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In re E.F.Z.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

August 28, 2019

IN RE E.F.Z. and L.G.Z., Children

          From the 45th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2017-PA-01600 Honorable Richard Garcia, Judge Presiding [1]

          Sitting: Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice, Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice Beth Watkins, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BETH WATKINS, JUSTICE

         H.H. appeals the trial court's order terminating her parental rights to E.F.Z. and L.G.Z. On appeal, H.H. challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's findings on the predicate statutory grounds for termination and that termination is in the children's best interest. We affirm the trial court's order.

         Background

         On July 20, 2017, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services filed a petition to terminate H.H.'s parental rights to E.F.Z. and L.G.Z. On January 9, 2019, and February 5, 2019, a bench trial was held. At the time of the trial, E.F.Z. was seven, and L.G.Z. was six.

         At the conclusion of the bench trial, the trial court terminated H.H.'s parental rights on five grounds. H.H. timely filed this appeal.

         Standard of Review and Statutory Requirements

         To terminate parental rights pursuant to section 161.001 of the Texas Family Code, the Department has the burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence: (1) one of the predicate grounds in subsection 161.001(b)(1); and (2) that termination is in the best interest of the child. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 161.001, 161.206(a); In re A.V., 113 S.W.3d 355, 362 (Tex. 2003). In this case, the trial court found clear and convincing evidence of the following five predicate grounds under subsection 161.001(b)(1) to terminate H.H.'s parental rights: (1) voluntarily left the children alone in the possession of another without providing adequate support of the children and remained away for a period of at least six months; (2) knowingly placed or knowingly allowed the children to remain in conditions or surroundings which endangered the physical or emotional well-being of the children; (3) engaged in conduct or knowingly placed the children with persons who engaged in conduct which endangered the children's physical or emotional well-being; (4) failed to support the children in accordance with H.H.'s ability during the period of one year ending within six months of the date of the filing of the petition; and (5) failed to comply with a court-ordered service plan. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 161.001(b)(1)(C), (D), (E, ) (F), (O). The trial court also found clear and convincing evidence that terminating H.H.'s parental rights was in the children's best interest.

         We evaluate the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's findings under the standards of review established by the Texas Supreme Court in In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 266-67 (Tex. 2002). Under these standards, "[t]he trial court is the sole judge of the weight and credibility of the evidence, including the testimony of the Department's witnesses." In re F.M., No. 04-16-00516-CV, 2017 WL 393610, at *4 (Tex. App.-San Antonio Jan. 30, 2017, no pet.) (mem. op.).

         Predicate Statutory Grounds

         Because termination under section 161.001(b)(1)(D) or (E) may have implications for a parent's parental rights to other children, appellate courts are mandated to address issues raised on appeal challenging a trial court's findings under those subsections. In re N.G., No. 18-0508, 2019 WL 2147263, at *4 (Tex. May 17, 2019). "[T]he evidence concerning [those] two statutory grounds for termination is interrelated." In re J.T.G., 121 S.W.3d 117, 126 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2003, no pet.). Accordingly, we can consolidate our analysis of both grounds. See id.

         Section 161.001(b)(1)(D) allows a trial court to terminate parental rights if it finds by clear and convincing evidence that the parent has "knowingly placed or knowingly allowed the child to remain in conditions or surroundings which endanger the physical or emotional well-being of the child." Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(D). Under subsection D, the trial court examines "evidence related to the environment of the children to determine if the environment was the source of endangerment to the children's physical or emotional well-being," although parental conduct can be a factor that contributes to this environment. In re J.T.G., 121 S.W.3d at 125. "'Environment' refers to the acceptability of living conditions, as well as a parent's conduct in the home." In re S.R., 452 S.W.3d 351, 360 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2014, pet. denied). "A child is endangered when the environment creates a potential for danger that the parent is aware of but consciously disregards." Id. "[A] parent need not know for certain that the child is in an endangering environment; awareness of such a potential is sufficient." In re R.S.-T., 522 S.W.3d 92, 109 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2017, no pet.) (internal quotation omitted). Subsection D permits termination based upon only a single act or omission. Id.

         Section 161.001(b)(1)(E) allows a trial court to terminate a parent's rights if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the parent "engaged in conduct or knowingly placed the child with persons who engaged in conduct which endangers the physical or emotional well-being of the child." Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(E). Under subsection E, the trial court is asked to determine whether there is evidence that a parent's acts, omissions, or failures to act endangered the child's physical or emotional well-being. See In re J.T.G., 121 S.W.3d at 125. Under subsection E, our analysis may not rest on a single act or omission; it ...


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