt conduct of . . . business, and by the failure to obey no prejudice will occur to those whose rights are protected by the statute." ASC Utah, Inc. v. Wolf Mountain Resorts, L.C., 2010 UT 65, ¶¶ 14, 19, 245 P.3d 184 (alteration in original) (citation omitted).[7] In contrast, statutory provisions are "merely directory in nature rather than mandatory and jurisdictional" when disregarding them does not "compromise the purpose" of the statute but is simply a failure to adhere to "one of numerous procedural hurdles." Sill v. Hart, 2007 UT 45, ¶ 19, 162 P.3d 1099 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         ¶ 23 The statutory requirement of consent is mandatory and jurisdictional because it goes to the soul of the adoption. See Brown v. Baby Girl Harper, 766 S.E.2d 375, 378 (S.C. 2014) ("Consent lies at the foundation of the adoption process[.]" (citation omitted)); In re Adoption of Keith M.W., 79 P.3d 623, 629 (Alaska 2003) ("Parental consent lies at the foundation of the adoption process." (internal quotation marks omitted)); see also In re Adoption of Walton, 259 P.2d at 883 (noting that although it is not the law in Utah that adoption statutes "are to be construed strictly in favor of the parent, " courts "have not hesitated to build a strong fortress around the parent-child relation[ship], . . . . [which] has been considered a bundle of human rights of such fundamental importance as to lead courts frequently to say that consent is at the foundation of adoption statutes"). In fact, although some states have based their jurisdictional holdings on statutory filing requirements that differ from Utah's, see infra ¶ 136 & n.21, none of those statutes contains a clear statement that the required filings relate to subject matter jurisdiction-but the courts still widely recognize consent as a jurisdictional requirement.

          ¶ 24 In addition to the "clear statement" rule, Utah law also applies a "class of cases" rule, in which "the concept of subject matter jurisdiction [is limited] to those cases in which the court lacks authority to hear a class of cases, rather than when it simply lacks authority to grant relief in an individual case." In re Adoption of Baby E.Z., 2011 UT 38, ¶ 31, 266 P.3d 702. The prospective adoptive parents argue that this limitation means that whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction over a case cannot turn on any case-specific procedural facts. Instead, they argue that it is a limited inquiry into whether the case, considered in the abstract, is fairly characterized as a general type of case over which the court has jurisdiction.

         ¶ 25 But the "class of cases" paradigm begs the question, as defining the class of cases over which courts have subject matter jurisdiction is not as simple as looking at the general topic. By this logic, courts, by way of example, would have jurisdiction over anything with the rough shape and form of a "tort case" or "landlord-tenant case." The prospective adoptive parents' approach creates an unworkable standard-it is often impossible to determine whether a case falls within a "class of cases" without considering some concrete aspects about it. There are often prerequisites individual litigants must meet to show that they have satisfied the requirements of subject matter jurisdiction even when we unquestionably have subject matter jurisdiction over the topic. Consider the tort and landlord-tenant case categories noted above. District courts have jurisdiction over negligence cases, a species of tort, but parties must still comply with the Governmental Immunity Act's notice requirements, because "[c]ompliance with the Immunity Act is a prerequisite to vesting a district court with subject matter jurisdiction over claims against governmental entities." Wheeler v. McPherson, 2002 UT 16, ¶ 9, 40 P.3d 632; see also Buckner v. Kennard, 2004 UT 78, ¶ 35, 99 P.3d 842 ("Compliance with the notice requirements, where applicable, is a prerequisite for subject matter jurisdiction."). Similarly, although district courts certainly have jurisdiction over landlord-tenant cases in general, we have held that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction where one party failed to exhaust its administrative remedies. Hous. Auth. of Salt Lake v. Snyder, 2002 UT 28, ¶ 11, 44 P.3d 724. This logic applies with equal force to other statutory claims. Ramsay v. Kane Cty. Human Res. Special Serv. Dist., 2014 UT 5, ¶ 17, 322 P.3d 1163 (failure to exhaust administrative remedies deprived the court of subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's Retirement Act claims).[8]

         ¶ 26 As the above cases demonstrate, an overly generalized take on the "category of cases" ignores the fact that courts cannot decide cases when they lack the authority necessary to do so, as is the case here. Furthermore, neither In re Adoption of Baby E.Z. nor its predecessor case, Johnson v. Johnson, 2010 UT 28, 234 P.3d 1100, purported to overrule Deveraux' Adoption's holding that a court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over an adoption where valid consent has not been obtained. The standard put forth by the prospective adoptive parents, however, would essentially have us overrule Deveraux' Adoption-but they have not briefed this argument and, in any case, I see no reason to do so.

         ¶ 27 The rationale behind the jurisdictional necessity of parental consent in adoption proceedings is based not, as the majority asserts, in "the availability of a particular form of judicial relief, " infra ¶ 130, but in justiciability, because, in the eyes of the law, no child has been made available for adoption. Put another way, the lack of parental consent to an adoption makes the case unripe. See Mendive v. Third Judicial Dist. Court in & for Lander Cty., 253 P.2d 884, 890 (Nev. 1953) (stating that before district court accepts guardian's consent, "it would definitely appear that the further jurisdiction of the . . . district court over the . . . adoption proceeding would be futile and unavailing; that its present provisional jurisdiction could never ripen into a jurisdiction to make a final order permitting the adoption, dependent as such order would be upon the consent of the guardian"); In re St. Vincent's Servs., Inc., 841 N.Y.S.2d 834, 844 (Fam. Ct. 2007) (holding that "the issue of adoption ripens into a justiciable issue" only after parents' rights have been validly terminated); In re Adoption of G.V., No. 11AP-617, 2011 WL 4921672, at *1 (Ohio Ct. App. Oct. 18, 2011) (stating that adoption petition had been dismissed as unripe where father's consent was not obtained).

         ¶ 28 Furthermore, by stating that there is no child available for adoption, I do not mean, as the majority suggests, that the Child is not "a real child with a real interest in these proceedings." Infra ¶ 152. The delicate and difficult nature of undoing error in an adoption proceeding is not lost on anyone. But the existence of a real child before the court does not mean the adoption case is ripe any more than the existence of a real tort before the court necessarily means that a case under the Governmental Immunity Act is ripe. Both require a prerequisite before the court is authorized to hear the case. In the adoption context, that prerequisite is parental consent, a traditional limit on justiciability. See infra ¶ 30 n.10. In short, district courts have no authority to place a child for adoption without the consent of the biological parents, and the prospective adoptive parents' reliance on the district court's error does not change the state of our law.

