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In re H.L.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

June 6, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF H.L. AND H.P.L., CHILDREN

          On Appeal from the 100th District Court Donley County, Texas Trial Court No. DCS-13-06999; Honorable Stuart Messer, Presiding

          Before QUINN, CJ., and CAMPBELL and PIRTLE, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PATRICK A. PIRTLE JUSTICE

         Appellant, T.L., [1] the natural father of two children, H.L. and H.P.L., appeals the trial court's order terminating his parental rights to those children. In a single issue, he asserts that the trial court erred in finding there was clear and convincing evidence that it was in the best interest of the children to terminate his parental rights. We affirm the trial court's order.

         Applicable Law

         The Texas Family Code permits a court to involuntarily terminate the relationship between a parent and a child if the Department of Family and Protective Services establishes that a parent has engaged in one or more of the twenty-one predicate acts or omissions enumerated under section 161.001(b)(1) of the Code and it finds that termination of that relationship is in the best interest of the child. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1) (A)-(U), (b)(2) (West Supp. 2018). [2] See also In re N.G., No. 18-0508, 2019 Tex. LEXIS 465, at *1 (Tex. May 17, 2019) (per curiam) (holding that while only one predicate finding under section 161.001(b)(1) is necessary, an appellate court may be required to review additional predicates where, as here, the trial court has based its ruling, in whole or in part, upon section 161.001(b)(1) (D) or (E)). In parental termination cases, due process mandates that the Department establish its case by a clear and convincing standard of proof. Id. at *7; § 161.206(a) (West 2014). "'Clear and convincing evidence' means the measure or degree of proof that will produce in the mind of the trier of fact a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the allegations sought to be established." § 101.007 (West 2014).

         Background

         H.L. and H.P.L., ages nine and five respectively, were in the custody of their mother, B.L., pursuant to a prior decree of divorce that appointed both parents as joint managing conservators, when, in June 2017, they were removed from their home and placed in the protective custody of the Department.[3] The removal was precipitated by the fact that their mother tested positive for methamphetamine and marijuana use at the time of the birth of a new child.[4] When the Department filed its petition, B.L. had possession of multiple children by multiple men. She also had a six-year history with the Department which included complaints of medical neglect, physical neglect, and neglectful supervision of her children. As a result of the proceedings filed by the Department, the mother voluntarily relinquished her parental rights to H.L. and H.P.L.[5]

         In July 2017, the trial court held an adversary hearing after which it issued a temporary order. The temporary order required T.L. to comply with the following actions in order to avoid the termination of his parental rights: submit to psychiatric or psychological evaluation and consultation, attend and participate in counseling sessions until released, successfully complete parenting classes, submit to and cooperate fully in a court-ordered drug and alcohol dependency assessment, submit to periodic drug testing, successfully complete a substance abuse treatment program, comply with each requirement in the Department's service plan and its amendments, and pay monthly child/medical support. T.L. attended the adversary proceeding with his attorney and signed the temporary order "as to form."

         At a status hearing attended by T.L. and his attorney in August, the trial court approved the Department's service plan incorporating the requirements set forth in its temporary order and made the service plan an order of the court.[6] The trial court specifically found that T.L. refused to review or sign the plan. At a status hearing attended by T.L. and his attorney in September, the trial court set a trial on the merits of the Department's petition for December 14, 2018. Neither he nor his attorney signed the resulting Permanency Hearing Order Before Final Order issued by the trial court.

         At the December trial on the merits, T.L. was not in attendance, but his attorney attended and participated in the proceedings on his behalf. The Department's evidence established that he did not initiate any of his court-ordered services, maintain any contact with the Department's caseworker, visit his children in more than a year, or pay any court-ordered child/medical support. Throughout the termination proceedings, he either failed his court-ordered drug screenings or he was a no-show.[7] He was also unemployed and failed to maintain stable housing throughout the proceedings. Furthermore, his own mother agreed with the Department's counsel's characterization of her son as a "drug addict."

         Soon after the removal, the Department placed the children with their paternal grandparents. The grandparents expressed an intent to adopt the children if their son's parental rights were terminated. The grandparents fed, clothed, and transported the children to and from school. They helped the children with their homework daily, and when necessary, assured that the children were tutored after school. During their time with their grandparents, the children bonded with them.

         The children's counselor testified that both children suffered from an adjustment disorder that required counseling.[8] Although the grandparents made their best effort to see that the children attended counseling sessions regularly, some appointments were missed due to an illness and transportation issues. Additionally, aside from placement with the children's grandparents, the Department had not explored placement with a non-relative family.

         In January 2019, the trial court issued its order finding by clear and convincing evidence that the termination of T.L.'s parental rights to H.L. and H.P.L. was warranted based on six different predicate grounds: (1) § 161.001(b)(1)(D) (knowingly placed or allowed the children to remain in conditions or surroundings which endangered the physical or emotional well-being of the children); (2) § 161.001(b)(1)(E) (knowingly endangered the children's physical and emotional well-being); (3) § 161.001(b)(1)(F) (failed to support the children); (4) § 161.001(b)(1)(N) (constructively abandoned the children); (5) § 161.001(b)(1)(O) (failed to take specified actions necessary for return of the children); and (6) § 161.001(b)(1)(P) (used a controlled substance in a manner ...


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