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In re L.T.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

January 17, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF L.T. and K.T., Children

         From the 438th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2016-PA-02227 Honorable Charles E. Montemayor, Associate Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Opinion by: Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice

         Kenneth [2] appeals the trial court's judgment terminating his parental rights to L.T. and K.T. He argues (1) there is insufficient evidence to support the trial court's finding he did not admit or counterclaim for paternity after being served or waiving service of process; and (2) the trial court erred by exercising jurisdiction because another court had continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over the children. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Background

         The Department of Family and Protective Services removed L.T. (born in 2013) and K.T. (born in 2016) from their mother, Jessica, after receiving numerous reports alleging she abused drugs and had neglected the children. The Department's affidavit in support of removal stated Kenneth was the children's father he had been recently released from jail in California, was a chronic drug abuser, and was "reportedly not allowed to leave the state" of California.

         The Department filed an original petition for conservatorship of the children and to terminate Kenneth's and Jessica's parental rights. The trial court thereafter ordered Kenneth to complete a family service plan prepared by the Department. Kenneth wrote a letter to the trial court stating he resides in California, Jessica illegally took the children from California, and "[t]here was an open child custody case . . . in California regarding [L.T.] and [K.T.]."

         The case proceeded to a bench trial, at which Department caseworker Yesenia Sanchez testified. According to Sanchez, Jessica was using methamphetamines and did not seek medical treatment for K.T.'s renal failure. Sanchez stated Kenneth told her "he wanted his kids back and he wanted [her] to make that happen." Sanchez also stated Kenneth had been incarcerated three times during the case for assault, had no contact with the children during the case, and failed to complete services on his family service plan. Jessica told Sanchez "there was domestic violence, which is why [Jessica] left California and was in Texas." Sanchez stated the children were placed with Jessica's brother, who was meeting the children's basic needs.

         The trial court signed a judgment terminating Jessica's and Kenneth's parental rights. In addition to finding termination is in the children's best interest, the trial court found three grounds for terminating Kenneth's parental rights: (1) constructive abandonment; (2) failure to complete court-ordered provisions of his family service plan; and (3) failure to admit or counterclaim for paternity after being served or waiving service. Only Kenneth appealed.

         Sufficiency of the Evidence

         Kenneth argues there is insufficient evidence to support the trial court's finding that he did not admit or counterclaim for paternity after being served or waiving service under Texas Family Code section 161.002(b)(1). See Tex. Fam. Code. Ann. § 161.002(b)(1) (West Supp. 2017). The Department responds the trial court's judgment may be affirmed based on its findings of grounds for termination under section 161.001(b)(1), including constructive abandonment and failure to complete his family service plan. See id. § 161.001(b)(1)(N), (O).

         When, as here, an appellant does not challenge all findings that would independently support the trial court's judgment, we must affirm the judgment. In re J.J.J., No. 04-17-00254-CV, 2017 WL 3044584, at *3 (Tex. App.-San Antonio July 19, 2017, pet. denied). Even if insufficient evidence supports the trial court's finding that Kenneth did not admit or counterclaim for paternity after waiving service, we cannot say the trial court erred because the unchallenged findings independently support the judgment. See id.; see also Tex. Fam. Code. Ann. § 161.001(b) (providing parental rights may be terminated if a trial court makes a best-interest finding and a finding of at least one of the grounds listed in that section). [2]

         Continuing, Exclusive Jurisdiction

         Kenneth argues the trial court erred by exercising jurisdiction in this case because another court had continuing, exclusive jurisdiction. He notes the trial court found "a request for identification of a court of continuing, exclusive jurisdiction has been made as required by Section 155.101, Texas Family Code" and "this Court has jurisdiction of this case and of all the parties and that no other court has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction of this case." Kenneth complains there is "no evidence that ...


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