         ¶ 29 In the majority's view, this application of justiciability principles will lead to a number of outcomes that will chip away at our longstanding law of jurisdiction. The majority's concerns have no basis. Consent as a jurisdictional prerequisite to adoption is well established in this country, and none of the evils the majority predicts have befallen the courts that have recognized as much. See infra ¶ 130 & n.14 (listing cases in which courts around the country have been successful in "rebuff[ing] attempts by litigants to recast merits arguments as issues of subject-matter jurisdiction"). To the contrary, courts have easily made distinctions between the jurisdictional implications of consent and general statutory requirements. See, e.g., In re Bullock, 146 S.W.3d 783, 788 (Tex. App. 2004) (holding that despite the fact that a valid termination order is a jurisdictional prerequisite, "not all statutory prerequisites to filing suit are jurisdictional"); In re Harshey, 318 N.E.2d 544, 548-49 (Ohio Ct. App. 1974) (holding that despite statutory language requiring both parental and agency consent for child's adoption, lack of parental consent deprives a court of jurisdiction but lack of agency consent does not). Despite its language about "opening the door" and "sow[ing] the seeds, " infra ¶ 122, the majority points to no situation in which a party would be able to use my opinion to ask a court to improperly expand subject matter jurisdiction to any statutory requirement. The majority may fear that litigants will attempt to stretch precedent to win cases-as often happens, in any matter-but it has offered no explanation for why it thinks Utah courts, unlike all the other courts that have not been persuaded by those efforts, will be lured into inappropriately extending our subject matter jurisdiction law. The majority raises several hyperbolic "slippery slope" arguments-e.g., warning of "chaos and unpredictability for years to come, " infra ¶ 100, and that "[a]ny and all 'case-specific procedural facts' would be eligible for classification as subject-matter jurisdictional, " making the possibilities "endless" for courts to misinterpret our holding, infra ¶ 150. In doing so, rather than taking on the actual parameters of our opinion, the majority "tilts at a windmill of its own invention." Lee v. Kemna, 534 U.S. 362, 385 n.15 (2002). In the majority's view, the principles of ripeness and the case law of our court and the majority of other jurisdictions "rest[] on no settled legal principle, " dooming our lower courts to hopeless confusion. Infra ¶ 150 n.28. But I have faith in our lower courts' ability to apply justiciability principles and our precedent, thereby preventing a situation in which "whenever . . . a defect [in a statutory prerequisite] was found, the subject-matter jurisdiction of the adoption court would be in jeopardy." Infra ¶ 149. Because I unambiguously limit my opinion to the jurisdictional implications of parental consent in adoption proceedings, I am confident that we can avoid a Pandora's box of subject matter jurisdictional evils.[9]

          ¶ 30 And as noted above, our holding in Deveraux' Adoption that invalid consent deprives the district court of subject matter jurisdiction is consistent with the great majority of states' views on the issue; the majority's assertion that consent is "a mere legal prerequisite to the issuance of an [adoption] order, " infra ¶ 121, flies in the face of holding after holding.[10]

          ¶ 31 For example, in a case with similar facts to this one, a mother lied to an adoption agency about the identity of the father of the two children she wanted to place for adoption and the county court thus never obtained consent from the biological father. In re Adoption of Kassandra B., 540 N.W.2d 554');">540 N.W.2d 554, 556 (Neb. 1995). The Nebraska Supreme Court, noting that "[c]hildren are not legally free for adoption unless both biological parents consent or one of the statutory exceptions to the need for their consent has been met, " held that the lower court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the father's consent was never obtained. Id. at 560. The order terminating parental rights was therefore void. Id.

         ¶ 32 And where a technical defect arose involving the witnesses to the birth mother's signing of a consent form for adoption, the South Carolina Supreme Court rejected the notion that substantial compliance with the statutory requirements was sufficient. Brown, 766 S.E.2d at 379. The court noted that "statutory formalities [regarding consent or relinquishment forms] have heightened relevance and importance" because they "are the only clear line separating a biological parent's rights with respect to the child prior to the adoption, from the finality and irrevocability resulting from the execution of the formalities." Id. at 380. And because "[c]onsent lies at the foundation of the adoption process, " the lack of valid consent from the birth mother meant any adoption decree would be invalid. Id. at 378 (citation omitted).[11]

          ¶ 33 The majority attacks these cases on several grounds, none of which is persuasive. First, the majority argues that because these cases involve challenges to the validity of consent made by the birth parent, "they tell us nothing useful about . . . whether a failure of consent is a subject-matter jurisdictional defect that can be raised by the court sua sponte." Infra ¶ 134. Of course, there are cases in which the court has raised the issue sua sponte. See, e.g., In re I.H.H-L., 251 P.3d 651, 653 (Kan.Ct.App. 2011) ("Neither party questioned the district court's jurisdiction to conduct the [termination of parental rights] proceedings that led to this appeal. On its own motion, however, this court questioned that jurisdiction and sought additional briefing from the parties addressing the jurisdictional questions. An appellate court has a duty to question jurisdiction on its own initiative."); In re Adoption of L.D.S., 155 P.3d at 8 ("The jurisdictional issue [of whether the child was eligible for adoption without the valid consent of the biological parents] was raised sua sponte by this Court."). And in any case, no court has relied on the dissent's distinction, as parties are also free to raise subject matter jurisdiction concerns. See Johnson, 2010 UT 28, ¶ 10 (stating that "parties can raise subject matter jurisdiction at any time during a proceeding"). We are obligated to raise subject matter jurisdictional issues when they appear in a case before us, and there is no authority for the assertion that we may not do so if the facts of other cases did not require other courts to do the same.

         ¶ 34 The majority also points out that some adoption cases have personal jurisdiction defects due to lack of notice to the biological father. See infra ¶ 135 & n.18. But the fact that lack of notice often is intertwined with lack of consent does not mean that the issue is one solely of personal jurisdiction. A court may lack both personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction, and the dissent's attempt to distinguish cases in which a lack of consent stemmed from failure to give notice is unavailing.

         ¶ 35 Additionally, the majority harbors "suspicion" of the cases we cite for the proposition that consent is a jurisdictional prerequisite because it thinks that many of them are from a "bygone era"-a time before courts focused on the best interests of the child. Infra ¶¶ 138-39. But courts across the country have continually and recently restated this proposition. Requiring parents to validly consent to termination of their parental rights before the court may assert jurisdiction over their children is not at all inconsistent with the current recognition in Utah and many other states that "the best interests of the child are paramount." Infra ¶ 139. Indeed, numerous courts with statutory schemes that, like ours, [12] recognize the importance of the best interests of the child hold that consent is a jurisdictional requirement for adoption. See C.T. v. J.S., 951 P.2d 1199, 1200 (Alaska 1998) ("The only question is whether the trial court permissibly circumvented the consent requirement . . . . If not, then the adoption decree is void for lack of subject matter jurisdiction[.]");[13] Brown, 766 S.E.2d at 378 ("Consent lies at the foundation of the adoption process[.]" (citation omitted));[14] In re Adoption of L.D.S., 155 P.3d at 8 ("[T]he best interests of the child can be served in no legitimate manner except in obedience to the policies and procedures mandated by law.").[15] In any case, the best interests of a child are not furthered by placing the child for adoption without parental consent. See In re S.L.G., 110 A.3d 1275, 1285 (D.C. 2015) ("Although 'the paramount consideration' in determining whether to terminate parental rights is the best interest of the child, our case law recognizes that the [termination of parental rights] factors must be applied in accordance with 'the presumption that the child's best interest will be served by placing the child with his natural parent, provided the parent has not been proven unfit.'" (citation omitted)); In re Adoption of N.L.B., 212 S.W.3d 123, 128 (Mo. 2007) (en banc) (stating that statutorily required consideration of "the welfare of the person sought to be adopted . . . is informed by the fundamental proposition and presumption that maintaining the natural parent-child relationship is in the best interests of the child"); In re Adoption of L.D.S., 155 P.3d at 9 ("The lesson of this matter is that the interests of the child and ultimately all concerned in matters regarding parental rights can be adequately served only through scrupulous adherence to the statutory scheme found in the Adoption Code.").

