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In re E.W.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Tenth District

September 13, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF E.W., C.W., AND S.W., CHILDREN

         From the 87th District Court Freestone County, Texas Trial Court No. 15-092B

          Before Chief Justice Gray, Justice Davis, and Justice Scoggins

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REX D. DAVIS Justice.

         In March 2015, the Department of Family and Protective Services filed its original petition in this case for protection of a child, for conservatorship, and for termination in suit affecting the parent-child relationship. The petition identified J.W., A.W., E.W., C.W., and S.W., who were then fifteen, ten, seven, six, and four years old, respectively, as the subject of the suit. J.W.'s and A.W.'s parents are Appellant M.W. (alias Adam) and his former wife A.H.[1] E.W.'s, C.W.'s, and S.W.'s parents are Adam and Appellant S.S. (alias Megan). In July 2015, the trial court heard the case regarding J.W. and A.W. and ultimately appointed A.H. as permanent managing conservator and Adam as possessory conservator of the two children. In March 2016, the trial court then terminated Adam's and Megan's parental rights to E.W., C.W., and S.W. following a bench trial. The trial court found that Adam and Megan had both violated Family Code subsections 161.001(b)(1)(D) and (E) and that termination was in the children's best interest.

         Adam's and Megan's appellate counsel filed a notice of appeal. Their counsel has now filed an Anders brief and a motion to withdraw. Counsel asserts that he has diligently reviewed the record and that, in his opinion, the appeal is frivolous. See Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738, 87 S.Ct. 1396, 18 L.Ed.2d 493 (1967); In re E.L.Y., 69 S.W.3d 838, 841 (Tex. App.-Waco 2002, order) (applying Anders to termination appeal).

         Counsel's brief meets the requirements of Anders; it presents a professional evaluation demonstrating why there are no arguable grounds to advance on appeal. See In re Schulman, 252 S.W.3d 403, 407 n.9 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008) ("In Texas, an Anders brief need not specifically advance 'arguable' points of error if counsel finds none, but it must provide record references to the facts and procedural history and set out pertinent legal authorities."); Stafford v. State, 813 S.W.2d 503, 510 n.3 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991). Counsel has carefully discussed why, under controlling authority, there is no reversible error in the trial court's order of termination. Counsel has informed us that he has: (1) examined the record and found no arguable grounds to advance on appeal; (2) served a copy of the brief and counsel's motion to withdraw on Adam and Megan; and (3) informed Adam and Megan of their right to obtain a copy of the record and of their right to file a pro se response. See Anders, 386 U.S. at 744, 87 S.Ct. at 1400; Stafford, 813 S.W.2d at 510 n.3; High v. State, 573 S.W.2d 807, 813 (Tex. Crim. App. [Panel Op.] 1978); see also Schulman, 252 S.W.3d at 409 n.23. Adam and Megan have filed a pro se response, raising several issues, but none are arguable grounds to advance in this appeal.

         First, Adam and Megan contend that the evidence is insufficient to support the trial court's termination of their parental rights to E.W., C.W., and S.W. In a proceeding to terminate the parent-child relationship brought under section 161.001, the Department must establish by clear and convincing evidence two elements: (1) one or more acts or omissions enumerated under subsection (b)(1) of section 161.001, termed a predicate violation; and (2) that termination is in the best interest of the child. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1), (2) (West Supp. 2016); Swate v. Swate, 72 S.W.3d 763, 766 (Tex. App.- Waco 2002, pet. denied). The factfinder must find that both elements are established by clear and convincing evidence, and proof of one element does not relieve the petitioner of the burden of proving the other. Holley v. Adams, 544 S.W.2d 367, 370 (Tex. 1976); Swate, 72 S.W.3d at 766. "Clear and convincing evidence" is defined as "that measure or degree of proof which 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." In re G.M., 596 S.W.2d 846, 847 (Tex. 1980).

         Both legal and factual sufficiency reviews in termination cases must take into consideration whether the evidence is such that a factfinder could reasonably form a firm belief or conviction about the truth of the matter on which the petitioner bears the burden of proof. In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 264-68 (Tex. 2002) (discussing legal sufficiency review); In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 25 (Tex. 2002) (discussing factual sufficiency review).

