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In re E.E.H.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

March 29, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF E.E.H., E.E.H., J.A.M., F.V.M., Children

         From the 57th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2015-PA-02107 Honorable Richard Garcia, Judge Presiding.

         AFFIRMED.

          Sitting: Marialyn Barnard, Justice, Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice, Irene Rios, Justice.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Marialyn Barnard, Justice.

         This is an accelerated appeal from the trial court's order terminating appellant mother's ("Mother") parental rights to her children, E.E.H., E.E.H., J.A.M., and F.V.M. On appeal, Mother argues the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court's finding that termination was in the best interests of her children. We affirm the trial court's order of termination.

         Background

         The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services ("the Department") initially became involved in the underlying matter after it received a referral alleging E.E.H., E.E.H., J.A.M., and F.V.M. were living in unsanitary and hazardous conditions. The referral further alleged the children - specifically, the twins, E.E.H. and E.E.H., who were both having potty training accidents - were being inappropriately disciplined. In addition to these allegations, the referral alleged the children witnessed episodes of significant domestic violence between Mother and Mother's husband, Mr. M. At the time of the referral, the twins were four-years-old, J.A.M. was two-years-old, and F.V.M. was one-year-old.

         Natasha Meckler, a caseworker from the Department, visited the home and spoke to Mother and Mr. M. regarding the allegations. During her visit, Ms. Meckler made a number of observations. Ms. Meckler first noted a large hole in a ramp placed against the front doorway. The hole was large enough for an adult to fall though, and below the ramp were a number of objects, including pipes, trash, and metal. Inside the home, Ms. Meckler also noted the lack of kitchen appliances; the family was using portable coolers to hold drinks and snacks as well as a microwave oven to reheat small meals. When asked about the lack of food in the home, Mother stated they ate out each day for their three meals. At the end of the visit, Mother agreed to take the children out of the home and to stay with Mr. M.'s brother while Mr. M. repaired the ramp. Mother and Mr. M. also agreed they would live separately to avoid any further confrontations.

         Five days later, the Department received a second referral that the police had arrested Mother for a domestic violence incident. The referral alleged Mother had hit Mr. M. with a belt, kicked him, and attacked him with a box cutter in front of the children. The Department spoke to Mother at the Bexar County jail, and Mother admitted there was an altercation between her and Mr. M. in front of the children. While Mother was in jail, the children were staying with Mr. M. at the home. Thereafter, the Department removed the children from the home, placing them at a children's shelter. Before they were taken to the shelter, J.A.M. and F.V.M. were taken to the children's hospital due to severe bleeding from diaper rashes. At the time of removal, the Department was unable to locate any family members willing to take the children.

         That same day, the Department filed its original petition for protection of the children, for conservatorship, and for termination of parental rights.[1] The following day, the trial court rendered an ex parte order designating the Department as temporary managing conservator. The matter was set for a full adversarial hearing a month later. At the hearing, the trial court granted the Department temporary conservatorship and awarded Mother weekly supervised visitation with the children. Over the next couple of months, the required statutory hearings were conducted, and Mother's compliance with her service plan was noted. However, after six months, the Department filed a report, expressing concern that Mother was involved in a relationship with a registered sex offender and continued to have ongoing issues with Mr. M.

         At the final hearing, the trial court heard testimony from: (1) Ms. Meckler; (2) Sandra Pierce, Mother's probation officer; (3) Aurora Garcia, another Department caseworker involved with the case; (4) a CASA advocate; (5) Mr. M.; and (6) Mother. At the time of trial, Mother was pregnant and wearing an ankle monitor because she had violated the terms of her probation relating to the prior domestic violence arrest. After hearing the testimony, the trial court rendered an order terminating Mother's rights. The trial court found Mother violated sections 161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), and (O) of the Texas Family Code ("the Code") and termination was in the children's best interests. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), (O) (West Supp. 2016); id. § 161.001(b)(2). Thereafter, Mother perfected this appeal.

         Analysis

         On appeal, Mother does not challenge the evidence with regard to the trial court's findings under section 161.001(b)(1) of the Code. See id. § 161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), (O). Rather, Mother argues the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court's finding that termination was in the best interests of her children. See id. § 161.001(b)(2).

         Standard ...


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