         ¶ 36 Having explained why valid consent is a subject matter jurisdictional prerequisite for an adoption proceeding, I now turn to whether Birth Mother consented to the termination of her parental rights. I would hold that her consent was not timely under ICWA and therefore invalid.

         B. Birth Mother's Consent Was Invalid

         ¶ 37 ICWA lays out a series of requirements for the termination of parental rights, including that "[a]ny consent given prior to, or within ten days after, birth of the Indian child shall not be valid." 25 U.S.C. § 1913(a). Because the Child is an Indian child and therefore ICWA applies to these proceedings, the question is whether Birth Mother's consent was timely given under this section.

         ¶ 38 That Birth Mother's consent did not comply with ICWA's timing requirements is undeniable, as both times she attempted to consent were "within ten days after[] birth of the Indian child." Id. The Child was born at 12:14 p.m. on August 29, 2014, and Birth Mother attempted to consent for the first time on August 30, 2014. Both parties agree that this consent was invalid. Birth Mother again attempted to consent at 1:29 p.m. on September 8, 2014, and the prospective adoptive parents argue that this attempt was valid-even though it did not occur more than ten days after the Child's birth-because it occurred more than ten twenty-four-hour periods after the Child's birth. This argument is flat wrong.

         ¶ 39 When interpreting a statute, "our primary goal is to evince the true intent and purpose" of the legislative body. Marion Energy, Inc. v. KFJ Ranch P'ship, 2011 UT 50, ¶ 14, 267 P.3d 863 (citation omitted). The best evidence of legislative intent is "the plain and ordinary meaning of the statute's terms." Rent-A-Center W., Inc. v. Utah State Tax Comm'n, 2016 UT 1, ¶ 13, 367 P.3d 989. We often look to dictionary definitions as a "starting point" to determine the plain and ordinary meaning. Nichols v. Jacobsen Constr. Co., 2016 UT 19, ¶ 17, 374 P.3d 3 (citation omitted); State v. Canton, 2013 UT 44, ¶ 13, 308 P.3d 517 ("In determining the ordinary meaning of nontechnical terms of a statute, our 'starting point' is the dictionary." (citation omitted)).

         ¶ 40 The prospective adoptive parents purport to apply a plain language analysis by looking to Black's Law Dictionary, which, around the time ICWA was passed, defined "day" as "[a] period of time consisting of twenty-four hours and including the solar day and the night." Day, Black's Law Dictionary (5th ed. 1979). Under the prospective adoptive parents' approach, ICWA's timing requirement would be satisfied if consent was given any time after 240 hours of the child's birth.

         ¶ 41 But the prospective adoptive parents may not cherry-pick a dictionary definition and call it a plain language analysis. I note that most definitions refer to a twenty-four-hour period with respect to the time from midnight to midnight. E.g., Day, Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (1973) ("the mean solar day of 24 hours beginning at mean midnight"); Day, Random House College Dictionary (revised ed. 1984) ("Also called civil day. a division of time equal to 24 hours but reckoned from one midnight to the next"); Day, American Heritage Dictionary (5th ed. 2011) ("The 24-hour period during which the earth completes one rotation on its axis, traditionally measured from midnight to midnight."). This definition is compatible with the notion that we do not begin counting the days since the Child's birth based on the hour and minute he was born, but rather by the midnight-to-midnight metric generally used. See, e.g., Reisbeck v. HCA Health Servs. of Utah, Inc., 2000 UT 48, ¶ 16 n.4, 2 P.3d 447 (noting that rule 22 of the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure's deadline of days was meant to be calculated according to calendar days); see also State v. Sheets, 338 N.W.2d 886, 886-87 (Iowa 1983) ("The general rule is that when the word 'day' is used it means calendar day which includes the entire day from midnight to midnight . . . . We find no language in the [45-day statutory requirement] that indicates an intention to measure the time twenty-four hours from a given event." (citations omitted)); In re Janklow, 589 N.W.2d 624, 626 (S.D. 1999) ("A 'day, ' in this sense, begins at 12 o'clock midnight, and extends through 24 hours to the next 12 o'clock midnight." (citation omitted)); Troxell v. Rainier Pub. Sch. Dist. No. 307, 111 P.3d 1173, 1176-77 (Wash. 2005) (citing Webster's Dictionary in holding that the plain language of a statute required defining day as a twenty-four-hour period beginning at midnight). The prospective adoptive parents' formalism has no place in this area of the law, as their method of tracking time would require district courts to track unique filing deadlines for each individual litigant-3:24 p.m. for litigant A, 5 p.m. for litigant B, and so on. See Troxell, 111 P.3d at 1177 n.4 (noting "absurd consequences" of "computation based on the precise timing of an act" including that "parties would have to attend to the precise hour, minute, and second of the filing" at issue (citation omitted)). I cannot see how Congress could have intended this result for counting time periods for purposes of ICWA.

         ¶ 42 This plain language interpretation of "day" as the time from midnight to midnight also meshes with the method for computing time outlined in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and its Utah counterpart, which also count in terms of days, not hours. Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(a) (count in days "[w]hen the period is stated in days" and count in hours only "[w]hen the period is stated in hours"); Utah R. Civ. P. 6(a) (same). This method of counting days applies in a variety of settings. Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(a) (This rule applies "in computing any time period . . . in any statute that does not specify a method of computing time."); Utah R. Civ. P. 6(a) (same); see Gilroy v. Lowe, 626 P.2d 469, 471 (Utah 1981) (stating that the "method of computing time periods relating to acts provided for by law is set out in Rule 6(a) [of the] Utah Rules of Civil Procedure" and requires counting by calendar days); see also LeGras v. AETNA Life Ins. Co., 786 F.3d 1233, 1237-38 (9th Cir. 2015) ("We have consistently applied Rule 6 [of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure] when interpreting time periods in various statutory contexts."); Edwards v. Bay State Milling Co., 519 F.App'x 746, 748 n.3 (3d Cir. 2013) (noting that rule 6 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "applies to any statute that does not specify a method of computing time" (internal quotation marks omitted)). Indeed, we have applied rule 6 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure to extend the waiting period for a putative father to file a paternity petition if the birth of the child falls on a holiday or weekend. Thurnwald v. A.E., 2007 UT 38, ¶ 4, 163 P.3d 623, abrogated on other grounds by In re Adoption of J.S., 2014 UT 51, 358 P.3d 1009.

