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In re M.L.D.R.E.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

April 19, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF M.L.D.R.E., D.A.E., A.A.E., and Y.M.E., Children

          From the County Court at Law, Val Verde County, Texas Trial Court No. 3147-CCL Honorable Sergio J. Gonzalez, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Marialyn Barnard, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice

         Yuriko E. appeals the trial court's order terminating her parental rights to four of her six children, M.L.D.R.E, D.A.E, A.A.E., and Y.M.E. Yuriko asserts the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court's findings with regard to the three statutory grounds for termination and its finding that termination was in the children's best interest. We affirm the trial court's order.

         Background

         The trial court made its ruling after a bench trial involving several recesses. The bench trial started on November 19, 2014 and continued for almost two years, starting again on January 29, 2016, April 26, 2016, April 27, 2016, September 14, 2016, and September 15, 2016.[1] The trial court signed the order terminating Yuriko's parental rights on October 24, 2016. When the trial court signed the order, A.A.E was eight, Y.M.E. was six, M.L.D.R.E. was almost five, and D.A.E. was three.

         The Department of Family and Protective Services removed D.A.E. and M.L.D.R.E. from Yuriko's care in July of 2013. At that time, two of Yuriko's children, A.A.E. and Y.M.E., were in Mexico with Yuriko's mother. At the Department's request, Yuriko brought A.A.E. and Y.M.E. back to the United States approximately one month later, and they were also removed from Yuriko's care. Yuriko's two other children, her oldest son J.A.E., who was ten at the time of trial, and her youngest son J.G., who was born on June 21, 2014, remained in Yuriko's care and were not subject to the termination proceedings.

         Lisa Jensen, an investigator with the Department, testified the Department removed the children because D.A.E. presented to a hospital emergency room with injuries. Although D.A.E. had symptoms of a head injury in Del Rio, Yuriko drove with him to Cuero before taking him to the hospital. D.A.E. was then airlifted to a hospital in San Antonio. Jensen was told Yuriko's explanation of the injuries was not consistent with the nature of the injuries. Jensen believed D.A.E.'s injuries were caused by either Yuriko or her boyfriend, Genaro. On cross-examination, Jensen admitted Genaro's background check did not show any criminal history. Although Genaro expressed a willingness to provide a statement to the Department regarding his version of the facts, Jensen stated she was never able to talk to him.

          Sandra Fuentez was initially assigned to the children's case as the Department's legal caseworker. Fuentez testified the father of M.L.D.R.E. is Josue, and the father of the other three children is Christian. Fuentez met with Josue; however, she was never able to contact Christian because he lived in Mexico and Yuriko could only provide his name and date of birth. Yuriko told Fuentez her relationship with Christian involved a lot of domestic violence. Yuriko also told Fuentez that Christian likely injured D.A.E. when he tried to pull D.A.E. out of a taxi.

         Fuentez further testified an agreement was reached at a mediated settlement conference on October 30, 2014. Under the terms of the agreement, the Department would conduct an intake of the children's maternal grandfather who lived in North Carolina. If the intake was approved, the grandfather would be appointed managing conservator, and Yuriko would be appointed as possessory conservator. Yuriko would live with her father in North Carolina, and Genaro would remain in Texas and not have any contact with Yuriko or the children. Fuentez testified she believed Yuriko had positively engaged in the services the Department offered to her, and Yuriko had learned from the experience. Fuentez stated the Department still had concerns regarding the injuries to D.A.E. and M.L.D.R.E. because Yuriko's explanations for the injuries were not credible.

         Krystal Lopez was assigned as the Department's caseworker in April of 2015, and testified the home study on the maternal grandfather was conducted but was denied three times. Lopez stated the Department removed the children because D.A.E. sustained a skull fracture and had six broken ribs. In addition, M.L.D.R.E. had healing fractures on her right tibia and on her right third metacarpal. At the time the injuries were discovered, Yuriko provided no explanation for the injuries. Yuriko subsequently provided multiple explanations; however, the medical experts opined none of the explanations Yuriko provided matched the injuries. Lopez testified Yuriko was in compliance with her service plan; however, the children did not listen to Yuriko or follow her instructions during visits. Lopez stated A.A.E. tried to run away from the visits because he did not want to be there, and M.L.D.R.E. cried. Lopez stated the children's behavior is completely opposite when they are with their foster parents. Lopez testified Yuriko has no support system in San Antonio to assist her with the children.

         On cross-examination, Lopez testified she was assigned as the caseworker after the case passed the termination date of August 2014, and after Yuriko had completed all of her services. Lopez was shown a report from an April 2014 family group conference. The report stated Yuriko helped the children with their homework, provided them clothing, was hard working, and has a good support network. Although the report referenced a concern about Yuriko's relationship with Christian, the report did not reference any concern with Genaro. Lopez's last home study of Yuriko's home was in November of 2015, and the home was an appropriate house to care for the children. Lopez testified Yuriko regularly visits the children for four hours each week. Although D.A.E. is not close to Yuriko, the other three children are. Lopez testified the children had been with the same foster parents since June of 2015. Lopez stated she had only met with Yuriko approximately four times because Yuriko did not keep in contact with her. Lopez visits the foster parents every month. Lopez testified the criminal case against Yuriko for endangering a child which arose from the injuries to D.A.E. was dismissed.

         In response to questioning by the children's ad litem, Lopez testified the Department's first priority was to ensure the children remain safe and protected. Lopez agreed the circumstances of the case changed since the April 2014 family group conference report.

         On re-direct examination, Lopez testified Yuriko told her only Yuriko and her youngest son live in her house; however, Lopez saw a lot of men's clothing and shoes in the closet. At that time, Yuriko's oldest son was living in North Carolina. The Department had investigated a referral for medical neglect of the youngest son. Lopez testified he had been placed in a stroller and fell face first on a concrete floor. After the investigation, the case was closed. Lopez ...


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