IN THE INTEREST OF M.M.M. IN THE INTEREST OF J.A.M.
Appeal from the 314th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Case Nos. 2016-05772J & 2016-03351J
consists of Justices Jennings, Keyes, and Higley.
Carter Higley Justice
these two appeals, T.M. ("Mother") and V.M.
("Father") challenge the final judgments rendered
by the trial court terminating the parent-child relationship
between Mother and Father and their two children,
four-year-old J.A.M. and one- year-old M.M.M. Mother raises two
identical issues in each appeal. She challenges the legal and
factual sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial
court's predicate findings supporting termination and the
trial court's findings that termination of the
parent-child relationship was in the children's best
interest. Father raises one issue in each appeal. He
challenges the factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting
the best-interest findings.
affirm in each appeal.
2, 2016, the Department of Family and Protective Resources
("the Department") filed suit, requesting the trial
court to issue temporary orders appointing the Department as
the temporary sole managing conservator of then-three-year
old J.A.M. If family reunification could not be achieved, the
Department sought to terminate Mother's and Father's
parental rights to J.A.M. The Department offered the
affidavit of CPS Investigative Caseworker D. Inyangala to
support its petition.
affidavit, Inyangala testified that, on March 16, 2016, the
Department received a referral, alleging "negligent
supervision" of J.A.M. by Mother.
stated, "According to the report, there was substantial
ongoing domestic violence between [M]other and [F]ather"
in J.A.M.'s presence. Father had been arrested for
assaulting Mother on February 17, 2016 and was in jail.
Inyangala noted that "[t]he report also alleged that
father and mother have a history of drug use
the report, Inyangala conducted an investigation. Inyangala
visited Father at the county jail. Father told Inyangala that
Mother had called the police and reported that he had hit
her, but he denied assaulting Mother. Father said that Mother
has a history of calling the police when they had
"little arguments" because she "has anxiety
and little things annoy her." Father also told Inyangala
that "he has four other children whom he does not have
custody of and that those children live with their biological
mother, who is not the biological mother of [J.A.M.]."
learned from Father that Mother was living with J.A.M. at a
homeless shelter. On March 18, 2016, Inyangala interviewed
Mother at the shelter. Mother reported to Inyangala that she
had "been diagnosed with depression anxiety when she was
young, but she has not been taking her medication
recently." Mother said that the shelter requested her to
take Xanax, however, Mother indicated that she would not take
it because "she just found out that she was
pregnant." Mother told Inyangala that "she has
intentions of getting back with [Father] because they are
discovered in mid-April 2016 that Father had been released
from jail. In May 2016, Inyangala learned that Mother and
J.A.M. were living in a motel. On May 23, 2016, Inyangala
visited Mother at the motel. Mother said that Father was
paying for the motel, but she did not know where Father
lived. Mother said that she had "not done any
drug[s]" since before she went to the homeless shelter.
agreed to submit to a drug test. On May 31, 2016, Inyangala
received Mother's drug-test results, which were positive
for cocaine. Inyangala worked with Mother to find a voluntary
placement for J.A.M., including relative placement. Inyangala
determined that the relative placements provided by Mother
were either not appropriate or not willing to take J.A.M.
affidavit, Inyangala also detailed the family's CPS
history. Inyangala noted that, in January 2013, the
Department had received a referral alleging physical abuse of
J.A.M. and his older siblings by Father and by Mother.
J.A.M.'s older siblings are Mother's step-children.
The report alleged that Mother had "tossed the one year
old on to the bed and that [Mother] has mental illness."
However, the case "was ruled as 'Unable to
Determine' that abuse occurred because the children had
no bruises or marks, but there was inconsistency to why the
home had two broken windows and random calls to the police
alleging domestic violence." Inyangala noted that the
Department had offered services to Mother and Father at that
time, but they failed to engage in them.
also noted that, in December 2014, the Department received a
referral alleging that Father had physically abused one of
J.A.M.'s older siblings. "The report indicated that
the father hit the child in the mouth for not doing his
homework and left a bruise on his face." Inyangala
stated that "[t]he case was ruled out because the child
had no bruises and was not injured."
