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In re A.M.L.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

December 11, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF A.M.L., a Child

          From the 131st Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2018-PA-01252 Honorable Charles E. Montemayor, Judge Presiding

          Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Irene Rios, Justice Liza A. Rodriguez, Justice.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Irene Rios, Justice.

         Appellant Father appeals the trial court's order terminating his parental rights to his daughter, Amy.[1] The only issue presented by Father is whether the evidence is legally and factually sufficient to support the trial court's finding that termination is in the child's best interest. We affirm the trial court's order.

         Background

         On June 8, 2018, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services ("Department") filed a petition to terminate parental rights. The Department became involved with the family on May 11, 2018, when the Department received a report that Amy and Mother tested positive for methadone and heroin during Amy's delivery.

         The trial court held a bench trial on June 4, 2019, at which Father appeared in person and testified on his own behalf. The trial court also heard testimony from Department caseworker Kim Fitzgerald. Additionally, the trial court took judicial notice of the pleadings, service of process documents, court orders, and family service plans contained in the court's record.[2] On June 4, 2019, the trial court signed an order terminating Father's parental rights to Amy.

         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 evidence of three predicate grounds to terminate Father's parental rights.[3] The trial court also found termination of Father's parental rights was in the best interest of the child.

         When reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, we apply the well-established standards of review. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 101.007, 161.206(a); In re H.R.M., 209 S.W.3d 105, 108 (Tex. 2006) (factual sufficiency); In re J.P.B., 180 S.W.3d 570, 573 (Tex. 2005) (legal sufficiency). Further, in a trial to the bench, the trial court is the sole judge of the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given their testimony. Health Tronics, Inc. v. Lisa Laser USA, Inc., 382 S.W.3d 567, 582 (Tex. App.-Austin 2012, no pet.). This is because "the trial judge is best able to observe and assess the witnesses' demeanor and credibility, and to sense the 'forces, powers, and influences' that may not be apparent from merely reading the record on appeal." Coburn v. Moreland, 433 S.W.3d 809, 823 (Tex. App.-Austin 2014, no pet.) (quoting In re A.L.E., 279 S.W.3d 424, 427 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2009, no pet.)). We therefore defer to the trial court's judgment regarding credibility determinations. Id. at 823-24.

         Best Interests

         When considering the best interest of the child, we recognize the existence of a strong presumption that the child's best interest is served by preserving the parent-child relationship. In re R.R., 209 S.W.3d 112, 116 (Tex. 2006). However, we also presume that prompt and permanent placement of the child in a safe environment is in the child's best interest. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 263.307(a) (West 2014).

         In determining whether a child's parent is willing and able to provide the child with a safe environment, we consider the factors set forth in Family Code section 263.307(b). See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 263.307(b). We also apply the Holley factors to our analysis.[4] See Holley v. Adams, 544 S.W.2d 367, 371-72 (Tex. 1976). These factors are not exhaustive. In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 27 (Tex. 2002). "The absence of evidence about some of these considerations would not preclude a factfinder from reasonably forming a strong conviction or belief that termination is in the child's best interest, particularly if the evidence were undisputed that the parental relationship endangered the safety of the child." Id. In analyzing these factors, the court must focus on the best interest of the child, not the best interest of the parent. Dupree v. Tex. Dep't of Protective & Regulatory Servs., 907 S.W.2d 81, 86 (Tex. App.-Dallas 1995, no writ).

         Evidence that proves one or more statutory ground for termination may also constitute evidence illustrating that termination is in the child's best interest. In re C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 28 (Tex. 2002) (holding same evidence may be probative of both section 161.001(b)(1) grounds and best interest, but such evidence does not relieve the State of its burden to prove best interest). "A best interest analysis may consider circumstantial evidence, subjective factors, and the totality of the evidence as well as the direct evidence." See In re E.D., 419 S.W.3d 615, 620 (Tex. App.- San Antonio 2013, pet. denied). "A trier of fact ...


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