         ¶ 43 The prospective adoptive parents' interpretation contorts the plain language of ICWA-had Congress intended to count by hours, it would have done so, as many state legislatures have done. See Utah Code § 78B-6-125(1) ("A birth mother may not consent to the adoption of her child or relinquish control or custody of her child until at least 24 hours after the birth of her child."); see also Iowa Code § 600A.4(2)(g), (4) (requiring a release of custody to be signed "not less than seventy-two hours after the birth of the child" and revocation of consent "within ninety-six hours of the time such parent signed a release of custody"); Nev. Rev. Stat. § 127.070(1) ("All releases for and consents to adoption executed in this state by the mother before the birth of a child or within 72 hours after the birth of a child are invalid."). But ICWA's language is unambiguous in requiring a waiting period in terms of days, and the argument that the waiting period is really 240 hours is demonstrably wrong.

         ¶ 44 Because Birth Mother gave consent before midnight on the tenth day after the Child's birth, she gave consent "within ten days after" the Child's birth and her consent is therefore invalid.[16] 25 U.S.C. § 1913(a); see In re Adoption of C.D.K., 629 F.Supp.2d 1258, 1261, 1263 (D. Utah 2009) (invalidating a mother's consent to termination of her parental rights because the relinquishment hearing happened within ten days of the child's birth). This, in my view, deprived the district court of subject matter jurisdiction, and I now turn to whether Birth Father had the right to raise the issue of the underlying subject matter jurisdictional defect.


         ¶ 45 Following Birth Mother's invalid consent, Birth Father appealed the district court's denial of his motion to intervene. The district court denied Birth Father's motion to intervene because it held that he had not established paternity before Birth Mother gave her consent, as required by Utah Code section 78B-6-121(3). Although I believe Birth Mother's consent was invalid and the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to proceed with the adoption, these issues are before us only if Birth Father can properly challenge them. I would hold that Birth Father can do so, as he enjoys both traditional standing under Utah standing law and a statutory right as a parent under 25 U.S.C. section 1914 to raise Birth Mother's invalid consent and the district court's lack of subject matter jurisdiction to go forward with the adoption.

         A. Birth Father Has Standing Under Our Traditional Test

         ¶ 46 Before a court may make a child available for adoption, it must terminate the parental rights of the biological parents. The order terminating Birth Mother's parental rights is, as Justice Lee correctly notes, an appealable order. Infra ¶ 98. But as a prerequisite to the adoption order-which has not been finalized in this case-it is an appealable order within an existing case in which Birth Father's rights are still very much at issue.[17] In the unique context of adoption proceedings, Birth Father's rights are inextricably tied to the order terminating Birth Mother's rights, as that order purported to terminate his rights as a biological parent.[18] Consequently, I conclude that Birth Father has standing to raise the defect in Birth Mother's consent and the resultant failure of subject matter jurisdiction.

          ¶ 47 Courts of this state employ a three-step inquiry in assessing traditional standing: (1) "the party must assert that it has been or will be adversely affected by the [challenged] actions"; (2) "the party must allege a causal relationship between the injury to the party, the [challenged] actions and the relief requested"; and (3) "the relief requested must be substantially likely to redress the injury claimed." Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club v. Utah Air Quality Bd., 2006 UT 74, ¶ 19, 148 P.3d 960 (alterations in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). Birth Father easily satisfies all three parts of this test.

         ¶ 48 First, Birth Father is undeniably adversely affected by Birth Mother's invalid consent and the dependent order terminating her rights. Indeed, absent the termination order, Birth Father would be a "parent" under ICWA and entitled to intervene in this action even under the most grudging of standards. But as it now stands, Birth Mother's invalid consent cut off Birth Father's rights to his own child. That this state of affairs adversely affected Birth Father is beyond peradventure. See In re J.P., 648 P.2d 1364, 1373 (Utah 1982) ("The rights inherent in family relationships-husband-wife, parent-child, and sibling-are the most obvious examples of rights retained by the people. They are 'natural, ' 'intrinsic, ' or 'prior' in the sense that our Constitutions presuppose them. . . . Blackstone deemed 'the most universal relation in nature . . . (to be) that between parent and child.'" (citations omitted)). Second, Birth Father can establish a causal relationship between the challenged action and the adverse effect: Birth Mother's invalid consent and the subsequent order terminating her rights led directly to the district court placing the Child for adoption. And finally, the relief requested-Birth Father's opportunity to intervene and assert his parental rights-will be a direct consequence of recognizing the invalidity of Birth Mother's rights.

         B. Birth Father Is a Parent Under ICWA

         ¶ 49 Section 1914 of ICWA allows a parent to petition a court to invalidate an action terminating parental rights that violated any provision of sections 1911, 1912, and 1913 of ICWA.[19] We hold that Birth Father meets ICWA's definition of a "parent" because he has acknowledged paternity.

         ¶ 50 "Pursuant to general principles of statutory interpretation, [w]e . . . look first to the . . . plain language [of ICWA], recognizing that our primary goal is to give effect to [congressional] intent in light of the purpose the statute was meant to achieve." In re Kunz, 2004 UT 71, ¶ 8, 99 P.3d 793 (first three alterations in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). We consider it obvious that the plain language does not fully answer the question of what is required for an unmarried biological father to be considered a parent for purposes of ICWA.[20] ICWA defines "parent" as "any biological parent or parents of an Indian child" but specifically excludes "the unwed father where paternity has not been acknowledged or established." 25 U.S.C. § 1903(9). ICWA does not, however, define what actions the unmarried father has to take to acknowledge or establish paternity and also does not specify the timing. Because of the lack of a definition, we look instead to the plain meaning of the terms "acknowledge" and "establish." We conclude that the plain meaning of the terms is so broad that it offers little guidance, so we then address the question of whether the procedures and timing for acknowledging or establishing paternity are defined by state law or are subject to a tribal or federal standard.

         ¶ 51 The district court determined that "Congress intended for ICWA to defer to state and/or tribal law standards for establishing paternity" and that Birth Father failed to comply with Utah or South Dakota requirements for establishing paternity. We disagree. Instead, we hold that Congress intended that a federal standard apply. We also hold that Birth Father's actions were timely and sufficient to acknowledge paternity under ICWA.

