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In re G.L.H.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

June 16, 2017


         On Appeal from the 302nd Judicial District Court Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause Nos. 13-20771-U, 15-22805-U, 15-22811-U, 15-22812-U

          Before Justices Lang, Stoddart, and Schenck



         Mother appeals the orders terminating her parental rights as to three of her children. She argues the evidence is legally and factually insufficient for the trial court to have found the termination of her parental rights was in the best interest of the children. We affirm the trial court's judgment. Because all issues are settled in law, we issue this memorandum opinion. Tex.R.App.P. 47.4.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On December 10, 2015, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (the Department) received a referral of neglectful supervision of a child, E.H., by Mother. The referral alleged that on December 11, 2015, Mother gave birth prematurely to E.H. and tested positive for amphetamines. A caseworker from the Department visited Mother's home where Mother lived with E.H.'s maternal great-grandmother and E.H.'s siblings G.L.H., S.J.H., A.H., and J.H. That same day, Mother submitted to an oral swab, which tested positive for methamphetamines and amphetamines. She then admitted she "might of used a couple of days ago" and that she had taken prescription medications not prescribed to her during her pregnancy. After interviewing numerous relatives and family friends regarding their willingness and ability to care for E.H. and her siblings, the Department determined it was necessary to conduct an emergency removal of E.H.'s four siblings and place them into protective foster care.[1]

         On December 14, 2015, the Department filed four petitions for protection of children, for conservatorship, and for termination in suit affecting parent-child relationship with respect to five children: G.L.H., S.J.H, A.H., E.H., and J.H. On January 5, 2016, the trial court named the Department temporary managing conservator of the five children, appointed Mother temporary possessory conservator, and ordered Mother to complete the following services: parenting classes, psychological evaluation, counseling, "random drug and alcohol urinalysis/hair strand tests, " and comply with the recommendations made by any of the providers of the foregoing services as arranged and paid for by the Department.[2]

         On October 11, 2016, the guardian and attorney ad litem for the children, Mother, her attorney, the Department caseworker, the Department supervisor, and the attorney for the Department participated in mediation and signed mediated settlement agreements (MSAs) regarding G.L.H., E.H., A.H., and J.H.[3] That same day, Mother signed an affidavit relinquishing her parental rights to E.H. On November 9, 2016, the trial court conducted a bench trial at which the judge took judicial notice of the MSAs. On January 9, 2017, the trial court entered decrees of termination as to G.L.H, E.H., A.H., and J.H. in accordance with the terms of the MSAs.[4] The trial court also entered a final order appointing Mother as a possessory conservator with rights to supervised visitation of S.J.H.

         Mother appealed the final orders in all four cases, but on appeal she challenges only the orders terminating her parental rights as to G.L.H., A.H., and J.H. Her first issue is that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the trial court's best-interest findings. Her second issue argues the evidence was factually insufficient as to those findings.


         I. Applicable Law and Standards of Review

         A court may terminate a parent-child relationship if it finds by clear and convincing evidence (1) one or more statutory grounds for termination and (2) that termination is in the child's best interest. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)-(2) (West 2016). Clear and convincing evidence is proof that will produce in the mind of the trier of fact a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the allegations sought to be established. Id. § 101.007 (West 2016).

         Non-exclusive factors relevant to the best-interest determination include (i) the child's desires, (ii) the child's present and future emotional and physical needs, (iii) the present and future emotional and physical danger to the child, (iv) the parent's parental abilities, (v) the programs available to assist a parent to promote the child's best interest, (vi) the parent's plans for the child, (vii) the stability of the home, (viii) the parent's acts or omissions that may indicate the parent-child relationship is not a proper one, and (ix) any excuse for the parent's acts or omissions. Holley v. Adams, 544 S.W.2d 367, 371-72 (Tex. 1976). A best-interest finding need not be supported by evidence of every Holley factor, particularly if there is undisputed evidence that the parental relationship endangered the child's safety. See In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 27 (Tex. 2002). Evidence of section 161.001(b)(1) termination grounds may also be probative of a child's best interest. See id. at 28.

         When the legal sufficiency of the evidence is challenged, a court should look at all the evidence in the light most favorable to the finding to determine whether a reasonable trier of fact could have formed a firm belief or conviction that its finding was true. In re J.O.A., 283 S.W.3d 336, 344 (Tex. 2009). To give appropriate deference to the factfinder's conclusions and the role of a court conducting a legal-sufficiency review, looking at the evidence in the light most favorable to the judgment means that a reviewing court must assume that the factfinder resolved disputed facts in favor of its finding if a reasonable factfinder could do so. Id. A corollary to this requirement is that a court should disregard all evidence that a reasonable factfinder could have disbelieved or found to have been incredible. Id. This does not mean that a court must disregard all evidence that does not support the finding. Id. Disregarding undisputed facts that do not support the finding could skew the analysis of whether there is clear and convincing evidence. Id. If, after ...

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