TO: Joint Procedure Committee
FROM: Mike Hagburg
RE: Expedited Appellate Procedures in Dependency Cases
Chief Justice VandeWalle has suggested that the Committee take a preliminary look at whether it would be desirable for North Dakota to institute expedited appellate procedures in certain cases involving children. Currently, North Dakota is one of only seven states that do not have some rules in place to expedite dependency appeals.
The National Center for State Courts has recently published Expediting Dependency Appeals: Strategies to Reduce Delays. Pertinent portions of this study are included as part of the meeting materials. The study takes a look at different approaches being used to expedite appeals in the following types of cases: Termination of Parental Rights, Abuse & Neglect, Adoption, Custody, Children in Need of Assistance and related types of cases involving children.
Different states have taken different approaches to expediting these cases: included in the meeting materials is an article on the approach used by Ohio and copies the rules governing Minnesota's system for expedited appeals.
The NCSC study sets out model time lines for expedited appellate consideration of dependency cases, and these time lines are included in the meeting materials. Staff performed a preliminary review of the time lines for termination of parental rights cases in North Dakota. Looking at 13 cases decided in the last two years, staff found that the average time from the filing of the notice of appeal to issuance of a decision in these cases was 243 days, with the shortest time being 136 days from notice of appeal to resolution and the longest being 324 days. These times are generally in excess of the 150-175 day model time frame provided by the NCSC for resolution of dependency appeals.
A closer look at the time lines in the North Dakota termination of parental rights cases suggests that it would be difficult to pin responsibility for any delay in these cases to any particular source: the average time between the notice of appeal and receipt of the transcript by the Supreme Court was 74 days; the average time between receipt of the transcript and receipt of the appellant's brief was 57 days; the average time between receipt of the appellant's brief and receipt of the appellee's brief was 31 days; the average time between receipt of the last brief and oral argument was 43 days; and the average time between the argument and issuance of a decision was 38 days.
Whether to institute expedited dependency appeals in North Dakota is a matter that will have to be considered by a variety of groups. The supreme court clerk and the Juvenile Policy Board are next in line to look at this issue. In order to provide the Chief Justice and these groups with usable feedback on this issue, the Committee at this time may wish to discuss whether there is an actual need for expedited appellate procedures in dependency cases in North Dakota and how best to address that need. Another issue is defining what types of cases should be considered for expedited appellate handling.
The Committee may also wish to discuss whether there are any particular areas that it would like staff to research in regard to future consideration of this issue.