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In re R.R.A.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

March 22, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF R.R.A., a Child

         From the 166th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2015PA02475 Honorable Charles E. Montemayor, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice

         M.A. appeals the trial court's order terminating his parental rights to his son, R.R.A. On appeal, M.A. argues that the evidence was legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court's findings that he committed a predicate act required for termination and that termination was in his son's best interest. We affirm the trial court's order.

         Background

         On November 25, 2015, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services filed a petition for protection of a child, for conservatorship, and for termination in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship. The suit requested termination of M.A.'s and J.W.'s parental rights to their son, R.R.A.[1] The case proceeded to a bench trial on October 20, 2016.

         Stacy Jolliffe, the removing caseworker, testified that at the time of his removal from his parents' care, R.R.A. was four years old. According to Jolliffe, the Department began investigating the family due to reports of R.R.A.'s mother, J.W., being homeless, appearing to be under the influence of drugs, and having psychiatric issues. J.W. admitted to drug use and told the caseworker that she and M.A. "were engaging in Ice together." J.W. denied being a victim of domestic violence but after she was admitted to the hospital with a swollen jaw and black eye, she did admit that there was a domestic violence problem. At the time the Department sought removal of R.R.A., J.W. was residing at the Battered Women's Shelter. She refused to cooperate with the Department, and shortly thereafter absconded to California with R.R.A. and M.A.

         Glory Bishop, the current legal caseworker, testified that M.A. was absent for most of the case and refused to do any of the services on his court-ordered service plan. M.A. did not visit with the child. M.A. had recently-approximately one month prior to trial-asked for services to be set up in Odessa where he was residing. Bishop stated that she attempted to email a letter outlining the services, but the email address M.A. had provided was incorrect. Bishop then mailed the letter to M.A. via certified mail and also texted and called M.A., but at the time of trial, had not heard back from him. She did, however, receive confirmation that M.A. had received the letter. Bishop was not able to substantiate whether M.A. used drugs or whether he inflicted domestic violence on J.W.

         Bishop testified that upon R.R.A.'s return to San Antonio, he was placed with his maternal grandmother, who had also adopted his older brother. She stated that R.R.A. was doing well there-doing good in school and interacting well with this older brother and cousins who also reside in the home. On cross-examination, Bishop stated that before the Department filed its petition for termination, R.R.A. was behind on his vaccinations and suffered from a crossed eye. Under the care of his grandmother, R.R.A.'s vaccinations were up to date and he was being treated by an optometrist for his eye.

         M.A. testified that he currently resides in Odessa but was living in San Antonio in the fall of 2015. He stated that he had not used illegal drugs in the past year and denied engaging in domestic violence with J.W. He stated that he moved to California to give J.W. a fresh start. M.A. claimed that he was unaware the Department was investigating the family prior to the move to California. He testified that he was not trying to hide from the Department and had applied for health insurance for the child and for food stamps. He also attempted to get medical care for R.R.A. while in California, including physicals and an eye exam. He last saw R.R.A. at the end of February 2016 and had not tried to visit with him since because he felt like his rights had been violated. M.A. did not understand why R.R.A. had been removed from his care and stated that he was never served with any papers. M.A. stated that he missed his son, but he refused to do what the Department asked of him because "it's all wrong" and he should have had the opportunity to present his case.

         Tammy M., R.R.A.'s maternal grandmother, testified that in August of 2015, her daughter, J.W., came to her with issues of domestic violence. J.W. was constantly texting her about it. Tammy stated that J.W. and M.A. were wandering around from motel to motel and there was an incident in August 2015 where Tammy had to take J.W. to the hospital. J.W. thought M.A. "was shooting her up while she was [a]sleep." Tammy observed that J.W. had a black eye and stated that J.W. often told her M.A. was physically abusing her. Tammy stated that both M.A. and J.W. knew the Department was investigating them before "they ran to California." J.W. called Tammy saying M.A. had kidnapped her, but Tammy could not say whether that was true. Tammy explained that J.W. was not "of sound mind. She does have mental issues." Tammy further explained that J.W. had been diagnosed as bipolar and schizo-affective, and also suffered from memory lapses due to chemotherapy treatment and radiation. Tammy stated that if both parents' parental rights were terminated, she was willing to adopt R.R.A.

         After hearing all the evidence, the trial court signed an order terminating M.A.'s parental rights to R.R.A. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(N), (O), (P) (West Supp. 2016). The trial court also found that termination of M.A.'s parental rights was in the child's best interest. M.A. now appeals, arguing the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court's findings that he committed a predicate act required for termination and that termination was in R.R.A.'s best interest.

         Discussion

         Parental rights may be terminated only upon proof of clear and convincing evidence that (1) the parent has committed an act prohibited by section 161.001(b)(1) of the Texas Family Code, and (2) termination is in the best interest of the child. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b) (West Supp. 2016). Under the clear-and-convincing-evidence standard, evidence is legally sufficient if it is "such that a factfinder could reasonably form a firm belief or conviction about the truth of the matter on which the State bears the burden of proof." In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 265-66 (Tex. 2002); see Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 101.007 (West 2014) (defining clear and convincing evidence). We review "the evidence in the light most favorable to the judgment, " meaning that we "must assume that the factfinder resolved disputed facts in favor of its finding if a reasonable factfinder could do so." In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266. "If, after conducting its legal sufficiency review of the record evidence, a court determines that no reasonable factfinder could form a firm belief or conviction that the matter that must be proven is true, then that court must conclude that the evidence is legally insufficient." Id. "In a bench ...


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