stated that the Department received another referral in March
2015. The referral alleged that Mother was sexually abusing
her son, J.A.M., and her three step-sons. Inyangala testified
that "[t]he report indicated that the mother touches the
children in their private parts. The case was ruled out
because the children had no outcries."
affidavit also detailed Mother's and Father's
criminal histories. Inyangala determined that Mother was
placed on community supervision for two years for drug
possession in November 2015. Inyangala stated that, in
addition to being charged with assaulting Mother in February
2016, Father had previously been convicted of evading arrest
in 2008 and for assault of a family member in 2007.
affidavit summarized the Department's reasons for
requesting appointment as J.A.M.'s temporary managing
[Mother] tested positive for cocaine in a hair follicle on
5/31/2016. The mother is currently on probation for
possession of a controlled substance. The mother and father
have a long history of domestic violence; the father was
recently arrested and has pending charges for assaulting the
mother. The mother continues to deny that domestic violence
exists and is still in a relationship with the father, thus,
causing concerns as to her ability to provide a protective
environment for her child. Additionally, the mother moves
around between various hotels, and is unable to provide a
safe and stable environment at this time.
2, 2016, the trial court signed emergency orders, placing
J.A.M. in the Department's temporary managing
conservatorship. Two weeks later, on June 16, both parents
appeared with counsel at an adversary hearing at which the
trial court signed temporary orders continuing the
appointment of the Department as J.A.M.'s managing
conservator. The trial court ordered the parents to comply
with the Department's service plan, warning them that
failure to comply with the plan could result in the
termination of their parental rights. Both parents also
submitted to drug testing that day. Mother tested positive
for cocaine, and Father tested positive for cocaine and
20, 2016, Mother underwent an evaluation at the
Children's Crisis Care Center ("4Cs"). Mother
told the 4Cs evaluator that "she first smoked marijuana
at the age of eleven and smoked one blunt daily until May
2016." Mother denied using cocaine but told the
evaluator that she believes the marijuana she smoked was
laced with cocaine. Mother stated "that she does not
feel that she has a drug abuse issue." Mother said that
she used marijuana to help her relax and that "she is
upset that her recreational use of [marijuana] resulted in
the loss of her son."
told the evaluator that in 2015, during a period when she and
Father were separated, she had to resort to selling drugs to
support herself and J.A.M. She was arrested for selling
cocaine and jailed from November 20, 2015 until January 7,
2016. She stated that J.A.M. had lived with Father and his
family while she was in jail. She reported that, after her
release from jail, "she was homeless and was sleeping in
her car." Mother was placed on two years' community
supervision for the drug offense.
also indicated her entire life had involved domesticate
violence. As a young child, she was physically abused by her
mother's boyfriend. Her mother lost custody of her when
she was six years old, and she went to live with her aunt.
She reported that her aunt was "aggressive and mean to
her." Mother stated that "she did not retaliate
against her aunt until she was sixteen years old." At
that point, Mother assaulted her aunt. Mother was arrested
and placed in juvenile detention for three years.
"reported that whenever she and [Father] were together
and he tried to leave, she would call the police and state
that he was abusing her." Mother "blamed herself
for arguing and overacting in their relationship." She
told the 4Cs evaluator that she hoped she and Father could
reconcile after he was released from jail.
regard to her mental health, Mother "reported that she
was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder in 2013 at MHMRA and was
prescribed Xanax." However, Mother said that she had not
taken the medication since 2014.
Among the evaluator's clinical impressions were the
There were considerable concerns regarding this family as
[Mother] participated in the assessment. [Mother] has had an
ongoing history of trauma since her childhood, has been
exposed to family violence throughout her lifespan, and she
seemingly has only had brief periods of stability in her
life. As she has transitioned into adulthood, [Mother] has
lived a very disruptive and chaotic life, and it appears that
she is desensitized to the traumatic effect that her current
life circumstances has on her young son, her unborn child and
[Mother] acknowledged her substance abuse but indicated that
she did not feel that she had a substance abuse problem even
though she reported daily use of marijuana and tested
positive for cocaine. It is recommended that [Mother]
participate in a substance abuse assessment and follow all
recommendations of the treatment provider regarding the most
appropriate treatment program to address her abuse of
marijuana and cocaine.
