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In re L.P.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

September 20, 2017


         On Appeal from the 99th District Court Lubbock County, Texas Trial Court No. 2015-518, 584, Honorable Kara L. Darnell, Presiding

          Before CAMPBELL and PIRTLE and PARKER, JJ.


          Judy C. Parker Justice

         Appellant, A.M., [1] appeals the trial court's Order terminating her parental rights to five of her six children[2] who were the subjects of this suit.[3] We will affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On December 8, 2015, Lubbock Police were dispatched to a domestic assault at the home of A.M. A.M. and her fifteen-year-old son, L.P., had gotten into an argument that escalated until A.M. used a heated clothing iron to hit L.P. in the head. A.M. indicated that L.P. hit her first and that she "blacked out" and cannot remember striking L.P. The children informed investigators that, in addition to hitting L.P. in the head, A.M. tried to burn L.P.'s stomach with the iron and hit L.P. with a chair. A.M. was arrested and charged with aggravated assault domestic violence. The Department of Family and Protective Services determined that there was "reason to believe" that A.M. had physically abused and been neglectful in her supervision of the children. The children were removed and the Department was named temporary managing conservator of the children.

         The Department has investigated A.M. on multiple occasions over a span of about eleven years. One of these investigations arose out of concerns for A.M.'s mental health. However, A.M. refused to release information regarding her mental health diagnosis. A.M. stated that she was given medication in relation to her mental health but she chose not to take it. A.M. also has an extensive criminal history that includes convictions for assault, interference with the duties of a public servant, assault domestic violence, and theft.

         During the investigation of this case, three of the children made outcries that A.M. had physically abused the children prior to the December 8 incident that led to this case. In addition, a former boyfriend of A.M. testified that she would physically abuse the children by spanking them for too long and that she would emotionally abuse the children by saying "ugly things" to them and cursing at them regularly. He also testified that A.M. physically assaulted him on multiple occasions with some assaults occurring in front of the children. In addition, another boyfriend physically assaulted A.M. in front of the children. Nonetheless, A.M. and this boyfriend remain in a relationship.

         Soon after the Department was named temporary managing conservator of the children, the trial court signed an "Order for Actions Necessary for Return of Child(ren), " which inter alia ordered A.M. to complete the Department's plan of service, refrain from using any illegal drugs, submit to drug and alcohol testing requested by the Department, and avoid criminal conduct. In a supplemental order, A.M. was required to inter alia complete a drug and alcohol treatment program, attend AA or NA meetings three times per week, complete specific parenting classes, and obtain a mental health screening. While A.M. claims that she completed the services she was required to complete, the record reflects that there were many services that she did not complete. Further, A.M. twice tested positive for illegal drugs with one of these positive tests occurring after she completed drug education classes.

         In addition, while this case was pending, A.M. repeatedly disrupted the children's placements. A.M. would contact placements for the children and make spurious claims against people at the placement and/or threaten people at the placement. In many instances, this led to the placements refusing to continue to foster the children. However, even with these regular disruptions, the children are doing better under the Department's conservatorship. After initially trying to reunite the children with A.M., by the time of trial, the Department's plans were to terminate A.M.'s parental rights to the children and have the children adopted. In fact, the foster home to three of the children at the time of trial might be interested in adopting all of the children together.

         A.M. presents a single issue by her appeal. She contends that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support the termination of A.M.'s parental rights because she completed the actions required by the Department and termination is not in the children's best interest.

         Standard of Review

         A parent's right to "the companionship, care, custody, and management" of her children is a constitutional interest "far more precious than any property right." Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 758-59, 102 S.Ct. 1388, 71 L.Ed.2d 599 (1982). A termination decree is complete, final, irrevocable, and divests for all time that natural right as well as all legal rights, privileges, duties, and powers with respect to each other except for the child's right to inherit. Holick v. Smith, 685 S.W.2d 18, 20 (Tex. 1985). As such, the evidence must be clear and convincing to support an involuntary termination of parental rights. Id. We must strictly scrutinize termination proceedings. Id. at 20-21.

         Under Texas law, to terminate parental rights, it must be proven by clear and convincing evidence that a parent has committed one or more of the acts and/or omissions identified in section 161.001(b)(1), [4] and that termination is in the child's best interest. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b) (West Supp. 2016).[5] Clear and convincing evidence is the degree of proof necessary to 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. § 101.007 (West 2014); Transp. Ins. Co. v. Moriel, 879 S.W.2d 10, 31 (Tex. 1994). Only one statutory predicate ground is required to support termination when there is also a finding that termination is in the child's best interest. In re A.V., 113 S.W.3d 355, 362 (Tex. 2003); In re K.C.B., 280 S.W.3d 888, 894-95 (Tex. App.- Amarillo 2009, pet. denied).

         In conducting a legal sufficiency challenge, we credit evidence that supports the verdict if a reasonable factfinder could have done so, and disregard contrary evidence unless a reasonable factfinder could not have done so. In re K.M.L., 443 S.W.3d 101, 112-13 (Tex. 2014). However, undisputed facts that do not support the verdict should not be disregarded in determining whether there is clear and convincing evidence. Id. at 113. Evidence that does more than raise surmise or suspicion is not sufficient unless that evidence is capable of producing a firm belief or conviction that the allegation is true. Id. If, after conducting a legal sufficiency review, we determine that no reasonable factfinder could have formed a firm ...

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