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In re R.C.M.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

November 8, 2017


         From the 45th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2016-PA-00978 Honorable John D. Gabriel, Jr., Judge Presiding.

          Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice, Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice, Irene Rios, Justice.



         C.M. appeals the trial court's order terminating his parental rights to R.C.M. C.M. contends the evidence is insufficient to support the trial court's finding that termination of his parental rights was in R.C.M.'s best interest. We affirm the trial court's order.


         The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services filed its original petition to terminate C.M.'s parental rights on May 6, 2016. A bench trial on the merits was held on May 3, 2017. At that time, R.C.M. had just turned one.

         Sheronda Davis, the Department's legal caseworker, testified that R.C.M. was placed in the Department's care on May 17, 2016, because both C.M. and R.C.M.'s mother were using drugs throughout the pregnancy. At birth, R.C.M. tested positive for amphetamines, benzodiazepines, and opiates and experienced withdrawals. Davis testified that when she discussed the reason for the removal of the child with C.M. and R.C.M.'s mother, both admitted to using drugs prior to the birth despite knowing that it was not in the best interest of R.C.M. After the Department removed R.C.M. from C.M.'s care, Davis discussed C.M.'s service plan with him; however, C.M. did not complete any items on the plan despite Davis setting up referrals and appointments for C.M. to attend parenting classes, a psychosocial evaluation, and drug treatment.

         C.M. was scheduled to have weekly court-ordered visitation with R.C.M. contingent on negative drug test results. Davis testified that C.M. had not visited with R.C.M. since his removal and, as a result, Davis was unable to say whether there was a bond between C.M. and R.C.M. Davis testified that C.M. did not demonstrate an ability to give R.C.M. a safe home environment, to effectively and positively change his environment, or give R.C.M. the attention he needed due to his age and vulnerability. Additionally, there were no other family members who wanted to be considered for placement of R.C.M. Davis believed termination of C.M.'s parental rights was in R.C.M.'s best interest.

         C.M. testified telephonically. He stated that he was currently incarcerated for credit card fraud after violating the terms of his probation. He believed he would be released in 2020, or perhaps sooner if he were paroled. He testified that he was aware of the family service plan, but had not actually received it. He stated that he completed a full month of Drug Court and passed a urinalysis test, but still was not allowed to see R.C.M. He had been imprisoned since October of 2016. C.M. admitted to not having a plan for how he would be able to provide for R.C.M. during his incarceration.

         The Department's long-term goal is for R.C.M. to be adopted by the foster family with whom he currently resides. Davis testified that the foster family is stable, prepared to adopt R.C.M., and able to care for R.C.M. R.C.M.'s attorney ad litem also recommended that termination of C.M.'s parental rights was in the best interest of R.C.M.

         After hearing the above testimony, the trial court rendered judgment terminating C.M.'s parental rights. C.M. timely appealed.

         Standard of Review

         To terminate parental rights pursuant to section 161.001 of the Family Code, the Department has the burden to prove: (1) one of the predicate grounds in subsection 161.001(b)(1); and (2) that termination is in the best interest of the child. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001 (West Supp. 2016); In re A.V., 113 S.W.3d 355, 362 (Tex. 2003). The clear and convincing standard is the applicable burden of proof in termination cases. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.206(a) (West 2014); In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 263 (Tex. 2002). "'Clear and convincing evidence' means the measure or degree of 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." Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 101.007 (West 2014). This heightened standard stems from the unalterable changes and permanency that termination of a parent-child relationship causes both the child and the parent. In re D.M., 452 S.W.3d 462, 469 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2014, no pet.). Consequently, termination proceedings are strictly scrutinized and "involuntary termination statutes are strictly construed in favor of the parent." Holick v. Smith, 685 S.W.2d 18, 20 (Tex. 1985).

         In reviewing the legal sufficiency of the evidence to support the termination of parental rights, the court must "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.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266. "[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 ...

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