[Mother] attempted to deny any history of domestic violence
in her relationship with [Father] but reported frequently
calling law enforcement to the residence. It was a concern
that [Mother] blamed herself for overreacting and instigating
arguments with her husband, but was adamant that there was no
physical abuse, and her son was not affected by the volatile
situations even though she was residing in a motel room with
limited space, so he would have had to witness the conflict.
[Mother] frequently spoke of desperately wanting to reconcile
her relationship with [Father] and it seemed that her desire
to do so may be interfering with her ability to recognize
dangers in the relationship.
It is also a concern that [Mother] reported a mental health
diagnosis but is not receiving mental health services. If
untreated, mental illness could interfere with her recovery
and her ability to be protective of her children. [Mother]
should contact MHMRA to participate in a follow-up evaluation
to determine her current level of mental health functioning,
and treatment options due to her pregnancy.
Until [Mother] is better able to understand the dangers
associated with her living conditions, substance abuse,
violence in the home, and her minimization of the issues
there is an increase[d] risk of harm for a child in her care.
evaluator recommended that Mother receive a number of
services, including individual and domestic abuse counseling
as well as engage in a substance-abuse rehabilitation
evaluator concluded that, in order to achieve reunification
with J.A.M., Mother needed to complete the services provided
to her. She must also "accept responsibility for the
reason her child is currently in the care of [the Department]
and make the changes necessary to reduce the risk of abuse
and neglect in the future."
18, 2016, the Department filed family services plans for
Mother and Father. Both plans required the respective parent
to (1) refrain from criminal activity; (2) stay in contact
with their caseworker; (3) attend court hearings and family
group conferences; (4) attend domestic violence course; (5)
maintain a stable home and employment; (6) complete a
substance-abuse assessment, including all treatment
recommendations; (7) complete parenting classes; and (8)
participate in a psycho-social evaluation and follow its
trial court approved the service plans in its July 8, 2016
status-hearing order. The trial court found that both parents
had reviewed and understood the plans.
August 11, 2016, Father pleaded guilty to the February 2016
felony assault of Mother. He was placed on deferred
adjudication community supervision. The conditions of his
community supervision required Father to commit no violation
of state or federal law.
gave birth to M.M.M. in September 2016. The Department filed
another suit, apart from the suit involving J.A.M.,
requesting emergency orders to take possession of M.M.M. and
to be named as M.M.M.'s temporary managing conservator.
To support its request, the Department offered the affidavit
of its representative, T. Etienne. She pointed out that there
was an "open CPS case" for J.A.M. in which parental
substance abuse and domestic violence had been alleged.
Etienne testified that the substance abuse had been
"confirmed by positive drug test[s] in the open
case" for both parents and that "[t]he domestic
violence has been confirmed by the conviction of the father
of the charges."
November 2016, the trial court signed an order naming the
Department as M.M.M.'s temporary managing conservator.
The court also approved and ordered the parents to follow
family services plans essentially identical to the service
plans adopted in J.A.M.'s case.
March 2017, Father was arrested on a felony charge of
aggravated assault against a family member. The complaint
alleged that he had threatened Mother with imminent bodily
injury "by using and exhibiting a deadly weapon, namely,
a nail gun."
April 2017, the State filed a motion to adjudicate
Father's guilt with respect to the assault offense that
Father had committed against Mother in February 2016. Among
the grounds for adjudication, the State asserted that Father
had violated the terms of his community supervision by
committing the March 2017 assault offense against Mother.
beginning of May 2017, Father failed to appear for a
scheduled drug test. Also in May, Mother engaged in
individual counseling as required in her service plan. In
progress notes dated May 15, 2017, the therapist stated,
[Mother] is very argumentative during sessions and appears
unable to understand the reason why her children were
removed. [Mother] tends to change her story regarding her
past. She states she was not abused and then states she was
sexually and physically abused as a child. . . . [Mother]
states she is divorcing husband of 8 years due to assault.
. . . [Mother] engaged in session, however, she is
argumentative and does not appear amenable to recommendations
or suggestions regarding parenting or relationship skills.
. . . [Mother] states she is filing for divorce, however, it
appears unlikely that she will completely ...