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In re J.M.L.T.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

July 31, 2019


          From the 285th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2018PA00621 Honorable Charles E. Montemayor, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Irene Rios, Justice Liza A. Rodriguez, Justice



         Appellants Janece and Daniel appeal the trial court's order terminating their parental rights to their child, J.M.L.T.[1] Both Janece and Daniel challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's finding that termination is in the child's best interest. We affirm.


         After J.M.L.T. tested positive for marijuana at birth in January 2018, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services ("the Department") removed J.M.L.T. from Janece's and Daniel's custody and placed her with Janece's mother. Janece's mother supervised Janece's and Daniel's visits with J.M.L.T. until March 2018, when Janece reported she and Daniel had a physical altercation while Janece was holding J.M.L.T. At that time, the Department removed J.M.L.T. from Janece's mother and filed a petition to terminate Janece's and Daniel's parental rights.

         The trial court held a bench trial on March 4, 2019. At the time of trial, J.M.L.T. was fourteen months old. Daniel appeared with counsel and announced "ready." Janece's counsel announced "not ready" because Janece was not present. The trial court overruled the "not ready" announcement, and Janece arrived approximately one hour later, explaining that she believed the trial was scheduled for later in the day. The trial court heard testimony from the three Department caseworkers who had been involved in the case, as well as Janece and Daniel.

         The Department was primarily concerned with Janece's and Daniel's routine drug use and history of domestic violence. The caseworkers testified both Janece and Daniel admitted to routine use of marijuana, including while in J.M.L.T.'s presence. Daniel also admitted to smoking a cocaine-laced cigarette while the case was pending. Both Janece and Daniel tested positive for marijuana during the pendency of the case, and both either failed to appear for or refused to submit to multiple drug tests. Janece did not "see any issue" with using marijuana and admitted she preferred using marijuana to taking her prescribed medications for various diagnosed mental illnesses.

         Regarding the allegations of domestic violence, Janece told caseworkers that physical violence was "just a normal part of [her] relationship" with Daniel, and "that's how they work things out." Janece told a caseworker she and Daniel "only push each other back and forth, like a push, and then the other one will push." Janece reported a specific incident in March 2018 when she and Daniel had a physical altercation involving "some pushing and shoving" while Janece was holding J.M.L.T. The Department confirmed Janece's reports of domestic violence with Janece's mother.

         During the time they worked with Family Based Services, Janece and Daniel were allowed to reside with J.M.L.T. under the supervision of Janece's mother. However, because of a violation of the safety plan, J.M.L.T. was removed and subsequently placed with her maternal great-aunt and great-uncle.

         After J.M.L.T. was removed from Janece's mother, both Janece and Daniel had appropriate visits with J.M.L.T. that went well, and a caseworker testified Daniel appeared "very bonded to" J.M.L.T. Both Janece and Daniel, however, "seemed to be in denial as to the reason for CPS involvement and did not fully engage" in the recommended services. Although both Janece and Daniel engaged in some services, neither completed their service plan. The caseworker assigned at the time of trial testified she believes Janece and Daniel have not demonstrated they can meet J.M.L.T.'s emotional and physical needs now or in the future, nor has either parent demonstrated any ability to parent or to address the reasons for removal.

         Janece testified she was unable to complete services because she has no family support and was homeless and "sleeping outside" for most of the time the case was pending. At the time of trial, however, Janece testified she had been employed full-time with a home health agency for one month and was living in a friend's trailer. A Department caseworker who visited the trailer reported it was cluttered, dirty, full of trash on the floor, and "stacked floor to ceiling with things that [Janece] said needed to be sold," including "four very huge truck tires in the living room." Janece, however, testified the trailer had been cleaned and organized by the time of trial. Janece also testified she was not currently using marijuana and disputed that she had ever admitted to using marijuana in J.M.L.T.'s presence. Janece stated she refused to submit to hair follicle drug tests because she did not want tufts of her hair removed.

         Daniel testified that at the time of trial, he was working sixty hours per week in hospice care, auto auctions, and in a warehouse, and he was living in a house with one of his hospice patients. Daniel testified he had not used drugs for over one month, explaining that he stopped using marijuana because it is so expensive. Daniel believes Janece is a "lovely" mother and disputes that he and Janece have a toxic relationship. Daniel also disputes that he and Janece have ever shoved or pushed each other.

         At six months old, J.M.L.T. was placed with her maternal great-aunt and great-uncle, who plan to adopt her. The caseworkers reported the great-aunt and great-uncle have an appropriate, clean home where J.M.L.T. can eventually have her own room and where there is ample food and running water. The great-aunt and great-uncle ensure J.M.L.T. receives prescribed nebulizer treatments and visits the doctor regularly to address her respiratory issues. The great-aunt and great-uncle are bonded with J.M.L.T. and are meeting her medical, physical, and emotional needs. The great-aunt expressed a desire to ...

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