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In re M.R.D.W.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

December 7, 2017


         On Appeal from the 314th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2016-03574J

          Panel consists of Justices Christopher, Brown, and Wise.



         The trial court terminated the parental rights of Mother and Father (appellant R.W.) with respect to their son, Michael, [1] and appointed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (the Department) to be Michael's managing conservator. On appeal, Father challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support termination. We conclude legally and factually sufficient evidence supports the trial court's findings that Father endangered Michael and that termination of the parent-child relationship is in Michael's best interest. Therefore, we affirm the trial court's judgment.


         A. Removal

         The following facts come from the affidavit of Department investigative caseworker Samantha Nix.

         The Department received a referral about newborn Michael in June 2016. The reporter said Mother tested positive for marijuana, benzodiazepine, amphetamine, and opiates at the time Michael was born. The results of Michael's drug tests were not available at the time, but it was later determined that Michael was born with marijuana, benzodiazepine, and opioids in his system.

         Nix visited Mother in a Houston hospital the day after Michael's birth. Mother identified Father as Michael's biological father and said he was working in Galveston. Understanding Michael would be removed from her care, Mother told Nix she wanted the baby to be with Father. Mother left the hospital against medical advice later that day.

         Nix was not able to contact Father. She learned during her investigation that he had several convictions for drug-related activity.

         Unable to locate a suitable placement for Michael, the Department removed Michael and filed this suit, attaching Nix's affidavit to the original petition. The trial court signed an emergency order allowing the removal and naming the Department as Michael's temporary managing conservator.

         B. Family service plan

         Following a full adversary hearing, the trial court signed an order requiring Father to comply with any family service plan by the Department. The service plan would identify the goals he needed to achieve and tasks and services he needed to complete before Michael could be returned to his care.

         The service plan's goals for Father included: (1) his willingness and ability to protect Michael from harm and to provide basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care for him; (2) his active participation in therapy to understand how substance abuse may impact his current parenting style; (3) his provision of safe and stable housing for Michael; and (4) his understanding of the serious situation that placed Michael in harm's way.

         So that he could accomplish those goals, the Department's service plan for Father required him to, among other things: (1) complete parenting classes; (2) complete a substance abuse assessment and follow the assessor's recommendations; (3) submit to random drug testing and test negative at all times; (4) complete a psychosocial evaluation and follow the evaluator's recommendations; (5) obtain and maintain suitable employment and stable housing; (6) refrain from criminal activity; (7) maintain regular contact with the caseworker; and (8) make his best effort to attend all hearings, meetings, and scheduled visitations with Michael.

         C. Trial

         Trial was held in May 2017. The Department presented testimony from caseworker Keverlyn Walker; Bruce Jefferies, an employee of a drug testing facility; and Father. The Department's documentary evidence included the parents' service plans, drug test results, and judgments of criminal convictions, as well as Michael's medical records. Neither Mother, Father, nor Michael's attorney ad litem called witnesses or offered evidence. Mother did not attend trial personally; she was incarcerated in Mississippi at the time.

         1. Evidence about Michael

         Michael was positive at birth for benzodiazepines, opioids, and cannabinoids. Diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome, he spent the first three months of his life in the hospital, where he was treated for withdrawal.

         Early in the case, Michael's paternal grandmother asked that he be placed with her. The Department declined to conduct a home study on her, however, because she tested positive for cocaine and withheld information about some of the people living in her house.

         Once released, Michael was placed with a foster family, and he remained in that home through the time of trial. Walker testified the foster parents were meeting all of Michael's physical and emotional needs. She reported Michael was well-bonded to his foster parents and foster siblings. The foster parents were willing to adopt Michael.

         Father testified he was ready to care for Michael, and his family would help as well:

I'm willing for it. I'm ready to be able to take care of my son, you know. I have family that's willing to help me, know what I'm saying, everything that went through the family plan that want to get the placement, you know, they had records over 20 years ago, you know. So she was saying just cause it was 20 years ago, that the family - my baby couldn't be placed in that and they doing good for theyself. She never did the home study for them and -
My uncle and my brother been at least ten years ago. My brother and his wife, [J.W.] and [R.W.], they've been over ten years cases. He's been convicted but it's been over ten years. But I know it's a good person that my family would be involved with the placement at that time.
My brother . . . got a company, got a nice home off 1960 and he doing very good for hisself right now. You know he take care of a bunch of kids, you know, she just never did the home study.

         2. Evidence about Father

         a. Ability to ...

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