Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo
IN THE INTEREST OF N.M.L. AND B.L.L., CHILDREN
Appeal from the 223rd District Court Gray County, Texas Trial
Court No. 38, 555, Honorable Jack M. Graham, Presiding
CAMPBELL and PIRTLE and PARKER, JJ.
C. Parker, Justice.
a bench trial, the trial court signed a judgment terminating
the parent-child relationship between J.L. (Father) and his
two daughters, N.M.L. and B.L.L. Raising four issues, J.L.
contends that the evidence was not legally or factually
sufficient to support termination of his parental rights. We
and Procedural Background
Pampa Police Department was called to the marital home of
and J.L. in the early morning hours of July 30 in response to
an incident resulting in J.L. being stabbed by his wife, A.L.
J.L. left the home before the police arrived. Officer Patrick
Lambert "observed blood on the front side walk and on
the front porch." A.L. related to Officer Lambert that
she and J.L. had been drinking at a friend's, then she
and J.L. engaged in a verbal argument that became physical
after returning home. She reported that J.L. knocked her to
the ground, held her down, and began to choke her. She
claimed to have grabbed a knife to defend herself because she
was in fear for her life. Officer Lambert noticed
"finger shaped marks on the right side of her
neck." He retrieved a broken knife from the trash can in
the kitchen where A.L. told him she placed it. Officer
Lambert observed several blood spots located in multiple
places in the home. The couple's children, N.M.L. and
B.L.L., were present at the home when A.L. stabbed J.L.
Bider, who arrived at the scene with Officer Lambert, saw a
"small female child standing near the screen door"
after A.L. stepped outside to speak to the officers. A.L.
told Corporal Bider that J.L. had impaled himself on the
knife as he was attempting to choke her. A.L. told Corporal
Bider that J.L. did not actually choke her, but was
"going to choke her based on his behavior."
Corporal Bider did not see any injuries on A.L. A.L.'s
father came to the home and observed N.M.L. "walking
around in the blood that was in the floor."
provided a different account of the events leading up to A.L.
stabbing him. J.L. stated that A.L. had been griping and
complaining all day. He went to a friend's house because
he was tired of listening to her. A.L. called J.L. and told
him to come home and to bring some beer. When he arrived home
with the beer, A.L. continued to gripe at him so he prepared
to leave again. As he was attempting to leave, A.L. grabbed a
bread knife and tried to stab him with it, but it broke. She
stabbed him two times with the broken knife before he was
able to escape. His sister took him to the emergency room.
While in the emergency room, J.L. stated that he wanted to
press charges because he was scared that the next time he
might not make it out of the situation alive.
A.L. and J.L. had different versions of the events leading up
to the stabbing of J.L., they both agreed that A.L. had
stabbed J.L. and that both of them had consumed an unknown
quantity of beer before the physical altercation took place.
A.L. was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly
weapon. The maternal grandparents, who were already caring
for four of A.L.'s children, could not care for N.M.L.
and B.L.L., resulting in the children entering the
Department filed its petition seeking to terminate A.L.'s
and J.L.'s parental rights to N.M.L. and B.L.L. on August
1, 2016. Following an adversary hearing on August 22, 2016,
the Department was named temporary managing conservator of
Haskins was assigned as the caseworker by the Department. The
Department's investigation revealed that A.L. had a
significant history with the Department, including previous
validations for physical abuse and neglectful supervision.
She had a history of domestic violence dating back to 2005.
A.L. and J.L. reported to Haskins that domestic violence was
"pretty consistent throughout the relationship."
J.L.'s use of alcohol and A.L.'s history of drug
abuse were documented. J.L. told Haskins there were prior
incidents of domestic violence between himself and A.L. and
that they were "co-combatant." J.L. agreed with
Haskins that domestic violence was an issue that he needed to
address. J.L. indicated that he had been the aggressor for
some of their domestic violence incidents and admitted that,
prior to being stabbed by A.L., he had been the aggressor.
Department developed service plans for J.L. and A.L., and the
trial court ordered compliance with the plan requirements.