         1. Interpreting "Acknowledge" and "Establish" Requires a Plain Meaning Approach

         ¶ 52 Because the terms "acknowledge" and "establish" are not defined in the statute, we turn first to dictionary definitions for guidance. The first definition for "acknowledge" in Black's Law Dictionary is "[t]o recognize (something) as being factual or valid." Acknowledge, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). The second definition for "acknowledge" specifically gives "acknowledge paternity of the child" as an example; it reads, "[t]o show that one accepts responsibility for." Id. The legal definition of "acknowledge" in Merriam-Webster's online dictionary includes a variant with a similar example ("will acknowledge the child as his") and defines "acknowledge" as "to admit paternity of." Acknowledge, Merriam-Webster, available at Other definitions of "acknowledge" in Merriam-Webster's online dictionary include "to recognize as genuine or valid." Id. Clearly, "acknowledge" is a broad term and little guidance is found in its meaning as to how to apply it. For example, while acknowledging paternity of a child can mean "show[ing] that one accepts responsibility for" the child, no specific actions are suggested by that term or its definition. Acknowledge, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). Incidentally, Black's Law Dictionary defines a "formal acknowledgment" as "[a] father's recognition of a child as his own by a formal, written declaration that meets a state's requirements for execution, typically by signing in the presence of two witnesses." Acknowledgement, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). An "informal acknowledgment, " on the other hand, is "[a] father's recognition of a child as his own not by a written declaration but by receiving the child into his family or supporting the child and otherwise treating the child as his own offspring." Id. The dictionary definitions thus provide for acknowledgment under both state rules and other means not tied to state standards, and ICWA does not specify whether it requires formal or informal acknowledgment of paternity. Thus, the dictionary definition alone of "acknowledge" does not answer the question of what ICWA requires of a parent.

         ¶ 53 "Establish" likewise has a broad meaning under a plain language analysis. Black's Law Dictionary has three definitions of "establish, " only one of which makes sense in the context of establishing paternity: "To prove; to convince." Establish, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). And the most logical definition for this context in Merriam-Webster's online dictionary is "to put beyond doubt." Establish, Merriam-Webster, available at From these definitions, it is obvious that it requires more to "establish" paternity than to "acknowledge" paternity. But what actions are required in order to "prove" paternity or "put [paternity] beyond doubt" is not apparent from the plain meaning of the word. Furthermore, neither the plain meaning of "acknowledge" nor the plain meaning of "establish" suggests anything about the timing of the actions. Theoretically, if we were to rely on a plain meaning of the terms for the actions and timing required, a father could acknowledge or establish paternity many years after the completion of the adoption. Because the terms are so broad and vague and because of the lack of a timing element, dictionary definitions alone are inadequate for determining who is a parent under ICWA.

         ¶ 54 In light of this roadblock in the plain language analysis, the dissent argues that we should view "acknowledge" and "establish" as terms of art defined by the states. But the dissent belies its own conclusion by asserting, on one hand, that "acknowledge" and "establish" are well-defined terms of art, and on the other, that there are fifty variants of the terms. Infra ¶ 170. These are contradictory ideas, and the dissent's attempt to reconcile them is unavailing.

         ¶ 55 The dissent's position takes an erroneous view of the definition of a term of art. A term of art has one established meaning, not fifty. Term of art, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014) ("A word or phrase having a specific, precise meaning in a given specialty, apart from its general meaning in ordinary contexts." (emphasis added)); see McDermott Int'l, Inc. v. Wilander, 498 U.S. 337, 342 (1991) ("[W]e assume that when a statute uses such a term [of art], Congress intended it to have its established meaning."); Dubois v. Madison Paper Co., 795 A.2d 696, 699 (Me. 2002) ("The phrase 'clear and convincing evidence' is a legal term of art with a well-established meaning." (emphasis added)). The dissent's insistence that "acknowledge" and "establish" have distinctly defined meanings contradicts the notion that the "long-established" definitions last only as far as the state line.

         ¶ 56 A term of art may of course have nuanced differences from state to state, but the core meaning must be the same.[21] Contrary to the dissent's assertion, different states' interpretations of "acknowledge" and "establish" do not share a common core. As the dissent itself notes, "standards vary widely across the fifty states, " infra ¶ 170 n.35, including whether a writing must be signed by the mother for the father to acknowledge paternity. The standard for acknowledging or establishing paternity in Utah is so different from the standard in, for example, New Jersey, that we could not say they share the same common core. See Bruce L. v. W.E., 247 P.3d 966, 978-79 (Alaska 2011) ("Under New Jersey law, 'fil[ing] a written acknowledgement of paternity . . . or initiat[ing] a lawsuit claiming paternity or any other parental rights prior to the final judgment of adoption' would make an unwed father a parent for ICWA purposes." (alterations in original) (quoting In re Adoption of a Child of Indian Heritage, 543 A.2d 925, 936 (N.J. 1988))).

         ¶ 57 The contradiction inherent in the dissent's argument is exposed in its analysis of Holyfield. The dissent states that Holyfield's rejection of state-law definitions is "easily distinguishable, as it involved a statutory term (domicile) of 'generally uncontroverted meaning.'" Infra ¶ 165 (quoting Holyfield, 490 U.S. at 48). This is similar to how-at times-the dissent describes "acknowledge" and "establish" as well. See infra ¶ 170 ("First, the words acknowledgement and establishment of paternity are long-established terms of art in state family law."); infra ¶ 170 ("Congress utilized terms with accepted meaning in state family law."); infra ¶ 170 n.35 ("[W]hen ICWA was enacted, 'acknowledge' was a term of art that indicated a specific process under state law-though varying from state to state." (emphasis added)). The dissent is attempting to have its cake and eat it too by stating that "acknowledge" and "establish" are both accepted terms of art and have fifty different meanings.

         ¶ 58 Rather, "acknowledge" and "establish" are properly construed as plain language terms. Carpenter v. Hawley, 281 S.E.2d 783, 786 ( N.C. Ct. App. 1981) ("Contrary to plaintiff's assertions, the word 'acknowledged' is not a term of art . . . requiring a formal declaration before an authorized official."); see also Estate of Griswold, 24 P.3d 1191, 1197-98 (Cal. 2001) (applying plain language analysis to "acknowledge" in paternity suit); Blythe v. Ayres, 31 P. 915, 922 (Cal. 1892) (stating that "[t]he word 'acknowledge' has no technical meaning" in the context of paternity proceedings); State v. Wolfe, 239 A.2d 509, 512-13 (Conn. 1968) (stating that "acknowledge" in paternity statute "can only be taken in its usual and common meaning which is '(t)o own, avow, or admit; to confess; to recognize one's acts, and assume the responsibility therefor'" (citing editions of Black's Law Dictionary and Webster's Dictionary)). A plain language interpretation of "acknowledge" and "establish" furthers ICWA's purpose by allowing reasonable methods of acknowledging or establishing paternity, and Birth Father's actions fall plainly within that scope.

         2. Federal Law Applies to Give Context to the Plain Meaning of the Terms

         ¶ 59 Having found that a plain language analysis of the terms requires more than the dictionary definitions provide, we now turn to the question of whether the procedures and timing for acknowledging or establishing paternity are defined by state law. We reject the notion that courts should rely on state law to determine whether an unmarried biological father has acknowledged or established paternity under ICWA. Instead, we adopt the reasoning in Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield, 490 U.S. 30 (1989). In Holyfield, the Supreme Court stated that the purpose of the ICWA gives no reason to believe that Congress intended to rely on state law for the definition of a critical term; quite the contrary. It is clear from the very text of the ICWA, not to mention its legislative history and the hearings that led to its enactment, that Congress was concerned with the rights of Indian families and Indian communities vis-à-vis state authorities.

