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In re S.S.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

July 19, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF S.S., F.C.S., and A.C.S., Children

         From the 225th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2015-PA-02493 Honorable Charles E. Montemayor, Associate Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice, Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LUZ ELENA D. CHAPA, JUSTICE.

         Adelina and Adam appeal the trial court's termination of their parental rights to S.S., F.C.S., and A.C.S.[1] They argue there is legally and factually insufficient evidence that termination of their respective parental rights is in the children's best interest. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Background

         In December 2015, the Department of Family and Protective Services filed suit for conservatorship of the children and to terminate Adelina's and Adam's parental rights. The Department removed the children after receiving a report that A.C.S., who was less than a month old, had multiple bone fractures. The children were placed with a foster family, and the trial court ordered Adelina and Adam to complete a family service plan, which included individual counseling.

         The case proceeded to a bench trial during which Adelina, Adam, Department caseworker Valerie Mendiola, the children's foster mother Nancy, and Adelina's counselor Stephanie Valdez testified. The trial court also admitted into evidence a July 2016 affidavit Adelina filed when seeking a protective order against Adam, a 2011 order terminating Adelina's parental rights to two other children, a 2015 order in which the trial court found that appointing Adam managing conservator of his other child was not in the child's best interest, and photographs of Adelina with the children.

         After taking the case under advisement, the trial court appointed the Department as the children's permanent managing conservator and terminated Adelina's and Adam's parental rights. The trial court found Adelina knowingly endangered the children, had her parental rights to another child terminated for knowing endangerment, and failed to comply with her family service plan. The trial court found Adam knowingly endangered the children and failed to comply with his family service plan. The trial court further found that termination of Adelina's and Adam's parental rights is in the children's best interest. Adelina and Adam appeal.

         The Best-Interest Findings

         Adelina and Adam challenge only the sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's best-interest findings. They do not challenge the trial court's findings of grounds for termination. Because Adelina and Adam filed separate notices of appeal and briefs, we address their appeals separately, considering the applicable standard of review, the best-interest standard, and the evidence at trial.

         A. Standard of Review

         A judgment terminating parental rights must be supported by clear and convincing evidence. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b) (West Supp. 2016). To determine whether this heightened burden of proof was met, we employ a heightened standard of review to determine whether a "factfinder could reasonably form a firm belief or conviction about the truth of the State's allegations." In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 25 (Tex. 2002). "This standard guards the constitutional interests implicated by termination, while retaining the deference an appellate court must have for the factfinder's role." In re O.N.H., 401 S.W.3d 681, 683 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2013, no pet.). We do not reweigh issues of witness credibility but defer to the factfinder's reasonable determinations of credibility. In re J.P.B., 180 S.W.3d 570, 573 (Tex. 2005).

         A legal sufficiency review requires us to examine 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.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 266 (Tex. 2002). We assume the factfinder resolved disputed facts in favor of its finding if a reasonable factfinder could have done so, and we disregard all evidence that a reasonable factfinder could have disbelieved or found incredible. Id. When conducting a factual sufficiency review, we evaluate "whether disputed evidence is such that a reasonable factfinder could not have resolved that disputed evidence in favor of its finding." Id. The evidence is factually insufficient "[i]f, in light of the entire record, the disputed evidence that a reasonable factfinder could not have credited in favor of the finding is so significant that a factfinder could not reasonably have formed a firm belief or conviction." Id.

         B. The Best-Interest Standard

         The best-interest determination is a wide-ranging inquiry, and the Texas Supreme Court has set out some ...


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