from the District Court of Sheridan County The Honorable
Norman E. Young, Judge
Representing Appellant: Seth Shumaker, Attorney at Law,
Representing Appellee: No appearance.
DAVIS, C.J., and FOX, KAUTZ, BOOMGAARDEN and GRAY, JJ.
The district court in Sheridan County, Wyoming, granted the
appellee, Ashley Dawn Preston (Mother), primary custody of
the child she shares with the appellant, Steven Jacob
Mitchell (Father). Father, a member of the Cheyenne River
Sioux Tribe, kept the child on the reservation in South
Dakota and refused to relinquish custody to Mother, who is
not a member of the tribe. He unsuccessfully sought orders
from the district court and the tribal court transferring
jurisdiction over the custody matter to the tribal court. In
October 2017, Father again moved the district court for an
order relinquishing permanent child custody jurisdiction to
the tribal court. Father claimed the tribal court acquired
jurisdiction over the custody matter by issuing emergency
child custody and/or protection orders, and the district
court should, therefore, relinquish jurisdiction to make
permanent custody orders to the tribal court. The district
court granted Mother's motion to strike Father's
motion, and Father appealed.
Father presents the following issue on appeal:
Whether the trial court erred in striking/denying
[Father's] Motion to Transfer Venue/Motion to Establish
Tribal Jurisdiction where the Northern Cheyenne River Sioux
Tribal Court had issued emergency custody and placement
orders concerning [the child], the Tribal Court had
jurisdiction and the District Court was compelled under the
Full Faith and Credit provision of 25 U.S.C. [§] 1911(d)
to recognize the Tribal Court's [o]rders or establish
Tribal jurisdiction in the matter.
Mother did not appear in this appeal.
This case has a long and arduous course of litigation. We
outlined many of the proceedings in Mitchell v.
State, 2018 WY 110, ¶¶ 3-16, 426 P.3d 830,
833-35 (Wyo. 2018), where we affirmed Father's conviction
and sentence for felony interference with custody. The record
in this case is quite sparse, so we will refer to our earlier
decision to give an adequate rendition of the proceedings.
The parties' child was born in Montana in 2010. The State
of Montana established Father's paternity and ordered him
to pay child support but did not enter a custody order. The
parties moved to Wyoming separately, with Mother living in
Sheridan and Father living in Newcastle. They informally
agreed that the child would reside with Mother and Father
would be entitled to liberal visitation. Mitchell,
¶¶ 3-4, 426 P.3d at 833.
During a visit with Father in March 2012, the child became
ill because a coin was lodged in her esophagus. The coin had
to be surgically removed, and Mother agreed Father could keep
the child in his care until she finished her medical
treatment. However, Father refused to return the child to
Mother after her treatment concluded. He alleged that Mother
was abusing and/or neglecting the child, and reported his
suspicions, apparently prompted by the coin incident, to the
Department of Family Services (DFS). DFS determined, on April
13, 2012, that Father's allegation did not "fall
within the Department's guidelines . . . or definitions
of abuse and/or neglect," and closed the case. Despite
DFS's conclusion, Father refused to return the child to
Mother or to allow any contact between Mother and the child.
Id., ¶ 4, 426 P.3d at 833.
On July 1, 2013, Mother filed a petition in the Sheridan
County district court to establish custody and visitation.
The parties agreed to a temporary custody and visitation
order, giving Father temporary custody of the child subject
to Mother's visitation. Because of the child's young
age and the amount of time she had been separated from
Mother, the visitation schedule was graduated, starting with
visitation supervised through the Court Appointed Special
Advocate Program (CASA). Father, however, refused to comply
with the visitation order, and, over time, Mother filed two
motions for orders to show cause. The district court found
Father in contempt of court each time and ordered him to
comply with the visitation order and to pay Mother's
attorney fees and costs. Mitchell, ¶¶ 5-7,
426 P.3d at 833-34.
In 2014, Father moved with the child onto the Cheyenne River
Indian Reservation in South Dakota. On February 25, 2014,
Father filed a petition for temporary full custody of the
child with the Children's Court of the Cheyenne River
Sioux Tribal Court. He incorrectly alleged in his petition
that legal custody of the child had not been established in
the district court. After a hearing on April 22, 2014, the
tribal court dismissed Father's petition for lack of
jurisdiction because the custody action was pending in the
Sheridan County district court and Mother was not a tribal
member. Id., ¶ 15 n.5, 426 P.3d at 835 n.5.
The district court scheduled a trial on Mother's petition
to establish custody and visitation for February 6, 2015.
Father's attorney provided him with the order setting the
trial date by e-mail and mail. Father did not appear for the
trial, the district court found him in default, and the trial
proceeded as scheduled. Id., ¶¶ 8-9, 426
P.3d at 834.
On February 23, 2015, the district court entered an order
awarding primary custody of the child to Mother. The district
court issued a warrant for Father's arrest for failing to
comply with its orders in the custody case. In addition, the
State charged him with felony interference with custody, in
violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-204(a)(ii), (d) and
(e) (LexisNexis 2017). Mitchell, ¶¶ 9-10,
426 P.3d at 834. Father was arrested in October 2016, but he
still did not return the child to Mother. Instead, the child
remained on the reservation with her paternal grandmother
(Grandmother). Id., ¶ 12, 426 P.3d at 835.
Father continued his efforts to have the Wyoming district
court transfer jurisdiction over the custody matter to the
tribal court. Id., ¶ 12, 426 P.3d at 834-35.
Father also filed motions with the tribal court, and he was
successful in having the tribal court occasionally enter
emergency custody and/or protection orders. Id.,
¶ 15 n.5, 426 P.3d at 835 n.5. He was not successful,
however, in obtaining any tribal court order which asserted
jurisdiction over the permanent custody issue between Mother
On October 26, 2017, Father filed the motion which is at
issue in this case. It was a combined motion entitled
"Motion for Change of Venue/Motion to Establish Tribal
Jurisdiction." The district court granted Mother's
motion to strike Father's combined motion on April 23,
2018. It ruled that Father had received "ample due
process," including notice and the opportunity to be
heard with respect to the initial custody determination. The
district court also ruled that it had "exclusive,