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In re C.F.M.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

May 1, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF C.F.M., A CHILD

          On Appeal from the 316th District Court Hutchinson County, Texas Trial Court No. 42, 530, Honorable James M. Mosley, Presiding

          Before CAMPBELL and PIRTLE and PARKER, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Judy C. Parker Justice

         Following a bench trial, the trial court signed a judgment terminating the parent-child relationship between J.I.[1] and his daughter, C.F.M. J.I. challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting the grounds for termination of his parental rights. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         Background

         On August 29, 2016, the Department of Family and Protective Services received a report citing concerns for the safety of C.F.M., a newborn, because of her mother's[2]history of drug use and prior involvement with the Department. C.F.M. tested positive for marijuana approximately one week after her birth. The Department was granted an emergency protection order for C.F.M., and filed a petition seeking conservatorship and termination of parental rights. Following an adversary hearing, the Department was appointed temporary managing conservator and C.F.M. was placed in a foster home. T.M. was named possessory conservator and ordered to work specific services. The court granted J.I.'s request for genetic testing, [3] but he was not ordered to complete any services at that time.

         A plan of service was eventually developed for J.I. According to the plan, J.I. was required to complete a substance abuse assessment with Outreach, Screening, Assessment, and Referral; submit to drug testing; participate in parenting classes; undergo a psychological evaluation; complete rational behavior therapy; attend individual counseling; and maintain contact with the Department. The trial court's November 2016 status hearing order approved J.I.'s filed service plan and made it an order of the court.

         At the permanency hearing on January 17, 2017, the court ordered the Department to place C.F.M. in J.I.'s home by February 1 in a monitored return. After the hearing, J.I. refused to submit to a required hair follicle drug test explaining to the Department that he could not take care of the child, did not want the child, and wanted to relinquish his parental rights. J.I. reiterated his desire to relinquish his parental rights when he appeared at the permanency hearing in April 2017. The caseworker was unable to contact J.I. after that hearing. J.I. did not complete any of his court-ordered services and he did not attend the termination trial on October 5, 2017.

         The trial court terminated J.I.'s parental rights on the grounds set forth in Texas Family Code section 161.001(b)(1)(B), (C), (N), (O), and (P), and found that termination would be in the child's best interest. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b) (West Supp. 2017).[4]

         STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         When reviewing the legal sufficiency of the evidence in a termination case, the appellate court should look at all the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court's finding "to determine whether a reasonable trier of fact could have formed a firm belief or conviction that its finding was true." In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 266 (Tex. 2002). To give appropriate deference to the factfinder's conclusions, we must assume that the factfinder resolved disputed facts in favor of its finding if a reasonable factfinder could do so. Id. We disregard all evidence that a reasonable factfinder could have disbelieved or found to have been not credible, but we do not disregard undisputed facts. Id. Even evidence that does more than raise surmise or suspicion is not sufficient unless that evidence is capable of producing a firm belief or conviction that the allegation is true. In re K.M.L., 443 S.W.3d 101, 113 (Tex. 2014). If, after conducting a legal sufficiency review, we determine that no reasonable factfinder could have formed a firm belief or conviction that the matter that must be proven was true, then the evidence is legally insufficient and we must reverse. Id. (citing In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266).

         In a factual sufficiency review, we must give due consideration to evidence that the factfinder could reasonably have found to be clear and convincing. In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266. We must determine whether the evidence is such that a factfinder could reasonably form a firm belief or conviction about the truth of the Department's allegations. Id. We must also consider whether disputed evidence is such that a reasonable factfinder could not have resolved the disputed evidence in favor of its finding. Id. 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.

         APPLICABLE LAW

         Involuntary termination of parental rights is a serious proceeding implicating fundamental constitutional rights. Holick v. Smith, 685 S.W.2d 18, 20 (Tex. 1985). A parent's right 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, 685 S.W.2d at 20. 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 ...


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