In a legal sufficiency review, 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. 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. 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.

J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266.

         In a factual sufficiency review, a court of appeals must give due consideration to evidence that the factfinder could reasonably have found to be clear and convincing. Id.

[T]he inquiry must be "whether the evidence is such that a factfinder could reasonably form a firm belief or conviction about the truth of the State's allegations." A court of appeals should consider whether disputed evidence is such that a reasonable factfinder could not have resolved that disputed evidence in favor of its finding. If, 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, then the evidence is factually insufficient.

Id. (footnotes and citations omitted); see C.H., 89 S.W.2d at 25.

         We begin with the sufficiency of the evidence to establish that Adam and Megan violated Family Code subsections 161.001(b)(1)(D) and (E). Termination under subsection 161.001(b)(1)(D) requires clear and convincing evidence that the parent has "knowingly placed or knowingly allowed the child to remain in conditions or surroundings which endanger the physical or emotional well-being of the child." Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(D). Termination under subsection 161.001(b)(1)(E) requires clear and convincing evidence that the parent has "engaged in conduct or knowingly placed the child with persons who engaged in conduct which endangers the physical or emotional well-being of the child." Id. § 161.001(b)(1)(E).

         To endanger means to expose to loss or injury, to jeopardize. Tex. Dep't of Human Servs. v. Boyd, 727 S.W.2d 531, 533 (Tex. 1987); see also In re M.C., 917 S.W.2d 268, 269 (Tex. 1996). The specific danger to a child's physical or emotional well-being need not be established as an independent proposition, but it may be inferred from parental misconduct. See Boyd, 727 S.W.2d at 533.

When termination of parental rights is based on section D, the endangerment analysis focuses on the evidence of the child's physical environment, although the environment produced by the conduct of the parents bears on the determination of whether the child's surroundings threaten his well-being. In re S.M.L., 171 S.W.3d 472, 477 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] 2005, no pet.). Section D permits termination if the petitioner proves parental conduct caused a child to be placed or remain in an endangering environment. In re R.D., 955 S.W.2d 364, 367 (Tex. App.- San Antonio 1997, pet. denied).
It is not necessary that the parent's conduct be directed towards the child or that the child actually be injured; rather, a child is endangered when the environment creates a potential for danger which the parent is aware of but disregards. In re S.M.L., 171 S.W.3d at 477. Conduct that demonstrates awareness of an endangering environment is sufficient to show endangerment. Id. (citing In re Tidwell, 35 S.W.3d 115, 119-20 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2000, no pet.) ("[I]t is not necessary for [the mother] to have had certain knowledge that one of the [sexual molestation] offenses actually occurred; it is sufficient that she was aware of the potential for danger to the children and disregarded that risk by … leaving the children in that environment.")). In considering whether to terminate parental rights, the court may look at parental conduct both before and after the birth of the child. Avery v. State, 963 S.W.2d 550, 553 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1997, no pet.). Section D permits termination based upon only a single act or omission. In re R.D., 955 S.W.2d at 367.

Jordan v. Dossey, 325 S.W.3d 700, 721 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2010, pet. denied).

         Under subsection 161.001(b)(1)(E), the relevant inquiry is whether evidence exists that the endangerment of the child's well-being was the direct result of the parent's conduct, including acts, omissions, or failures to act. In re K.A.S., 131 S.W.3d 215, 222 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2004, pet. denied); Dupree v. Tex. Dep't of Protective & Regulatory Servs., 907 S.W.2d 81, 83-84 (Tex. App.-Dallas 1995, no writ).

Additionally, termination under subsection (E) must be based on more than a single act or omission; the statute requires a voluntary, deliberate, and conscious course of conduct by the parent. [In re J.T.G., 121 S.W.3d 117, 125 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2003, no pet.)]; see Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001[(b)](1)(E). It is not necessary, however, that the parent's conduct be directed at the child or that the child actually suffer injury. Boyd, 727 S.W.2d at 533; J.T.G., 121 S.W.3d at 125. The specific danger to the child's well-being may be inferred ...

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