The service plan required J.L. to participate in various
services and counseling to address personal issues
surrounding the removal of the children. J.L. satisfied the
service plan's requirements that he participate in a
psychological evaluation; a Batterer's Intervention
Prevention Program (BIPP) and Outreach, Screening,
Assessment, and Referral (OSAR) assessment; rational behavior
training; and a parenting class. However, he did not complete
individual counseling, couple's counseling, BIPP
orientation, BIPP classes, or participate in AA. Haskins
reviewed the service plan with J.L. "multiple
times." J.L. agreed to work the service plan and
indicated to Haskins that he knew what services he was
required to complete.
the pendency of this case, J.L. and A.L. continued to live
together after A.L. was released from jail. J.L. is employed
as a construction worker. A.L. is not employed outside of the
home and relies on J.L.'s work income. Two months prior
to trial, on May 3, 2017, A.L. tested positive for
methamphetamine. A.L. failed to complete the following
services required by her service plan: individual therapy,
couple's counseling, and the WAVE (Women Against
Violence) program for domestic violence. A.L. also did not
provide proof of participation in AA or maintain a drug-free
children were placed with a paternal relative in Houston two
months before the trial, and are doing well. The placement is
interested in adopting the children. During trial, Haskins
testified that the placement is capable of meeting the
emotional and physical needs of the children currently and in
the future. J.L. has not had a face-to-face visit with the
children since they were placed in Houston, but maintained
his weekly visits before they were relocated. He has
telephoned the children two to three times a week since they
have been in Houston. In the twelve months that N.M.L. and
B.L.L. have been in the Department's care, J.L. has not
paid his court-ordered child support or sent birthday cards
or Christmas gifts to the children.
trial court terminated J.L.'s and A.L.'s parental
rights on the grounds of endangering conditions,
endangerment, and failure to comply with a court order that
established actions necessary to retain custody of the
children. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §
161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), (O) (West Supp. 2017). The trial court
also found that termination was in the children's best
interest. See § 161.001(b)(2). Only J.L. has
parent's rights to the "companionship, care,
custody[, ] and management" of his or her child is a
constitutional interest "far more precious than any
property right." Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S.
745, 758-59, 102 S.Ct. 1388, 71 L.Ed.2d 599 (1982); see
In re M.S., 115 S.W.3d 534, 547 (Tex. 2003).
Consequently, we strictly scrutinize termination proceedings
and strictly construe the involuntary termination statutes in
favor of the parent. Holick v. Smith, 685 S.W.2d 18,
20 (Tex. 1985). However, "the rights of natural parents
are not absolute" and "[t]he rights of parenthood
are accorded only to those fit to accept the accompanying
responsibilities." In re A.V., 113 S.W.3d 355,
361 (Tex. 2003) (citing In re J.W.T., 872 S.W.2d
189, 195 (Tex. 1993)). Recognizing that a parent may forfeit
his or her parental rights by his or her acts or omissions,
the primary focus of a termination suit is protection of the
child's best interests. See id.
case to terminate parental rights by the Department under
section 161.001 of the Family Code, the Department must
establish, by clear and convincing evidence, that (1) the
parent committed one or more of the enumerated acts or
omissions justifying termination, and (2) termination is in
the best interest of the child. § 161.001(b). Clear and
convincing evidence is "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." § 101.007 (West 2014);
In re J.F.C.,96 S.W.3d 256, 264 (Tex. 2002). Both
elements must be established and termination may not be based
solely on the best interest of the children as determined by
the trier of fact. Tex. Dep't of Human Servs. v.
Boyd, 727 S.W.2d 531, 533 (Tex. 1987); In re
K.C.B.,280 S.W.3d 888, 894 (Tex. App.- Amarillo 2009,
pet. denied). "Only one predicate finding under section
161.001[(b)](1) is necessary to support a judgment of
termination when there is also a finding that termination is
in the child's best interest." In re A.V.,
113 S.W.3d at 362. We will affirm the termination order ...