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In re T.A.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

January 5, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF T.A., A CHILD

         On Appeal from the 304th Judicial District Court Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 16-00556-W-304

          Before Justices Francis, Brown, and Schenck Opinion by Justice Francis.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          MOLLY FRANCIS JUSTICE.

         P.G., the father of T.A., appeals the trial court's judgment terminating his parental rights. Appellant brings two issues contending the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the termination and the termination order is improperly vague. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         The Dallas County Child Protective Services Unit of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services took possession of T.A. after her mother, C.A., appeared intoxicated and dropped her while in a doctor's office. CPS placed T.A. in foster care and, on June 9, 2016, filed a petition for conservatorship and termination of both appellant's and C.A.'s parental rights. Nine months later, the parties and their attorneys signed a Binding Mediated Settlement Agreement. The agreement required a dispositive placement hearing to address whether T.A. could be placed with either P.G., Sr., appellant's father, or G.W., appellant's mother. If the trial court decided that placement with P.G., Sr. or G.W. was not in T.A.'s best interest, appellant and C.A. agreed to the termination of their parental rights "based upon section 161.001(1)(O) of the Texas Family Code and best interest [of the child]."[1]

         A placement and termination hearing was conducted on May 23, 2017. At the hearing, the mediated settlement agreement was admitted into evidence. The court heard testimony from appellant, P.G., Sr. and G.W. concerning their ability to care for T.A. Based on the evidence, the court concluded neither placement was appropriate and continuing her in the foster placement was in T.A.'s best interest. The trial court signed a decree of termination on June 29, 2017 including findings from the hearing and incorporating the mediated settlement agreement by reference.

         With respect to appellant, the court found termination of the parent-child relationship was in T.A.'s best interest and the evidence supported termination under section 161.001(b)(1)(O). Immediately after this finding, the trial court's decree stated "IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED AND DECREED by the Court that termination of the parent-child relationship between [P.G.], the father, and the subject child is in the best interest of the child." Appellant timely brought this appeal.

         In his first issue, appellant contends the evidence is insufficient to support the trial court's decision to terminate his parental rights under section 161.001(b)(1)(O). Section 161.001(b)(1)(O) allows the trial court to terminate a parent-child relationship if it finds by clear and convincing evidence that termination is in the best interest of the child and the parent has,

failed to comply with the provisions of a court order that specifically established the actions necessary for the parent to obtain the return of the child who has been in the permanent or temporary managing conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services for not less than nine months as a result of the child's removal from the parent … for the abuse or neglect of the child.

See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(O) (West Supp. 2017). Appellant argues the termination hearing focused almost exclusively on the qualifications of P.G., Sr. and G.W. as placement matches for T.A. and little, if any, evidence was offered to support the predicate ground for terminating his rights. The focus of the placement and termination hearing was dictated, however, by the mediated settlement agreement appellant signed in which he agreed his parental rights would be terminated if neither P.G., Sr. nor G.W. was found to be an appropriate placement for T.A. Appellant specifically agreed that termination of his rights would be based on section 161.001(b)(1)(O). Appellant does not contend the agreement should be invalidated, set aside, or denied evidentiary value. Because the trial court could have relied on the settlement agreement when it ruled that appellant's rights should be terminated under section 161.001(b)(1)(O), we overrule appellant's first issue. See In re N.B., No. 05-15-00671-CV, 2015 WL 6437681, at *4 (Tex. App.-Dallas Oct. 23, 2015, pet. denied).

         In his second issue, appellant contends the termination decree is not sufficiently specific to terminate his parental rights, and therefore, the judgment is not final. Appellant argues the termination order merely states that termination of his parent-child relationship with T.A. is in T.A.'s best interest, but it doesn't actually order the termination. We disagree.

         To be final, a judgment must determine the rights of the parties and dispose of all issues involved so no future action will be necessary to settle and determine the case. See In re N.J.G., 980 S.W.2d 764, 767 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 1998, no pet.). But, a judgment should be construed as a whole toward the end of harmonizing and giving effect to all the court has written. See Point Lookout West, Inc. v. Whorton, 742 S.W.2d 277, 278 (Tex. 1987). The entire content of the written instrument and the record must be considered. Id. Courts should not give conclusive effect to a judgment's use or omission of commonly employed decretal words, but should instead determine what the trial court adjudicated from a fair reading of all the judgment's provisions. See Wilde v. Murchie, 949 S.W.2d 331, 333 (Tex. 1997).

         Construing the record and judgment in this case as a whole, it is clear the trial court terminated appellant's parental rights. Adding language concerning the child's best interest to the decretal portion of the judgment does not change the clear import of the order which is that the parent-child relationship ...


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