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In re J.J.L.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

May 7, 2019


          On Appeal from the 309th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2017-29993

          Panel consists of Justices Christopher, Bourliot, and Zimmerer.


          Jerry Zimmerer Justice

         This accelerated appeal arises from a final decree in a suit in which termination of the parent-child relationship was at issue. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 109.002(a-1). The child is Josh. The parents are D.W. (Mother) and J.F. (Father).[1]The trial court terminated both parents' parental rights and appointed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (the Department) to be Josh's managing conservator. Only Mother appeals.

         On appeal, Mother challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support termination. We conclude legally and factually sufficient evidence supports the trial court's findings that (1) Mother had a parent-child relationship terminated with respect to another child based on a finding that Mother's conduct endangered that child; and (2) termination of Mother's parental rights is in Jeff's best interest. Therefore, we affirm the trial court's decree.


         A. Removal

         Josh was born in mid-February 2017, at which time Mother's two daughters, Julia and Debby, were already under Department care. The Department received a referral expressing concern about Josh due to "ongoing concerns of substance abuse, unregulated mental health issues and [Mother] being a flight risk." Additionally, the report alleged Mother was not complying with the service plan the Department had created for her with respect to Julia and Debby. After speaking with Mother and Father (who had not yet been confirmed to be Josh's father), the Department placed Josh with relatives under a Parental Child Safety Placement agreement (PCSP).

         Ten days after Josh was born, Mother was arrested for stealing a car. She told the Department she had only borrowed the car from a friend.

         In early May 2017, the Department formally removed Josh from Mother's care and filed this lawsuit. The record does not reflect why removal was made at that time. The trial court appointed the Department to be Josh's temporary managing conservator, and he remained in his PCSP.

         B. Family service plan

         Following a full adversary hearing, the trial court signed an order requiring Mother to comply with any family service plan by the Department. The service plan would identify the goals she needed to achieve and tasks and services she needed to complete before Josh could be returned to her care. Though it appears a service plan was created for Mother, no service plan is included in the appellate record.

         C. Termination of parent-child relationship with Julia and Debby

         In January 2018, the trial court terminated Mother's parental rights with respect to Julia and Debby. Each decree states the trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that Mother had, in relevant part:

knowingly placed or knowingly allowed the child to remain in conditions or surroundings which endanger the physical or emotional well-being of the child, pursuant to § 161.001(b)(1)(D), Texas Family Code; [and]
engaged in conduct or knowingly placed the child with persons who engaged in conduct which endangers the physical or emotional well-being of the child, pursuant to § 161.001(b)(1)(E), Texas Family Code.

         This court affirmed those decrees in a single opinion in July 2018. See No. 14-18-00050-CV, In re D.E.W. a/k/a D.W. and No. 14-18-00101-CV, In re J.D.W., 2018 WL 3432255 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] July 17, 2018, no pet.) (mem. op.) (finding sufficient evidence to support finding under § 161.001(b)(1)(E)) .

         D. Trial

         1. Evidence about Mother

         Drug abuse.

         Mother testified about her drug use, as did caseworker Alexandra Brown. No drug test results are included in the record on appeal. Accordingly, the record reflects the types but not the quantities of drugs Mother consumed.

         Trial testimony revealed a pattern by Mother: periods of substance abuse, followed by brief periods of sobriety, then relapses. Brown testified she referred Mother at least three times for a substance abuse assessment. Mother reportedly attended some substance abuse counseling sessions after the first assessment but was discharged as unsuccessful. The third referral for an assessment came after Mother, while in jail in the spring of 2018, told Brown she understood she had a drug problem. She allegedly said she wanted to go to an inpatient rehabilitation facility because outpatient rehabilitation treatment "doesn't work" for her.

         Mother admitted to smoking marijuana before and after this case began. She denied using cocaine, amphetamine, or methamphetamine, even though she reportedly tested positive for each of those substances in July 2018. She said she was "unstable" and "at the wrong place at the wrong time." Mother testified she relapsed on her younger daughter's birthday at the end of August 2018 by smoking marijuana.

         At the time of trial, Mother had completed the assessment but said she "was waiting" for the Department to arrange inpatient treatment, even though, according to Brown, Mother told her she was on a list for self-admission to a substance abuse treatment facility. She was not attending Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous. She did not have a sponsor or a support system to help her combat substance abuse but was going to look for one. Though the record suggests she had not begun outpatient rehabilitation at the time of trial, Mother testified she would "continue" outpatient treatment.

         Criminal history.

         The record reflects a 13-year criminal history for Mother. In 2005 and again in 2011, she pleaded guilty to failing to identify herself to the police by giving a false or fictitious name. She was arrested in 2007 for driving while intoxicated and possession of zero to two ounces of marijuana; the criminal court sentenced her to 10 days' incarceration on each charge and suspended her driver's license for one year. Nine months later, Mother pleaded guilty to driving with a suspended license. Her license was still suspended near the end of 2010, when she pleaded guilty to second charge of driving with a suspended license. Mother testified her driver's license had been suspended "for years." She admitted to driving many times with a suspended license, including driving herself to court that day, and acknowledged one or both of her daughters were frequently in the car.

         In 2013, Mother pleaded guilty to possession of Methylone, for which she was sentenced to serve 180 days in jail. Mother pleaded guilty the following year for possession of a controlled substance in ...

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