Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo
Appeal from the 154th District Court Lamb County, Texas Trial
Court No. DCV19960-18, Honorable Kara L. Darnell, Associate
CAMPBELL and PIRTLE and PARKER, JJ.
C. PARKER JUSTICE.
accelerated appeal, appellant, Mother,  seeks reversal of
the judgment terminating her parental rights to her child,
A.R.M.K., and appointing the Texas Department of Family and
Protective Services as permanent managing conservator of the
child. In four issues, Mother argues that the affidavit
relinquishing her parental rights is invalid, the affidavit
was obtained as a result of fraud, there is insufficient
evidence that termination is in the best interest of the
child, and the court erred in appointing the Department as
the permanent managing conservator. For the reasons set forth
below, we affirm the judgment.
of 2018, the Department brought this suit on behalf of
two-month-old A.R.M.K. after allegations of domestic
violence, drug use, and medical neglect of A.R.M.K. were
investigated by the Department. The petition requested that
the Department be appointed temporary managing conservator of
A.R.M.K. The trial court entered temporary orders naming the
Department temporary managing conservator. The Department
eventually determined that reunification of A.R.M.K. with
Mother was not feasible and pursued a petition to terminate
the parent-child relationship.
final hearing in this matter was set for April 12, 2019.
Before the hearing commenced, Mother signed an irrevocable
affidavit of relinquishment to A.R.M.K. The affidavit was
signed before two witnesses and Mother's attorney. In
addition, a notary public acknowledged the affidavit. Mother
was not present at the termination hearing.
Department caseworker testified that the affidavit of
relinquishment was "signed in conjunction with a
post-adoption agreement that has been made by the
parents" with the paternal aunt and "[the
affidavits] were reviewed with the parents by their
respective attorneys." The caseworker did not have any
reason to believe that the affidavit was not signed freely
and voluntarily. According to the caseworker, it is in the
best interest of A.R.M.K. that the parental rights be
terminated because the paternal aunt "is willing to be a
long-term placement for [A.R.M.K.] that is a stable
environment." The trial court signed an order
terminating Mother's parental rights based on its
findings that Mother voluntarily executed the affidavit and
termination was in the best interest of the child. The trial
court designated the Department as the managing conservator
weeks later, Mother filed a motion for new trial claiming
ineffective assistance of counsel and challenging the legal
and factual sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial
court's judgment. The trial court held a hearing on the
motion. However, Mother did not testify at the hearing or
present any evidence challenging the validity of the
affidavit of relinquishment. After hearing evidence, the
associate judge denied the motion.
then filed this appeal. By her appeal, Mother presents four
issues. Mother argues that the affidavit of relinquishment is
invalid because her lawyer served as the notary, the
affidavit was obtained as the result of fraud, there is
insufficient evidence that termination is in the best
interest of A.R.M.K., and the judge erred in appointing the
Department as the permanent managing conservator of A.R.M.K.
termination of parental rights is a serious proceeding
implicating fundamental constitutional rights. Holick v.
Smith, 685 S.W.2d 18, 20 (Tex. 1985). A parent's
right to the "companionship, care, custody, and
management" of his or her child is a constitutional
interest "far more precious than any property
right." Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S.
745, 758-59, 102 S.Ct. 1388, 71 L.Ed.2d 599 (1982); see
In re M.S., 115 S.W.3d 534, 547 (Tex. 2003).
Consequently, we strictly scrutinize termination proceedings
and strictly construe the involuntary termination statutes in
favor of the parent. Holick, 685 S.W.2d at 20.
However, "the rights of natural parents are not
absolute" and "[t]he rights of parenthood are
accorded only to those fit to accept the accompanying
responsibilities." In re A.V., 113 S.W.3d 355,
361 (Tex. 2003) (citing In re J.W.T., 872 S.W.2d
189, 195 (Tex. 1993)). Recognizing that a parent may forfeit
his or her parental rights by his or her acts or omissions,
the primary focus of a termination suit is protection of the
child's best interest. In re T.G.R.-M., 404
S.W.3d 7, 12 (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] 2013, no pet.).
reviewing the legal sufficiency of the evidence in a
termination case, the appellate court should look at all the
evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court's
finding "to determine whether a reasonable trier of fact
could have formed a firm belief or conviction that its
finding was true." In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256,
266 (Tex. 2002). To give appropriate deference to the
factfinder's conclusions, we must assume that the
factfinder resolved disputed facts in favor of its finding if
a reasonable factfinder could do so. Id. We
disregard all evidence that a reasonable factfinder could
have disbelieved or found to have been not credible, but we
do not disregard undisputed facts. Id. Even evidence
that does more than raise surmise or suspicion is not
sufficient unless that evidence is capable of producing a
firm belief or conviction that the allegation is true. In
re K.M.L., 443 S.W.3d 101, 113 (Tex. 2014). If, after
conducting a legal sufficiency review, we determine that no
reasonable factfinder could have formed a firm belief or
conviction that the matter that must be proven was true, then
the evidence is legally insufficient and we must reverse.
Id. (citing In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at
factual sufficiency review, we must give due consideration to
evidence that the factfinder could reasonably have found to
be clear and convincing. In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at
266. We must determine whether the evidence is such that a
factfinder could reasonably form a firm belief or conviction
about the truth of the Department's allegations.
Id. We must also consider whether disputed evidence
is such that a reasonable factfinder could not have resolved
the disputed evidence in favor of its finding. Id.
If, in light of the entire record, the disputed evidence that
a reasonable factfinder could not have credited in ...