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In re N.T.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eleventh District

April 10, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF N.T., A CHILD

          On Appeal from the 29th District Court Palo Pinto County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. C47218

          Panel consists of: Bailey, C.J., Stretcher, J., and Wright, S.C.J. [2]

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KEITH STRETCHER JUSTICE

         After having previously terminated the parental rights of N.T.'s father, the trial court entered an order in which it terminated the parental rights of N.T.'s mother. The mother filed an appeal. In a single issue on appeal, she challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's best interest finding.[1] We affirm.

         Termination Findings and Standards

         The natural right that exists between parents and their children is a constitutionally protected right, and termination of the parent-child relationship can only be justified by the most solid and substantial reasons. Wiley v. Spratlan, 543 S.W.2d 349, 352 (Tex. 1976). Termination of parental rights must be supported by clear and convincing evidence. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b) (West Supp. 2018). To determine on appeal if the evidence is legally sufficient in a parental termination case, we review all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the finding and determine whether a rational trier of fact could have formed a firm belief or conviction that its finding was true. In re J.P.B., 180 S.W.3d 570, 573 (Tex. 2005). To determine if the evidence is factually sufficient, we give due deference to the finding and determine whether, on the entire record, a factfinder could reasonably form a firm belief or conviction about the truth of the allegations against the parent. In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 25-26 (Tex. 2002).

         To terminate parental rights, it must be shown by clear and convincing evidence that the parent has committed one of the acts listed in Section 161.001(b)(1)(A)-(U) and that termination is in the best interest of the child. Fam. § 161.001(b). In this case, the trial court found that Appellant had knowingly placed or knowingly allowed the child to remain in conditions or surroundings that endangered the child's physical or emotional well-being, had engaged in conduct or knowingly placed the child with persons who engaged in conduct that endangered the child's physical or emotional well-being, had failed to support the child in accordance with her ability during the relevant one-year period, and had failed to comply with provisions of a court order that specifically established the actions necessary for her to obtain the return of the child. See id. § 161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), (F), (O). Appellant does not challenge these findings, but she does challenge the trial court's finding that termination is in the child's best interest. See id. § 161.001(b)(2). Accordingly, we will uphold the order of termination if the evidence is sufficient to support the best interest finding.

         With respect to the best interest of a child, no unique set of factors need be proved. In re C.J.O., 325 S.W.3d 261, 266 (Tex. App.-Eastland 2010, pet. denied). But courts may use the non-exhaustive Holley factors to shape their analysis. Holley v. Adams, 544 S.W.2d 367, 371-72 (Tex. 1976). These include, but are not limited to, (1) the desires of the child, (2) the emotional and physical needs of the child now and in the future, (3) the emotional and physical danger to the child now and in the future, (4) the parental abilities of the individuals seeking custody, (5) the programs available to assist these individuals to promote the best interest of the child, (6) the plans for the child by these individuals or by the agency seeking custody, (7) the stability of the home or proposed placement, (8) the acts or omissions of the parent that may indicate that the existing parent-child relationship is not a proper one, and (9) any excuse for the acts or omissions of the parent. Id. Additionally, evidence that proves one or more statutory grounds for termination may also constitute evidence illustrating that termination is in the child's best interest. C.J.O., 325 S.W.3d at 266.

         Best Interest: Evidence and Analysis

         The record in this case reflects that the Department of Family and Protective Services removed N.T. from his parents when he was nine months old. When N.T. was eight months old, Appellant was experiencing some mental health issues and decided to check herself in for treatment-where she remained for only four or five days. She left N.T. with a neighbor and instructed the neighbor to call N.T.'s father and have him come get N.T. so that N.T. could stay with the father. Appellant knew that N.T.'s father was a violent man. Although Appellant had obtained a protective order against the father, she nonetheless placed N.T. in the father's care while she sought mental health treatment. Appellant testified, however, that the father had only been violent toward her, not toward N.T.

         The Department became involved while N.T. was in his father's care. Soon thereafter, the father absconded to Michigan with N.T. The mother helped the Department locate and take custody of N.T. after the father took him to Michigan. At the time of removal from the father, N.T. was developmentally delayed. N.T. also tested positive for a variety of drugs at that time, including cocaine, heroin, and cannabis.

         Not long after removal, the Department placed N.T. in a foster home; he remained in that same foster home throughout the proceedings. The Department pursued termination of the father's parental rights, and the parties involved in this case proceeded on the presumption that Appellant was going to relinquish her parental rights after the father's parental rights were terminated; however, Appellant changed her mind and decided not to relinquish her parental rights. In response, the foster parents filed a petition for termination by which they sought to have Appellant's parental rights terminated, and Appellant filed a counterpetition in which she sought sole managing conservatorship.

         At the trial on those petitions, Appellant denied that, when she left N.T. in the father's care, she knew that the father used illegal drugs. However, there was some evidence presented at trial that Appellant had told one of the conservatorship workers in this case that, when she first met the father, "the only thing he did was smoke marijuana" but that she later became aware that he was using cocaine, at which time "she kicked him out." Appellant denied that she would permit the father to see N.T. if N.T. were returned to Appellant; she testified that she had made significant progress and could now avoid the father and keep N.T. safe. However, text messages between Appellant and the father were admitted into evidence. In those messages, which appear to have been typed in January 2017 prior to the termination of the father's parental rights in October 2017, Appellant asked: "So did they share with you about how we can lose our parental rights, if I let you see him unauthorized[?]" In subsequent messages that same day, Appellant stated: "I'm

         NOT LOSING MY SON AGAIN, F ----- G WIT YO DUMB ASS"; "Bitch you forcing it, get mad at yourself n---a. You DID DIS, HOLD YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE MF"; and "When did [sic] case over, you could see him. But until then CPS calling the mf shots." However, the record also reflects that Appellant had obtained a protective order against the father and that, in February 2017, she called the police when the father violated ...


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