         Id. at 44-45. "Parent" is a critical term under ICWA. Whether an individual qualifies as a "parent" determines whether he or she may benefit from the heightened protections for parental rights available under ICWA. There is "no reason to believe that Congress intended to rely on state law for the definition of [this] critical term." Id. at 44. Indeed, we must begin "with the general assumption that in the absence of a plain indication to the contrary, . . . Congress when it enacts a statute is not making the application of the federal act dependent on state law." Id. at 43 (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). And although "Congress sometimes intends that a statutory term be given content by the application of state law, " this applies only in the context of fleshing out the federal standard-it does not mean the federal standard is replaced with fifty state standards. Id.

         ¶ 60 Additionally, Holyfield notes that Congress can and does expressly state when it wants a state or tribal law definition to apply. Id. at 47 n.22 ("Where Congress . . . intend[s] that ICWA terms be defined by reference to other than federal law, it state[s] this explicitly."). For example, Congress explicitly stated that "extended family member" and "Indian custodian" are defined by reference to tribal law or custom or state law. 25 U.S.C. § 1903(2), (6). This, the Holyfield Court stated, is evidence that if Congress "did intend that ICWA terms be defined by reference to other than federal law, " "it would have said so." 490 U.S. at 47 n.22. And this is not merely "another way of saying that the legislature could have spoken more clearly." Craig v. Provo City, 2016 UT 40, ¶ 38, 389 P.3d 423. Rather, the explicit use of state or tribal law for "extended family member" and "Indian custodian" but not for other terms such as "acknowledge" and "establish" indicates that Congress "rejected the formulation embodied in the neighboring provision"-i.e., that it declined to incorporate state or tribal standards for acknowledging and establishing paternity. Id. ¶ 38 n.9. Because Congress did not mandate a state or tribal law definition for "acknowledge" or "establish, " we can and should rely instead on a federal definition.

         ¶ 61 In determining how to define the procedures for acknowledging and establishing paternity, we have a duty to "harmonize [a statute's] provisions in accordance with the legislative intent and purpose." Osuala v. Aetna Life & Cas., 608 P.2d 242, 243 (Utah 1980); see also Jensen v. Intermountain Health Care, Inc., 679 P.2d 903, 906- 07 (Utah 1984) (stating that the meaning of a statute's sections could not be determined without taking into account "the purposes they were designed to effectuate"); B.L. Key, Inc. v. Utah State Tax Comm'n, 934 P.2d 1164, 1168 n.2 (Utah Ct. App. 1997) ("[T]he overarching principle, applicable to all statutes, [is] that [statutes] should be construed and applied in accordance with the intent of the Legislature and the purpose sought to be accomplished." (third alteration in original) (citation omitted)). At times, it may be necessary to delve into legislative history to determine what and how many purposes the legislature intended. Marion Energy, Inc. v. KFJ Ranch P'ship, 2011 UT 50, ¶ 15, 267 P.3d 863 ("[W]hen statutory language is ambiguous . . . we generally resort to other modes of statutory construction and 'seek guidance from legislative history' and other accepted sources." (citation omitted)). But that is not the case here, where we have a clear directive in the statute itself that drives at a purpose:

to protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families by the establishment of minimum Federal standards for the removal of Indian children from their families and the placement of such children in foster or adoptive homes which will reflect the unique values of Indian culture, and by providing for assistance to Indian tribes in the operation of child and family service programs.

25 U.S.C. § 1902.

         ¶ 62 The dissent provides no support for its assertion that 25 U.S.C. section 1901(5) states that a "key countervailing purpose at stake under ICWA is the protection of the traditional jurisdiction of state courts over adoption proceedings." Infra ¶ 159. And that is an odd statement given that, in context, section 1901(5) states that "the States, exercising their recognized jurisdiction over Indian child custody proceedings through administrative and judicial bodies, have often failed to recognize the essential tribal relations of Indian people and the cultural and social standards prevailing in Indian communities and families." That is, ICWA represents an extraordinary act of federal intervention into family law precisely in response to Congress's concern about state courts' "alarming[]" tendency to disregard the interests of Indian parents and tribes. 25 U.S.C. § 1901(4). So, far from being "recognize[d] . . . to a large degree" as a "countervailing purpose, " infra ¶ 159, state courts' wielding of their traditional jurisdiction is what led to the need for ICWA in the first place.

         ¶ 63 Notably, nothing in the "Congressional declaration of policy, " 25 U.S.C. § 1902, supports the assertion that protection of states' traditional jurisdiction is part of ICWA's purpose. And the fact that "ICWA does not oust the states of that traditional area of their authority, " infra ¶ 159, is not a reason to read in another purpose-it is simply how federalism works. See In re Adoption of Halloway, 732 P.2d 962, 967 (Utah 1986) ("Under general supremacy principles, state law cannot be permitted to operate as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress." (internal quotation marks omitted)).

         ¶ 64 The dissent also ignores Congress's plenary powers in this arena by asserting that issues of paternity and other family matters have "never been a creature of federal law, " infra ¶ 163, and that the use of the past tense in section 1903(9) is significant because it means that Congress intended "acknowledged" and "established" to be defined by existing standards-by which it means state standards. Infra ¶ 171. This is not correct. First, acknowledgement or establishment of paternity under a federal standard is consistent with the use of the past tense because any action a putative father takes after the enactment of ICWA necessarily looks back to the standard ICWA had-in the past- established. Second, to the extent the dissent is attempting to guard against a perceived intrusion, it ignores the fact that this "intrusion" is taking place within the context of Indian welfare, an area in which Congress has plenary authority. U.S. Const. art. I, § 8(3) ("The Congress shall have Power . . . To regulate Commerce . . . with the Indian Tribes."); see Cotton Petroleum Corp. v. New Mexico, 490 U.S. 163, 192 (1989) ("[T]he central function of the Indian Commerce Clause is to provide Congress with plenary power to legislate in the field of Indian affairs."); Halloway, 732 P.2d at 967 ("The Supreme Court has made it clear that where Indian affairs are concerned, a broad test of preemption is to be applied.").

          ¶ 65 This authority encompasses family matters such as child-raising. Wakefield v. Little Light, 347 A.2d 228, 234 (Md. 1975) ("We think it plain that child-rearing is an essential tribal relation." (internal quotation marks omitted)); see also 25 U.S.C. § 1901(2)-(3) (stating that Congress has "assumed the responsibility for the protection and preservation of Indian tribes and their resources" and that "there is no resource that is more vital to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes than their children"). Indeed, the very point of ICWA is to regulate family law issues. 25 U.S.C. § 1902 (stating that the statute's policy is to protect Indian children and families and establish standards for placing those children in foster or adoptive homes). By arguing that the definition of paternity in the context of Indian affairs is a state issue, the dissent's position largely ignores the federal government's plenary powers over Indian affairs, not to mention the purpose and text of ICWA as a whole. We are loath to pour state law back into ICWA when ICWA's whole reason for being is to drain what, in Congress's view, is an inequitable swamp-displacing state law on the matters on which ICWA speaks.

