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In re C.R.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

December 9, 2019


          On Appeal from the 100th District Court Donley County, Texas Trial Court No. 7435, Honorable Stuart Messer, Presiding

          Before QUINN, C.J., and PIRTLE and PARKER, JJ.


          Brian Quinn, Chief Justice.

         Father of the child, C.R., appeals the order terminating his parental rights. Through a single issue, he contends the trial court lacked jurisdiction to enter the order. It purportedly lacked jurisdiction because trial had not commenced within the time period mandated by statute. We affirm.


         According to the appellate record, the Department of Family and Protective Services (the Department) filed an "Original Petition for Protection of a Child, for Conservatorship, and for Termination in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship." The document was filed marked June 4, 2018. Then, the trial court entered an order, signed June 4, 2018, naming the Department "temporary sole managing conservator of the child." That order contained the following recital: "On June 1, 2018, the Department . . . presented its Petition to the Court."

         Via an order signed on October 23, 2018, the trial court designated June 10, 2019, as the date on which suit would be dismissed if trial were not commenced by then. No one objected to that designation. Subsequently, the cause was set for a final hearing on June 7, 2019.

         On May 17, 2019, appellant filed a "Motion to Retain Suit on Court's Docket and Set New Dismissal Date." Therein, Father appellant alleged that the date the Court "rendered an order appointing the [Department] managing conservator" was "June 4, 2018," and that the "date for dismissal [was] June 10, 2019." He also moved for a continuance of the June 7th final hearing. However, the record fails to indicate whether the court acted upon either motion.

         The record does reflect, though, that on June 7th the court held "a Permanency Hearing Before Final Order" and extended its former dismissal date to December 4, 2019. So, too did it designate August 1, 2019, as the date for final hearing. On August 1, 2019, appellant filed his "Motion to Dismiss for Want of Jurisdiction and for Return of the Child." The proceeding was not dismissed. Rather, the trial court ordered that the parental relationship between Father and C.R. be terminated after Father, on August 1, 2019, tendered an "Affidavit of Voluntary Relinquishment of Parental Rights to the Department of Family and Protective Services." The order terminating the relationship was signed on August 14, 2019.

         Issue - Jurisdiction

         According to appellant, the Department was named temporary managing conservator of the child on June 1, 2018. Furthermore, statute required trial to commence by the Monday following the first anniversary date on which the Department was appointed conservator, unless the deadline was extended by the trial court within that one-year period. The following Monday after the first anniversary date was June 3, 2018. Because trial had not begun by June 3rd and any attempt to extend the deadline had not occurred until after June 3rd, the trial court allegedly lost jurisdiction over the proceeding on June 3rd. Thus, it could neither execute the June 7th order extending the dismissal deadline nor order termination of father's parental rights. We overrule the issue.

         As noted by appellant, section 263.401 of the Texas Family Code provided:

Unless the court has commenced the trial on the merits or granted an extension under Subsection (b) or (b-1), on the first Monday after the first anniversary of the date the court rendered a temporary order appointing the department as temporary managing conservator, the court's jurisdiction over the suit affecting the parent-child relationship filed by the department that requests termination of the parent-child relationship or requests that the department be named conservator of the child is terminated and the suit is automatically dismissed without a court order. Not later than the 60th day before the day the suit is automatically dismissed, the court shall notify all parties to the suit of the automatic dismissal date.

Tex. Fam Code Ann. § 263.401 (a) (West Supp. 2019) (emphasis added). Per that statute, dismissal could be avoided by commencing trial. Or, per § 263.401(b) of the Code, it could avoid dismissal by, among other things, rendering an order designating a "new dismissal date" within 180 days "after the time ...

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