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In re J.C.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler

August 21, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF J.C., JR., A CHILD

          Appeal from the 411th District Court of Trinity County, Texas (Tr.Ct.No. 22809)

          Panel consisted of Worthen, C.J., Hoyle, J., and Neeley, J.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES T. WORTHEN CHIEF JUSTICE

         J.C. and M.D. appeal the termination of their parental rights. In three and two issues, respectively, J.C. and M.D. challenge the termination of their parental rights. We reverse and remand.

         Background

         J.C. is the father and M.D. is the mother of J.C., Jr. On March 6, 2018, the Department of Family and Protective Services (the Department) filed an original petition for protection of J.C., Jr., for conservatorship, and for termination of J.C.'s and M.D.'s parental rights. Both parents filed an original answer within the month through separate attorneys. Although there is no order in the record, one of the Department's status reports to the court noted that it was appointed temporary managing conservator of the child on March 6, 2018.

         At the conclusion of the trial on the merits, the trial court found, by clear and convincing evidence, that J.C. engaged in one or more of the acts or omissions necessary to support termination of his parental rights under subsection (O) of Texas Family Code Section 161.001(b)(1). The trial court also found that termination of the parent-child relationship between J.C. and J.C., Jr. was in the child's best interest. Based on these findings, the trial court ordered that the parent-child relationship between J.C. and J.C., Jr. be terminated.

         Additionally, the trial court found, by clear and convincing evidence, that M.D. engaged in one or more of the acts or omissions necessary to support termination of her parental rights under subsection (O) of Texas Family Code Section 161.001(b)(1). The trial court also found that termination of the parent-child relationship between M.D. and J.C., Jr. was in the child's best interest. Based on these findings, the trial court ordered that the parent-child relationship between M.D. and J.C., Jr. be terminated. This appeal followed.

         Termination of Parental Rights

         Involuntary termination of parental rights embodies fundamental constitutional rights. Vela v. Marywood, 17 S.W.3d 750, 759 (Tex. App.-Austin 2000), pet. denied per curiam, 53 S.W.3d 684 (Tex. 2001); In re J.J., 911 S.W.2d 437, 439 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 1995, writ denied). Because a termination action "permanently sunders" the bonds between a parent and child, the proceedings must be strictly scrutinized. Wiley v. Spratlan, 543 S.W.2d 349, 352 (Tex. 1976); In re Shaw, 966 S.W.2d 174, 179 (Tex. App.-El Paso 1998, no pet.).

         Section 161.001 of the family code permits a court to order termination of parental rights if two elements are established. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001 (West Supp. 2018); In re J.M.T., 39 S.W.3d 234, 237 (Tex. App.-Waco 1999, no pet.). First, the parent must have engaged in any one of the acts or omissions itemized in the second subsection of the statute. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1) (West Supp. 2018); Green v. Tex. Dep't of Protective & Regulatory Servs., 25 S.W.3d 213, 219 (Tex. App.-El Paso 2000, no pet.); In re J.M.T., 39 S.W.3d at 237. Second, termination must be in the best interest of the child. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(2) (West Supp. 2018); In re J.M.T., 39 S.W.3d at 237. Both elements must be established by clear and convincing evidence, and proof of one element does not alleviate the petitioner's burden of proving the other. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001; Wiley, 543 S.W.2d at 351; In re J.M.T., 39 S.W.3d at 237.

         The clear and convincing standard for termination of parental rights is both constitutionally and statutorily mandated. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001; In re J.J., 911 S.W.2d at 439. 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." Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 101.007 (West 2019). The burden of proof is upon the party seeking the deprivation of parental rights. In re J.M.T., 39 S.W.3d at 240.

         Standard of Review

         When confronted with both a legal and factual sufficiency challenge, an appellate court must first review the legal sufficiency of the evidence. Glover v. Tex. Gen. Indem. Co., 619 S.W.2d 400, 401 (Tex. 1981); In re M.D.S., 1 S.W.3d 190, 197 (Tex. App.-Amarillo 1999, no pet.). In conducting a legal sufficiency review, we must look at all the evidence in the light most favorable to the finding to determine whether a reasonable trier of fact could have formed a firm belief or conviction that its findings were true. In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 266 (Tex. 2002). We must assume that the fact finder settled disputed facts ...


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