         ¶ 66 The danger that ICWA "would be impaired if state law were to control" presents an additional, compelling reason "for the presumption against the application of state law." Holyfield, 490 U.S. at 44 (citation omitted). And hewing closely to this presumption in the Indian affairs arena, in which Congress enjoys plenary power, strikes us as particularly appropriate where "the congressional findings that are a part of the statute demonstrate that Congress perceived the States and their courts as partly responsible for the problem it intended to correct." Id. at 45; see also Halloway, 732 P.2d at 969 (stating that Utah court's receptivity to placing Indian children in non-Indian homes "is precisely one of the evils at which the ICWA was aimed"); 25 U.S.C. § 1901(4) (indicating "that an alarmingly high percentage of Indian families are broken up by the removal, often unwarranted, of their children from them by nontribal public and private agencies"); id. § 1901(5) (expressing concern "that the States . . . have often failed to recognize the essential tribal relations of Indian people and the cultural and social standards prevailing in Indian communities and families"). The U.S. Supreme Court praised our "scholarly and sensitive" decision in Halloway for its sensitivity to the risk that state law could "be used to frustrate the federal legislative judgment expressed in the ICWA." Holyfield, 490 U.S. at 52-53 (quoting Halloway, 732 P.2d at 970).

          ¶ 67 Furthermore, ICWA provides that "where State or Federal law applicable to a child custody proceeding under State or Federal law provides a higher standard of protection to the rights of the parent . . . of an Indian child than the rights provided under [ICWA], the State or Federal court shall apply the State or Federal standard, " thus ensuring that parents of Indian children enjoy the highest level of protection of their parental rights available. 25 U.S.C. § 1921. Applying state law to determine who is a parent under ICWA would, in some cases, provide a lower level of protection of parental rights than ICWA intends. Utah law serves as the perfect example of this problem. Whereas ICWA provides that an unmarried biological father may "acknowledge[] or establish[]" paternity, id. § 1903(9) (emphasis added), Utah law provides no viable procedure for acknowledging paternity in cases where the mother wants to place the child for adoption at birth and does not consent to the acknowledgment. For a biological father to acknowledge paternity through a declaration of paternity, Utah law requires the birth mother's signature in addition to the unmarried biological father's signature. Utah Code § 78B-15-302(1)(c). Thus, in cases where the birth mother declines to sign the declaration, the unmarried biological father is precluded from acknowledging paternity under ICWA, if we look to Utah law for the definition of that term. See In re Adoption of R.M., 2013 UT App 27, ¶ 8, 296 P.3d 757 ("If the birth mother declines to acknowledge the unmarried biological father's paternity and refuses to sign the declaration of paternity, he will have to comply with the paternity provisions in order for his consent to be required."). The result is that, when applying Utah law, the unmarried biological father's option to acknowledge paternity is essentially read out of ICWA. The district court's opinion illustrates this result, as it does not seriously analyze whether Birth Father acknowledged paternity under Utah law, instead focusing on whether he complied with the requirements for establishing paternity under Utah law.

         ¶ 68 Also, as the district court recognized, "Utah's requirements for establishment of paternity by unwed fathers are notoriously strict." See In re Adoption of Baby E.Z., 2011 UT 38, ¶ 40, 266 P.3d 702 ("The Utah legislature has enacted strict requirements for unmarried birth fathers who seek to prevent adoption of their children.").[22] Applying state law to a term as critical as the definition of a parent under ICWA is not in keeping with ICWA's text and purpose. And applying Utah law specifically to eliminate the option of acknowledging paternity-and instead requiring an unmarried biological father of an Indian child to comply with some of the strictest requirements for establishing paternity in order to receive any protection of his parental rights under ICWA-"would, to a large extent, nullify the purpose the ICWA was intended to accomplish." Holyfield, 490 U.S. at 52.

         ¶ 69 We also conclude that "Congress could hardly have intended the lack of nationwide uniformity that would result from state-law definitions of" who is a parent under ICWA. Id. at 45.[23] In Holyfield, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that ICWA did not incorporate state-law definitions of domicile in large part to avoid the anomaly of different results depending on which state the mother traveled to in order to give birth. Id. at 46. It would be similarly anomalous-not to mention unfair and an unwarranted intrusion by states into Indian customs and practices-to make an unmarried biological Indian father's status as a parent under ICWA depend on whether the mother gave birth in one state or another. "[A] statute under which different rules apply from time to time to the same" unmarried biological father, "simply as a result of" the mother's decision to give birth in "one State [or] another, cannot be what Congress had in mind." Id. Thus, we conclude that the interpretation of what is required to acknowledge or establish paternity under ICWA is not left up to state law.

         ¶ 70 We note that the dissent offers no persuasive reasoning for why we should presume that ICWA embraced state principles over those expressed in tribal law principles dealing with family issues. But, in any case, we likewise reject the notion that courts should look to tribal law to determine whether an unmarried biological father has acknowledged or established paternity under ICWA. As with state law, the application of tribal law to the definition of a parent under ICWA would result in a lack of nationwide uniformity. Based on Holyfield, we determine that Congress could hardly have intended that result.

         3. A Federal Standard of Reasonableness Applies

         ¶ 71 Having rejected the application of state law to define the procedures and timing for acknowledging or establishing paternity under ICWA, we hold that a federal standard applies.[24] We acknowledge that ICWA does not explicitly define the procedures and timing required, but in light of the congressional findings and the purpose of ICWA as discussed above, as well as its protectiveness of parental rights pertaining to Indian children, we conclude that the requirements must be less exacting than those for establishing paternity under Utah law. Instead, we conclude that a reasonability standard applies to the time and manner in which an unwed father may acknowledge or establish his paternity. This comports with the canon of interpretation that where a statute is silent as to the time or manner of a subject, we presume a reasonability standard-an approach that is consistent with ICWA case law[25] and has been applied by many states over many years and many different topics of law.[26] ICWA is silent both as to the manner in which an unwed father may acknowledge or establish paternity and as to the time in which he must do so. Applying a reasonability standard here creates obvious stop-gaps and prevents the slippery-slope concerns of the dissent, as it requires more than "any bare acknowledgement by a putative father, " infra ¶ 198, and would not allow "a putative Indian father [to] come forward months or even years later and assert a right to disrupt even a finalized adoption." Infra ¶ 201.[27]

