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In re H.L.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

July 13, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF H.L., H.L., AND C.L., CHILDREN

         On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 1 Randall County, Texas Trial Court No. 11711L1; Honorable Jack Graham, Presiding

          Before QUINN, CJ., and CAMPBELL and PIRTLE, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Patrick A. Pirtle Justice

         Appellant, G.L., appeals the trial court's order terminating his parental rights to H.L., H.L., and C.L.[1] In five issues, G.L. challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's findings that (1) termination was in the children's best interest and that G.L. had (2) knowingly placed or knowingly allowed the children to remain in conditions or surroundings which endangered their physical or emotional well-being, (3) engaged in conduct or knowingly placed the children with persons who engaged in conduct which endangered their physical or emotional well-being, (4) constructively abandoned the children, and (5) failed to comply with the provisions of a court order that specifically established the actions necessary for G.L. to obtain the return of his children. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), (N), (O) (West Supp. 2016). Logic dictates that we initially address G.L.'s issues two through five before we move on to address issue one. We affirm.

         Background

         Appellant's three children are H.L. (five years old), H.L. (four years old), and C.L. (three years old). At birth, C.L. was premature and he tested positive for narcotics. He was also diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He has difficulty walking, is unable to communicate, and receives four types of therapy-speech, occupational, physical, and vision. The children have two older maternal siblings.[2]

         The mother, M.L., has been a long-time heroin and prescription drug user. In March 2015, the Department of Family and Protective Services received a report that she was neglecting her children. When the children were removed, heroin was found in a hallway closet and M.L. was arrested on two warrants. Heroin and needles were also found in her purse. The children indicated M.L. had been using drugs in front of them. When the children were removed from their mother, G.L. had left the children with M.L. and moved to Colorado.

         On April 15, 2015, the Department filed its original petition seeking to terminate G.L.'s parental rights to H.L. and H.L. In addition to seeking to terminate the parental rights of the unknown father of C.L., the petition sought to terminate G.L.'s parental rights to C.L., should subsequent testing establish him as the child's father. That same day, the Department sought and obtained an emergency order appointing it the sole managing conservator of all three children.

         On May 11, 2015, after an adversary hearing in which G.L. was not notified and did not appear, the trial court issued a temporary order establishing a service plan. The plan required G.L. to undergo a psychological or psychiatric evaluation, attend and cooperate in individual counseling sessions, attend and participate in parenting classes, and undergo drug/alcohol assessment and testing. The temporary order also required G.L. to comply with each requirement set out in the Department's original, or any amended, service plan during the pendency of the proceedings.

         In January 2016, the Department sought and obtained an order for substituted service of process by publication as to G.L. The Department subsequently obtained personal service of process as to G.L. on March 31, 2016. On August 29, 2016, the Department filed its second amended petition seeking to terminate G.L.'s parental rights to the children pursuant to numerous provisions of section 161.001 including subsections (b)(1)(D), (E), (N), and (O). See § 161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), (N), (O). In September 2016, paternity testing established G.L. to be C.L.'s father, and in January 2017, the trial court held its final hearing. At the outset of the hearing, the trial court adjudicated G.L. as the father of H.L., H.L., and C.L.

         During the hearing, G.L. testified telephonically that he and M.L. lived together for four years before he moved to Colorado in November 2013. He testified that he left because of M.L.'s drug use.[3] He indicated that he was given a copy of the petition when the children were first taken into custody, that he was aware he had been ordered to perform court-ordered services including a psychological evaluation, counseling sessions, a parenting class, drug/alcohol assessment and testing, and that he was to provide evidence of stable employment. With the exception of a parenting class, he did not complete any of these requirements.

         G.L. indicated that because he was living in Georgia, Texas would not pay for any court-ordered services. He did not want to move back to Texas and testified that he could not afford to pay for the services in Georgia. He also indicated he did not return to Texas because he did not have a driver's license, although he has since obtained one. Furthermore, he did not contact child protective services in Georgia to inquire about services they might provide.

         In July 2010, he pled guilty to assault involving domestic violence for striking M.L.'s head against a wall or grabbing her arm with his hand. Adjudication was deferred and he was sentenced to one year community supervision and assessed a $600 fine. A month later, he was charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. In November of that year, the State filed its motion to proceed to an adjudication of guilt on the assault charge, and in February 2011, G.L. pled true to the allegations contained in that motion. He was found guilty of assault and was sentenced to thirty-three days in jail and assessed a fine of $600. In 2014, he was convicted in Colorado for criminal mischief.

         In December 2014, he spoke to the children by telephone, and while he was unsure whether M.L. had custody of the children, he felt they sounded normal. He testified he has not visited the children in three years. He was not present at C.L.'s birth and was unfamiliar with any of his medical issues. Although he testified he was always concerned about the children because he knew M.L. was going down a "bad path, " he paid no support to anyone caring for the children during his absence.

         G.L. indicated that he currently lives at his mother's place on thirty-two acres in Georgia. He was leaving his job with a pool company after eight to nine months to work as a technician at an automotive shop. He testified he was aware he could go to the government for support for the children and would apply for food stamps.

         Julie Moore, the Department's caseworker since the inception of the case, testified that her first contact with G.L. was in May 2016. She had attempted to locate him by telephone and mail in Colorado, but to no avail. She testified G.L. had not visited the children since April 2015 and had not paid any support to anyone caring for the children. He was not present at any of the proceedings until he appeared telephonically for the final hearing. She further testified that although his service plan indicates that, if he were to travel to Texas, he could be given visitation with the children, he never appeared in Texas nor asked for visitation.

         She also testified that, although G.L. has supplied proof he completed a parenting class, he had not completed any other task in the service plan. Although she attempted to determine whether he had a suitable place for the children to live, G.L. failed to provide any pay stubs, information on where he lives, or the names of any roommates as requested. Moore testified she advised him Texas would not pay for out-of-state services and that, if he could not afford to pay for them himself in Georgia, he should look into local resources, including those that might be provided by the Georgia department of child protective services. She further testified that, in a May 2016 telephone call, G.L. told her that the reason he left Amarillo was because M.L. was using drugs and he described her as "crazy" and "psycho." He also reported a history ...


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