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In re C.H.L.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

December 27, 2017

In the Interest of C.H.L., a Child

         From the 81st Judicial District Court, Atascosa County, Texas Trial Court No. 16-07-0659-CVA Honorable Melissa Uram-Degerolami, Judge Presiding

          Karen Angelini, Justice, Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice, Irene Rios, Justice .

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KAREN ANGELINI, JUSTICE.

         This is an appeal from a judgment terminating S.K.L.'s parental rights to her child, C.H.L. In a single issue, S.K.L. argues the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court's finding that termination of her parental rights is in the child's best interest. We affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services filed an original petition for protection of a child, conservatorship, and termination of parental rights. After a hearing, the trial court removed C.H.L. from her parents' custody because of abuse and neglect, and named the Department her temporary managing conservator. At the time, C.H.L. was seven years old.

         Eleven months later, the trial court held a non-jury trial. After hearing the evidence, the trial court terminated S.K.L.'s parental rights and named the Department permanent managing conservator of C.H.L.[1] The trial court found that S.K.L.'s parental rights should be terminated because she (1) knowingly placed or allowed the child to remain in conditions or surroundings which endangered the child's physical or emotional well-being; (2) engaged in conduct or knowingly placed the child with persons who engaged in conduct which endangered the child's physical or emotional well-being; and (3) failed to comply with the provisions of a court order that specifically established the actions necessary for S.K.L. to obtain the return of the child. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), (O) (West Supp. 2017). The trial court also found that termination of S.K.L.'s parental rights was in the child's best interest. Id. § 161.001(b)(2). S.K.L. appealed.

         APPLICABLE LAW AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         Termination of parental rights under section 161.001 of the Texas Family Code requires proof by clear and convincing evidence of at least one of the grounds listed in section 161.001(b)(1)(A)-(T) and that termination is in the child's best interest. Id. § 161.001(b)(1), (2). 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).

         In reviewing the legal sufficiency of the evidence in a parental termination case, we consider all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the finding to determine whether a reasonable trier of fact could have formed a strong belief or conviction that its finding was true. In the Interest of J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 266 (Tex. 2002). "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." Id. "A corollary to this requirement is that a court should disregard all evidence that a reasonable factfinder could have disbelieved or found to be incredible." Id. If we conclude that no reasonable factfinder could form a firm belief or conviction that the matter that must be proven is true, then we must conclude the evidence is legally insufficient. Id.

         When a parent challenges the factual sufficiency of the evidence on appeal, we look at all the evidence, including disputed or conflicting evidence. In the Interest of J.O.A., 283 S.W.3d 336, 345 (Tex. 2009). 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.

         THE EVIDENCE

         At trial, a Department supervisor, S.K.L., and a Department caseworker testified.

         Department Supervisor

         A Department supervisor testified that she had met S.K.L. about a month before the Department had filed its petition in this case. S.K.L. came to the Department's offices and appeared to be under the influence of something. S.K.L. was slurring her words and holding onto the counter to stand up. The supervisor asked S.K.L. if she was taking anything, and S.K.L. said that she had just been to the doctor and had just filled her prescriptions. S.K.L. showed the supervisor her prescription bottles, each of which initially contained sixty pills. The supervisor noticed that too many of the pills were missing. Only fifty pills remained in the alprazolam bottle and only forty pills remained in the acetaminophine/codeine bottle. Based on S.K.L.'s appearance, the supervisor believed that S.K.L. was abusing her prescription medications.

         During this meeting, S.K.L. told the supervisor that she and her romantic partners had engaged in domestic violence. According to S.K.L., her relationship with C.H.L.'s father and her relationship with her most recent boyfriend were tainted by domestic violence. S.K.L. said that the violence between her and her most recent boyfriend had occurred while C.H.L. was in her care.

         According to the supervisor, the Department considers domestic violence in the home to constitute conditions or surroundings that endanger a child's physical or emotional well-being, whether or not the child actually witnesses the domestic violence. Additionally, the Department considers a parent's drug abuse and criminal activity to constitute conduct that endangers a child's physical or emotional wellbeing, especially if the drug abuse and criminal activity are current or recent.

         S.K.L.

         S.K.L. testified that at the beginning of this case she attended a family-group conference. A service plan was created for S.K.L., and S.K.L. understood what she was expected to do under the service plan. S.K.L. admitted that she had not fully complied with the service plan. S.K.L. had participated in a drug and alcohol assessment and a psychological evaluation, both of which indicated that S.K.L. needed to participate in inpatient drug treatment. However, S.K.L. did not participate in an inpatient or an outpatient drug ...


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