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In re S.M.P.M.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

November 13, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF S.M.P.M. and N.J.M., Jr., Children

          From the 288th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2018-PA-00964 Honorable Richard Garcia, Judge Presiding. [1]

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

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Beth Watkins, Justice.

         Appellant S.C. appeals the trial court's order terminating her parental rights to her children, S.M.P.M. and N.J.M., Jr. On appeal, SC contends the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court's finding that termination of her parental rights was in her children's best interests. We affirm the trial court's order of termination.

         Background

         S.C. gave birth to N.J.M., Jr. on April 30, 2018. The next day, Edward Gentry, a caseworker with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services ("the Department"), went to the hospital to see N.J.M., Jr. after receiving a report that N.J.M., Jr. displayed symptoms of drug exposure. When asked about her own positive drug test, SC denied using drugs during her pregnancy but told Gentry that cocaine was in her system because she had recently touched it. Gentry attempted to place N.J.M., Jr. and S.C.'s one-year-old daughter, S.M.P.M., with family, but none of S.C.'s family members could care for the children. The Department filed a petition to terminate S.C.'s parental rights and placed S.M.P.M. with a foster family. After his release from the hospital, the Department placed N.J.M., Jr. with the same foster family.

         The Department created a family service plan for S.C. During the pendency of this case, SC was twice arrested for possession of a controlled substance. Due to concerns regarding S.C.'s drug use, the Department pursued termination of S.C.'s parental rights.

         The trial court held a one-day bench trial at which S.C. appeared from prison by video conference. The trial court heard testimony from two Department caseworkers, the foster mother, and S.C. The trial court terminated S.C.'s parental rights, and this appeal followed.

         Analysis

         Standard of Review

         To terminate parental rights under section 161.001 of the Texas Family Code ("the Code"), the Department bears the burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence one of the predicate grounds in subsection 161.001(b)(1) and that termination is in the best interest of the child. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001; In re A.V., 113 S.W.3d 355, 362 (Tex. 2003). "Clear and convincing evidence" is defined as "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. Courts require this heightened standard of review because termination of a parent's rights to a child results in permanent and severe changes for both the parent and child, implicating due process concerns. In re E.A.G., 373 S.W.3d 129, 140 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2012, pet. denied).

         When reviewing the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence, we apply well-established standards of review. See Tex. Fam. Code §§ 101.007, 161.206(a); In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 263 (Tex. 2002). To determine whether the Department produced clear and convincing evidence, a legal sufficiency review requires us to "'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 finding was true.'" In re J.L., 163 S.W.3d 79, 85 (Tex. 2005) (quoting In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266). If the court "'determines [a] reasonable factfinder could form a firm belief or conviction that the matter that must be proven is true, '" the evidence is legally sufficient. Id. (quoting In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266).

         A factual sufficiency review requires us to also consider the disputed evidence. In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 266. We must consider whether disputed evidence is such that a reasonable fact finder could have resolved that disputed evidence in favor of its finding. Id. 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 the fact finder could not reasonably have formed a firm belief or conviction, then the evidence is factually insufficient. Id. Under both standards, the trial court is the sole judge of the weight and credibility of the evidence. In re E.X.G., No. 04-18-00659-CV, 2018 WL 6516057, at *1 (Tex. App.-San Antonio Dec. 12, 2018, pet denied) (mem. op.).

         Applicabl ...


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