Original Mandamus Proceeding
Panel consists of: Wright, C.J., Willson, J., and Bailey, J.
Relator, Rosanna Banda, has filed in this court an original mandamus proceeding seeking to compel the judge of the 326th District Court of Taylor County, the Honorable Aleta Hacker, to vacate her order of November 8, 2013. In that order, Judge Hacker denied Relator's motion to dismiss the underlying proceeding—trial court cause no. 07244-CX—a parental termination case filed by the real party in interest, the Department of Family and Protective Services. Relator sought to have the suit dismissed pursuant to Section 263.401 of the Texas Family Code. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 263.401 (West 2008). We conditionally grant Relator's petition for writ of mandamus.
Section 263.401(a) provides that a parental termination suit shall be dismissed unless trial on the merits has commenced by the Monday following one year from the date of the temporary order appointing the Department as managing conservator. Pursuant to Section 263.401(b), one 180-day extension may be granted. "If the court grants an extension but does not commence the trial on the merits before the required date for dismissal under Subsection (b), the court shall dismiss the suit. The court may not grant an additional extension that extends the suit beyond the required date for dismissal under Subsection (b)." Id. § 263.401(c). We note that the Department concedes that the petition has merit because the statutory deadline under Section 263.401 had passed. Therefore, Relator's timely filed motion to dismiss should have been granted.
In the underlying proceeding, the Department filed a petition seeking to terminate Relator's parental rights. The Department was appointed temporary managing conservator on October 7, 2011. The judge set the original dismissal date at October 8, 2012. With a subsequent 180-day extension, the mandatory dismissal date was moved to April 6, 2013. Trial on the merits commenced on March 19, 2013, but resulted in a mistrial. Relator filed a motion to dismiss and an amended motion to dismiss, which the trial court denied on November 8, 2013. Trial on the merits is currently set for December 16, 2013. The earlier trial that commenced prior to the deadline did not extend the deadline because that trial resulted in a mistrial. See In re Northrop, 305 S.W.3d 172, 177 (Tex. App.— Houston [1st Dist.] 2009, orig. proceeding) (stating that the Section 263.401 deadline is not tolled by a mistrial).
The statutory dismissal deadline is mandatory, and mandamus is appropriate if a trial court denies a timely motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Section 263.401. See In re Dep't of Family & Protective Servs., 273 S.W.3d 637, 643–45 (Tex. 2009) (orig. proceeding); In re Tex. Dep't of Family & Protective Servs., 210 S.W.3d 609 (Tex. 2006) (orig. proceeding). The trial court in this case abused its discretion when it denied Relator's motion to dismiss. We note that a dismissal under Section 263.401 is without prejudice and does not prohibit the Department from filing another petition to terminate parental rights. In re M.N.G., 147 S.W.3d 521, 528 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2004, pet. denied).
We conditionally grant a writ of mandamus. The Honorable Judge Aleta Hacker is directed to vacate her order of November 8, 2013, and to dismiss the underlying proceeding without prejudice as required by Section 263.401 of the Family Code. A writ of ...