Court of Appeals of Texas, Sixth District, Texarkana
IN THE INTEREST OF E.M., E.M., J.L., A.L., AND M.L., CHILDREN
Submitted: November 20, 2017
Appeal from the 102nd District Court Bowie County, Texas
Trial Court No. 16C1580-102
Morriss, C.J., Moseley and Burgess, JJ.
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (the
Department) filed a petition to terminate Jason Lester's
parental rights to his four children, Emily, Alice, Jane, and
Mary. The trial court terminated Lester's
parental rights after finding that (1) he voluntarily left
the children alone or in the possession of a non-parent for
at least three months without providing adequate support for
them or expressing an intent to return, (2) he knowingly
placed or allowed the children to remain in conditions or
surroundings which endangered their physical or emotional
well-being, (3) he engaged in conduct or knowingly placed the
children with persons who engaged in conduct which endangered
their physical or emotional well-being, and (4) termination
of his parental rights was in the children's best
interests. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §
161.001(b)(1)(B), (D), (E), (b)(2) (West Supp. 2017).
appeal, Lester argues that the evidence is legally and
factually insufficient to support the trial court's
findings on the statutory grounds for terminating his
parental rights. Because we find that sufficient evidence
supported the trial court's finding under Ground D, we
affirm the trial court's judgment.
I. Sufficient Evidence Supports
Termination of Lester's Parental Rights
Standard of Review
natural right existing between parents and their children is
of constitutional dimensions." Holick v. Smith,
685 S.W.2d 18, 20 (Tex. 1985). Indeed, parents have a
fundamental right to make decisions concerning "the
care, custody, and control of their children."
Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65 (2000). This
Court is therefore required to "engage in an exacting
review of the entire record to determine if the evidence is .
. . sufficient to support the termination of parental
rights." In re A.B., 437 S.W.3d 498, 500 (Tex.
2014). We construe involuntary termination statutes strictly
in favor of the parent. In re S.K.A., 236 S.W.3d
875, 900 (Tex. App.- Texarkana 2007, pet. denied) (citing
Holick, 685 S.W.2d at 20).
order to terminate parental rights, the trier of fact must
find, by clear and convincing evidence, that the parent has
engaged in at least one statutory ground for termination and
that termination is in the child's best interest. Tex.
Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001 (West Supp. 2016); In re E.
N.C. , 384 S.W.3d 796, 798 (Tex. 2012). "Clear and
convincing evidence" is that "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); see In re J.O.A., 283 S.W.3d 336, 344 (Tex.
2009). This standard of proof necessarily affects our review
of the evidence.
the heightened burden of proof that is required to be met, in
our legal sufficiency review, we consider all the evidence in
the light most favorable to the findings to determine whether
the fact-finder reasonably could have formed a firm belief or
conviction that the grounds for termination were proven.
In re J.P.B., 180 S.W.3d 570, 573 (Tex. 2005) (per
curiam); In re J.L.B., 349 S.W.3d 836, 846 (Tex.
App.-Texarkana 2011, no pet). We assume the trial court
resolved disputed facts in favor of the finding, if a
reasonable fact-finder could do so, and disregarded evidence
that the fact-finder could have reasonably disbelieved or the
credibility of which reasonably could be doubted.
J.P.B., 180 S.W.3d at 573.
review of factual sufficiency, we consider only that evidence
the fact-finder reasonably could have found to be clear and
convincing and determine "whether the evidence is such
that a fact[-]finder could reasonably form a firm belief or
conviction about the truth of the . . . allegations."
In re H.R.M., 209 S.W.3d 105, 108 (Tex. 2006) (per
curiam) (quoting In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 25 (Tex.
2002)); In re J.F.C, 96 S.W.3d 256, 264, 266 (Tex.
2002). "If, in light of the entire record, the disputed
evidence that a reasonable fact[-]finder could not have
credited in favor of the finding is so significant that a
fact[-]finder could not reasonably have formed a firm belief
or conviction, then the evidence is factually
insufficient." J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266. In our
deliberations, we make "an exacting review of the entire
record with a healthy regard for the constitutional interests
at stake." A.B., 437 S.W.3d at 503 (quoting
In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 26 (Tex. 2002)).
Nevertheless, we maintain our deference for the role of the
fact-finder. See In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 26 (Tex.
2002). The fact-finder is the sole arbiter of a witness'
demeanor and credibility, and it may believe all, part, or
none of a witness' testimony. H.R.M., 209 S.W.3d
profound constitutional interests are at stake in a
proceeding to terminate parental rights, "the rights of
natural parents are not absolute; protection of the child is
paramount." In re A.V., 113 S.W.3d 355, 361
(Tex. 2003) (quoting In re J.W.T., 872 S.W.2d 189,
195 (Tex. 1994) (citation omitted)); see In re M.S.,
115 S.W.3d 534, 547 (Tex. 2003). "A child's
emotional and physical interests must not be sacrificed
merely to preserve parental rights." In re
C.A.J., 459 S.W.3d 175, 179 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2015,
no pet.) (citing C.H., 89 S.W.3d at 26).
B.The Evidence ...