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In re A.M.G.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Sixth District, Texarkana

September 27, 2019


          Submitted: September 26, 2019

          On Appeal from the 354th District Court Hunt County, Texas Trial Court No. 85846

          Before Morriss, C.J., Burgess and Stevens, JJ.



         On the petition of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (the Department), the trial court terminated Mother's parental rights to her daughter, Abigail, [1] after finding that: (1) Mother failed to comply with the provisions of a court order that specifically established the actions necessary for her to obtain the return of Abigail, who had been in the permanent or temporary managing conservatorship of the Department for not less than nine months as a result of her removal under Chapter 262 of the Texas Family Code for abuse or neglect and (2) termination of her parental rights was in the child's best interests. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(O), (2) (Supp. 2018).

         On appeal, Mother challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting both findings. We affirm the trial court's judgment because we conclude that it is supported by legally and factually sufficient evidence.

         I. Standard of Review

         "The natural right existing between parents and their children is of constitutional dimensions." Holick v. Smith, 685 S.W.2d 18, 20 (Tex. 1985). Indeed, parents have a fundamental right to make decisions concerning "the care, custody, and control of their children." Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65 (2000). "Because the termination of parental rights implicates fundamental interests, a higher standard of proof-clear and convincing evidence-is required at trial." In re A.B., 437 S.W.3d 498, 502 (Tex. 2014). This Court is therefore required to "engage in an exacting review of the entire record to determine if the evidence is . . . sufficient to support the termination of parental rights." Id. at 500. "[I]nvoluntary termination statutes are strictly construed in favor of the parent." In re S.K.A., 236 S.W.3d 875, 900 (Tex.App.-Texarkana 2007, pet. denied) (quoting Holick, 685 S.W.2d at 20).

         To terminate parental rights, the trial court must find, by clear and convincing evidence, that the parent has engaged in at least one statutory ground for termination and that termination is in the child's best interest. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001 (Supp.); In re E. N.C. , 384 S.W.3d 796, 798 (Tex. 2012). "Clear and convincing evidence" is that "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; see In re J.O.A., 283 S.W.3d 336, 344 (Tex. 2009). This standard of proof necessarily affects our review of the evidence.

         In our legal sufficiency review, we consider all the evidence in the light most favorable to the findings to determine whether the fact-finder reasonably could have formed a firm belief or conviction that the grounds for termination were proven. In re J.P.B., 180 S.W.3d 570, 573 (Tex. 2005) (per curiam); In re J.L.B., 349 S.W.3d 836, 846 (Tex.App.-Texarkana 2011, no pet.). We assume the trial court, acting as fact-finder, resolved disputed facts in favor of the finding, if a reasonable fact-finder could do so, and disregarded evidence that the fact-finder could have reasonably disbelieved or the credibility of which reasonably could be doubted. J.P.B., 180 S.W.3d at 573.

         In our review of factual sufficiency, we give due consideration to evidence the trial court could have reasonably found to be clear and convincing. In re H.R.M., 209 S.W.3d 105, 109 (Tex. 2006) (per curiam). We consider only that evidence that the fact-finder reasonably could have found to be clear and convincing and determine "whether the evidence is such that a fact[-]finder could reasonably form a firm belief or conviction about the truth of the . . . allegations." Id. (quoting In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 25 (Tex. 2002)); In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 264, 266 (Tex. 2002). "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." J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266. "[I]n making this determination, " we must undertake "an exacting review of the entire record with a healthy regard for the constitutional interests at stake." A.B., 437 S.W.3d at 503 (quoting C.H., 89 S.W.3d at 26).

         Despite the profound constitutional interests at stake in a proceeding to terminate parental rights, "the rights of natural parents are not absolute; protection of the child is paramount." In re A.V., 113 S.W.3d 355, 361 (Tex. 2003) (quoting In re J.W.T., 872 S.W.2d 189, 195 (Tex. 1994)); see In re M.S., 115 S.W.3d 534, 547 (Tex. 2003). "A child's emotional and physical interests must not be sacrificed merely to preserve parental rights." In re C.A.J., 459 S.W.3d 175, 179 (Tex.App.-Texarkana 2015, no pet.) (citing C.H., 89 S.W.3d at 26).

         II. The Evidence at Trial

         It was uncontested at trial that Mother tested positive for methamphetamine at the time of Abigail's removal. After an adversarial hearing, the trial court found that Mother had endangered Abigail's health or safety and entered a temporary order introduced by the Department at trial. As set out by the order, Mother was required to complete a drug and alcohol dependency assessment, psychiatric and psychological evaluations, an individual drug treatment program, individual counseling, and parenting classes. The trial court also ordered Mother to submit to random drug testing, remain drug-free, maintain steady income and stable housing, abstain from criminal activity, and provide proof of attendance at Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholic's Anonymous, or Celebrate Recovery. The order also required Mother to comply with ...

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