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In re Z.N.J.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

June 28, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF Z.N.J., A CHILD

          On Appeal from the 223rd District Court Gray County, Texas, Trial Court No. 39, 158; Honorable Jack M. Graham, Presiding

          Before QUINN, C.J., and PIRTLE and PARKER, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Patrick A. Pirtle Justice.

         Appellant, B.P., appeals from the trial court's Order of Termination severing her parental rights to her daughter, Z.N.J.[1] By a single issue, she challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's best interest finding. We affirm.

         Background

         When Z.N.J. was born in 2017, she tested positive for methamphetamine and was removed from B.P. by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. B.P. also tested positive for controlled substances during her pregnancy and at the time of Z.N.J.'s birth. The Department notified B.P. that the child would need to be placed with an appropriate family member. The child's maternal grandmother had a history with the Department and was ruled out as a placement. Instead, Z.N.J.'s paternal grandmother was found to be an appropriate placement. Later in the proceedings, Z.N.J. was placed with a paternal aunt and uncle who expressed interest in adopting her.

         At the conclusion of the final hearing, the trial court terminated B.P.'s parental rights on the following statutory grounds set forth in section 161.001(b)(1) of the Family Code: (D) (knowingly placed or allowed the child to remain in conditions or surroundings which endangered her well-being), (E) (engaged in conduct or knowingly placed the child with persons who engaged in conduct which endangered her well-being), and (O) (failed to comply with a court order that established the actions necessary for the parent to obtain the return of the child following her removal under chapter 262 of the Family Code). Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), & (O) (West Supp. 2018). The trial court also found that termination of B.P.'s parental rights was in her child's best interest. § 161.001(b)(2).

         Applicable Law

         The Texas Family Code permits a court to terminate the parent-child relationship if the Department establishes one or more acts or omissions enumerated under section 161.001(b)(1) of the Code and that termination of that relationship is in the child's best interest. See § 161.001(b)(1), (2). See also In re N.G., No. 18-0508, 2019 Tex. LEXIS 465, at *1 (Tex. May 17, 2019) (per curiam); Holley v. Adams, 544 S.W.2d 367, 370 (Tex. 1976). In parental termination cases, due process mandates that the Department establish its case by clear and convincing evidence. See In re N.G., 2019 Tex. LEXIS 465, at *7. See also § 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).

         Standard of Review

         The natural right existing between parents and their children is of constitutional magnitude. See Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 758-59, 102 S.Ct. 1388, 71 L.Ed.2d 599 (1982). See also Holick v. Smith, 685 S.W.2d 18, 20 (Tex. 1985). Consequently, termination proceedings are strictly construed in favor of the parent. In re E.R., 385 S.W.3d 552, 563 (Tex. 2012). Parental rights, however, are not absolute, and it is essential that the emotional and physical interests of a child not be sacrificed merely to preserve those rights. In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 26 (Tex. 2002). As previously stated, the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution and section 161.001 of the Texas Family Code require application of the heightened standard of clear and convincing evidence in cases involving involuntary termination of parental rights. See In re E. N.C. , 384 S.W.3d 796, 802 (Tex. 2012); In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 263 (Tex. 2002).

         In a legal sufficiency challenge, we credit evidence that supports the verdict if reasonable jurors could have done so and disregard contrary evidence unless reasonable jurors could not have done so. In re K.M.L., 443 S.W.3d 101, 112-13 (Tex. 2014). However, the reviewing court should not disregard undisputed facts that do not support the verdict to determine whether there is clear and convincing evidence. Id. at 113. In cases requiring clear and convincing evidence, even evidence that does more than raise surmise and suspicion will not suffice unless that evidence is capable of producing a firm belief or conviction that the allegation is true. Id. If, after conducting a legal sufficiency review, a court determines that no reasonable fact finder could form a firm belief or conviction that the matter that must be proven is true, then the evidence is legally insufficient. Id. (citing In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266).

         In a factual sufficiency review, a court of appeals must give due consideration to evidence that the fact finder could reasonably have found to be clear and convincing. In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266 (citing In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d at 25). In such a review, we must determine whether the evidence is such that a fact finder could reasonably form a firm belief or conviction about the truth of the Department's allegations. In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266. In doing so, we consider whether disputed evidence is such that a reasonable fact finder could not have resolved that disputed evidence in favor of its finding. If, in light of the entire record, the disputed evidence that a reasonable fact finder could not have credited in favor of the finding is so significant that a fact finder could not reasonably have formed a firm belief or conviction, then the evidence is factually insufficient. Id.

         Best ...


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