          ¶ 72 This approach is consistent with ICWA's liberal administration. Guidelines for State Courts; Indian Child Custody Proceedings, 44 Fed. Reg. 67, 584, 67, 586 (Nov. 26, 1979) (stating that ICWA "shall be liberally construed"); see also Brenda O. v. Ariz. Dep't of Econ. Sec., 244 P.3d 574, 577 (Ariz.Ct.App. 2010) ("ICWA is to be interpreted 'liberally in favor of the Indians' interest in preserving family units.'" (citation omitted)); In re Esther V., 248 P.3d 863, 869 (N.M. 2011) (noting that ICWA is a remedial statute that must be interpreted "liberally to facilitate and accomplish [its] purposes and intent" (citation omitted)). The BIA guidelines also support a federal reasonableness standard.[28] Indeed, courts assessing paternity by unwed putative fathers under other federal statutes have also looked to "the history and tradition of liberal administration of benefits" in rejecting "[a]pplication of rigorous state law schemes for proof of paternity." St. John Stevedoring Co. v. Wilfred, 818 F.2d 397, 399 (5th Cir. 1987). Put another way, the BIA guidelines did not adopt a uniform standard of reasonableness because the BIA correctly presumed that state courts already understood that strict compliance with state law was not necessary.

         ¶ 73 By contrast, the dissent's proposed standard would lead to absurd situations where an unwed father who clearly has acknowledged or established paternity under ICWA would not qualify under Utah law. Take, for example, a situation where a biological mother abandons a child with the unmarried biological father. If the father acted as the sole caretaker for his child, that would surely be a clear-cut case of acknowledgement of paternity. But under Utah law, the father would not have acknowledged paternity if he did not have a written agreement that the mother had also signed. Supra ¶ 67. This would provide the father with fewer rights than a reasonability standard under ICWA. We believe a common-sense reading of ICWA prohibits the dissent's strict interpretation. See In re Adoption of Baby E.Z., 2011 UT 38, ¶ 40; In re J.S., 321 P.3d 103, 110 (Mont. 2014) (applying a "[c]ommon sense construction of the meaning of 'active efforts'" in ICWA (alteration in original)); see also In re Adoption of Sara J., 123 P.3d 1017, 1036 (Alaska 2005) (applying "[c]ommon sense" to interpret ICWA's placement preferences); In re T.S.W., 276 P.3d 133, 144 (Kan. 2012) (same).

         ¶ 74 Thus, we hold that Birth Father's actions satisfied the requirements for acknowledging paternity under ICWA using a reasonability standard. Birth Father and Birth Mother resided together at the time of conception and for the first six months of Birth Mother's pregnancy. During that time, Birth Father supported Birth Mother, paying for their rent, utilities, and groceries and Birth Mother's phone bill. When Birth Mother moved to Utah six months into the pregnancy, the plan was for Birth Father to join her later, once she was settled into their new apartment. Birth Father stayed in contact with Birth Mother over the phone for the first few weeks after her move, until Birth Mother cut off communication with him. Birth Father was then told by family friends that Birth Mother was fine and would return to South Dakota soon. Birth Father indicated that he believed Birth Mother needed some space and that she would either return to South Dakota to deliver their baby or that she would return with the baby after the delivery. Instead, Birth Mother placed their child for adoption. Upon learning of the proceedings shortly after the September 25, 2014 order terminating parental rights was issued, Birth Father informed the tribe of the situation and consulted with Dakota Plains Legal Services. After being referred to Utah Legal Services, Birth Father filed a motion to intervene, a motion for paternity testing, and a paternity affidavit expressly acknowledging that he was the Child's biological father. He also filed an Answer, Objection, and Verified Counterpetition to the Verified Petition for Adoption. When new ICWA guidelines were released on the day of the hearing on his motions, Birth Father acted immediately: the very same day, he submitted those guidelines to the court with a motion requesting the court to review them and drawing the court's attention to pertinent provisions in the guidelines. In the April 21, 2015 order denying Birth Father's motion to intervene on the basis that he was not a parent under ICWA, the district court itself stated that Birth Father

has filed numerous documents with the Court in this case asserting paternity. In connection with this case, [Birth Father] has filed an affidavit setting forth his willingness and ability to parent the Child, his plans for care of the Child, and his willingness to pay child support and expenses related to the pregnancy and birth. He has filed a notice, with the Utah Department of Health, Office of Vital Records and Statistics, indicating that he has filed a paternity action regarding the Child (identifying this case as the paternity action). Thus, if one construes this action as a 'paternity action, ' then [Birth Father] has now accomplished all of the tasks required by Utah's statute.

         ¶ 75 These actions, we hold, were both timely and sufficient for Birth Father to acknowledge paternity under ICWA, making Birth Father a "parent" for purposes of section 1914.[29]

         C. Birth Father Is a Parent Under Utah Law

         ¶ 76 As an alternative basis, I would hold that Birth Father also timely acknowledged and established his paternity under Utah law. As the district court indicated, Birth Father "accomplished all of the tasks required" by Utah Code section 78B-6-121(3), which relates to the consent of an unmarried biological father. And Birth Father accomplished these tasks within the timeframe required by Utah law. See Utah Code § 78B-6-121(3) (requiring the unmarried biological father to accomplish those tasks "prior to the time the mother executes her consent for adoption or relinquishes the child for adoption"). The district court concluded that Birth Father's actions were untimely because he "completed these tasks no earlier than January 26, 2015, " which the court determined was after "the time the mother execute[d] her consent for adoption or relinquishe[d] the child for adoption." Id. However, because Birth Mother never gave valid consent, supra ¶ 44, and because Birth Father has accomplished all the necessary actions, Birth Father timely established paternity even under Utah law. Thus, even if Utah law applied to define how to acknowledge or establish paternity under ICWA, Birth Father satisfies the statutory definition of a "parent."

         ¶ 77 The actions Birth Father took illustrate that this case is a poster child for application of ICWA. Against the backdrop of 25 U.S.C. section 1902's declaration of policy stating that ICWA is designed "to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families" and guard against state courts' unnecessary removals of Indian children from their families, the majority would hold that an Indian father who took every necessary action to acknowledge paternity of his Indian child did too little, too late. I disagree. Because Birth Father acknowledged his paternity under both a federal reasonableness standard and a stricter Utah standard, he is a "parent" for purposes of ICWA. This status as a parent gives him standing under section 1914 to challenge the order terminating Birth Mother's parental rights due to her invalid consent. 25 U.S.C. § 1914 ("[A]ny parent . . . may petition any court of competent jurisdiction to invalidate such action upon a showing that such action violated any provision of sections 1911, 1912, and 1913 of this title.").

         D. Birth Father's Status as a Parent, Along with His Custody of the Child, Gives Him the Right to Intervene

         ¶ 78 Because we conclude that Birth Father is a "parent" under ICWA, we now look to language in section 1914 that arguably requires not just that a person bringing a challenge to a termination action be a "parent" but also that he be a parent "from whose custody such child was removed." Birth Father may bring an action under this section because, as a parent, he had legal custody of the Child, and to the extent he did not ...

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