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In re D.W.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Sixth District, Texarkana

March 31, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF D.W. AND K.W., CHILDREN

          Submitted: March 30, 2017

         On Appeal from the 307th District Court Gregg County, Texas Trial Court No. 2015-369-DR

          Before Morriss, C.J., Moseley and Burgess, JJ.

          OPINION

          Ralph K. Burgess Justice

         We issued an opinion and judgment in this matter on February 8, 2017. The Appellee timely filed a motion for rehearing, and the Appellants, at our request, filed a joint response to that motion for rehearing. We hereby grant the Appellee's motion for rehearing, we withdraw our opinion and judgment issued on February 8, 2017, and, in its place, substitute the following opinion and contemporaneously issued judgment.

         Mother and Father appeal the trial court's decision to terminate their parental rights to their children, D.W. and K.W.[1] Because we conclude that the trial court had jurisdiction to enter the order terminating their parental rights, we affirm the trial court's judgment terminating Father's parental rights. Because we further find that there is factually sufficient evidence to support the trial court's judgment that termination of Mother's parental rights was in D.W.'s and K.W.'s best interests, we also affirm the trial court's judgment terminating Mother's parental rights. [2]

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         A. The 2011-12 Upshur County Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) Proceeding

         In March 2011, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (the Department) filed a petition seeking protection of D.W. and K.W. under Chapter 262 of the Texas Family Code, along with a petition seeking termination of the parent-child relationship, in the 115th Judicial District Court of Upshur County, Texas (115th JDC). In March 2012, the 115th JDC entered a final order in the SAPCR. Among other things, the 115th JDC adjudged Father as the sole managing conservator of the children, ordered Mother to pay child support, and dismissed the Department as a party to the suit.

         Section 155.001 of the Texas Family Code confers jurisdiction "over the parties and subject matter of a suit affecting the parent-child relationship." In re G.A.J., No. 01-12-00256-CV, 2012 WL 4857925, at *2 (Tex. App-Houston [1st Dist] Oct. 11, 2012, no pet.) (mem. op.); see Saavedra v. Schmidt, 96 S.W.3d 533, 540 (Tex. App-Austin 2002, no pet.). Once a Texas court has acquired continuing, exclusive jurisdiction under Section 155.001, "no other court of this state has jurisdiction of a suit with regard to [the children] except as provided by [Chapter 155], Section 103.001(b), or Chapter 262." Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 155.001(c) (West Supp. 2016). Accordingly, when the 115th JDC entered the March 2012 final order in the SAPCR, it "acquire[d] continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over the matters . . . in connection with the child[ren] on the rendition of [the] final order." Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 155.001(a) (West Supp. 2016).

         B. The Gregg County Proceeding

         On March 2, 2015, the Department filed a petition seeking protection of D.W. and K.W. under Chapter 262 of the Texas Family Code, along with a petition seeking termination of the parent-child relationship, in the 307th Judicial District Court of Gregg County, Texas (307th JDC). While the petition asserted that the 307th JDC had jurisdiction over the matter under Chapter 262, it also recited that the 115th JDC had continuing, exclusive jurisdiction under Section 155.001.

         On March 2, 2015, the 307th JDC signed an emergency order for protection of the children and set March 10, 2015, as the date of the full adversary hearing. Following that hearing, the 307th JDC entered temporary orders appointing the Department as temporary managing conservator of the children. Subsequently, the 307th JDC also set the final trial on the Department's petition to terminate Mother and Father's parental rights to D.W. and K.W.

         On July 11, 2016, the Department filed a motion that informed the 307th JDC that the 115th JDC had continuing, exclusive jurisdiction. The Department asked the 307th JDC to transfer the 115th JDC's jurisdiction to itself. Father objected to the Department's motion, stating that the proper procedure would be to file a motion in the 115th JDC requesting that court to transfer the matter to the 307th JDC. After the 307th JDC heard the motion to transfer and the opposition to the motion, it granted the Department's motion and entered an August 9, 2016, order purporting to transfer jurisdiction from the 115th JDC to itself. Because the 115th JDC had not entered any order transferring its jurisdiction to the 307th JDC, Father filed a motion to dismiss the case in the 307th JDC for want of jurisdiction on August 19, 2016. The 307th JDC denied Father's motion to dismiss and set the matter for final hearing.

         On August 10, 2016, the District Clerk for the 115th JDC transferred its files to the 307th JDC, under Section 155.204(i), which provides,

If a transfer order has been signed by a court exercising jurisdiction under Chapter 262, a party may file the transfer order with the clerk of the court of continuing, exclusive jurisdiction. On receipt and without a hearing, the clerk of the court of continuing, exclusive jurisdiction shall transfer the files as provided by this subchapter.

Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 155.204(i) (West 2014).[3] On August 23, 2016, the 307th JDC held the final hearing on the Department's Chapter 161 petition for termination of parental rights and, on September 23, 2016, entered an order terminating Mother and Father's parental rights to their children.

         II. Father's and Mother's Point of Error Number One-Did the Trial Court Have Jurisdiction to Enter the Final Orders Under Section 262.203(a)(2)?

         A. Introduction

         Under Chapter 262, the Department may, under certain circumstances, take emergency possession of children without prior notice and a hearing. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 262.001 (West 2014). Even though a different court may have continuing, exclusive jurisdiction under Chapter 155, a suit brought by a governmental entity requesting an order under Chapter 262 "may be filed in a court with jurisdiction to hear the suit in the county in which the child is found." Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 262.002 (West 2014). Chapter 262 authorizes a trial court to enter emergency orders and other temporary orders. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 262.102-.103 (West Supp. 2016). Therefore, the 307th JDC had jurisdiction to enter emergency orders and temporary orders regarding D.W. and K.W.

         However, the 307th JDC went further and entered a final order terminating both parents' parental rights, which is the subject of this appeal. Accordingly, the first issue presented in this case is whether the 307th JDC also had jurisdiction to enter the final, parental-rights termination order. Resolution of that issue turns on whether the original SAPCR proceeding in the 115th JDC was properly transferred to the 307th JDC.

         B. ...


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