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In re M.K.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

May 29, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF M.K. AND V. G., CHILDREN

          On Appeal from the 199th Judicial District Court Collin County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 199-30160-2017

          Before Justices Whitehill, Pedersen III, and Nowell

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BILL PEDERSEN, III JUSTICE

         This is an appeal from the termination of the parental rights of L.B.K. (Father) to his daughter, M.K. Father raises three appellate issues, challenging the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence to support the termination of his rights and the appointment of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (the Department) as sole managing conservator of M.K. We reverse two specific rulings in the trial court's Final Order in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship [and] Appointment of Sole Managing Conservator (the Final Order) and remand this case for further proceedings.

         Background

         At trial, the Department sought to terminate all parental rights to two children: M.K., who was four years old at the time, and her infant half-brother, V.G. In October 2017, the Department responded to a referral and found M.K., V.J. (Mother), and J.G., Mother's boyfriend, living in an abandoned metal shipping crate. The crate was filthy and littered with drug paraphernalia. The Department described M.K.'s condition as dirty and malnourished. She was wearing a pull-up containing dried feces, and she told investigators that she sometimes ate food from a dumpster. Mother was approximately seven months pregnant with V.G. at this time. The Department filed its Original Petition for Protection of the Child [and] for Temporary Managing Conservatorship in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship. During the course of the Department's investigation, both Mother and J.G. tested positive for amphetamines and methamphetamines. When a subsequent test of M.K.'s hair proved positive for amphetamines and methamphetamines as well, Mother was arrested for child endangerment, and the Department took custody of M.K. When V.G. was born months later, the Department took custody of him as well. The trial court named the Department temporary managing conservator of the children.

         At the time of these events, Father lived in an apartment in South Carolina with his girlfriend and their young son. He was not involved in any way in the circumstances surrounding removal of M.K. The record indicates that he had no idea where Mother and M.K. were living until he was contacted by the Department sometime after M.K. was placed in the Department's care. The trial court's initial temporary order included a number of services required for Mother and J.G.; the sole reference to Father was to require a paternity test. Father submitted to the test, and it confirmed that he is M.K.'s biological father.

         Following a status conference in February 2018, the trial court ordered Father to complete a list of services:

Parenting education as recommended by CPS,
Psychological evaluation or psycho-social evaluation as recommended by CPS,
Counseling,
Drug/alcohol assessment and following all recommendations,
Random drug and alcohol urinalysis/hair strand tests and oral swabs,
Maintenance of stable, suitable housing, and
Maintenance of suitable, stable, legal employment.

         The trial court issued other temporary orders throughout this proceeding, but these provisions did not change. The order's provisions were incorporated into the Department's Family Services Plan (the Plan). The Department's permanency goal according to the Plan was "Family Reunification."

         The trial court's imposition of these obligations was apparently based upon the following allegations, the only ones related to Father within the Plan:

[Mother] reported that there was domestic violence in their relationship with [Maternal Grandmother] reporting that she went to get [Mother] and [M.K.] from [Father] due to [Father] locking [Mother] and [M.K.] in a shed. [Father] also has 3 warrants in Ohio involving drugs. ...

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