Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin
J. K., Appellant
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Appellee
THE DISTRICT COURT OF BELL COUNTY, 146TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT
NO. 296, 397-B, HONORABLE JACK WELDON JONES, JUDGE PRESIDING
Chief Justice Rose, Justices Kelly and Smith
appeals from a decree terminating her parental rights to her
children, B.B. and W.B. She asserts that legally insufficient
evidence supports the district court's findings that she
placed the children in a dangerous environment and that
termination was in their best interest. See Tex.
Fam. Code § 161.001(b)(1)(D), (2). We will affirm the
district court's decree of termination.
court may terminate parental rights if it finds that a
parent's acts or omissions satisfy at least one statutory
ground for termination and that termination is in the best
interest of the child. See id. § 161.001(b).
The petitioner bears the burden to prove both elements by
clear and convincing evidence. Id. "Clear and
convincing evidence" is a heightened burden of proof
that requires "the measure or 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." Id. § 101.007.
apply a standard of review on appeal that reflects this
burden of proof. When conducting a legal sufficiency review,
we examine "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.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256,
266 (Tex. 2002). Reviewing the evidence in the light
most favorable to the finding means that we assume the
factfinder resolved all disputed facts in favor of its
finding if a reasonable factfinder could do so. Id.
We must consider undisputed facts that do not support the
finding, but we otherwise "disregard all evidence that a
reasonable factfinder could have disbelieved or found to have
been incredible." Id. "Evidence is legally
sufficient if, viewing all the evidence in the light most
favorable to the fact-finding and considering undisputed
contrary evidence, a reasonable factfinder could form a firm
belief or conviction that the finding was true." In
re A.C., 560 S.W.3d 624, 631 (Tex. 2018).
first issue, J.K. challenges the legal sufficiency of the
district court's finding of a statutory ground for
termination. The district court found that her actions
satisfied Section 161.001(b)(1)(D), which permits termination
if a parent "knowingly placed or knowingly allowed the
child to remain in conditions or surroundings which endanger
the physical or emotional well-being of the child." Tex.
Fam. Code § 161.001(b)(1)(D). In this context,
"endanger" means "to expose to loss or injury;
to jeopardize." In re M.C., 917 S.W.2d 268, 269
(Tex. 1996) (per curiam) (quoting Texas Dep't of
Human Servs. v. Boyd, 727 S.W.2d 531, 533 (Tex. 1987)).
Endangerment requires "more than a threat of
metaphysical injury or the possible ill effects of a
less-than-ideal family environment," but it is not
necessary that the child actually suffer injury. In re E.
N.C. , 384 S.W.3d 796, 803 (Tex. 2012). Subsection D
focuses on the child's environment, which
"encompasses the suitability of the child's living
conditions and the conduct of parents or others in the
home." In re R.S.-T., 522 S.W.3d 92, 108-09
(Tex. App.-San Antonio 2017, no pet.). "Inappropriate,
abusive, or unlawful conduct by a parent or other persons who
live in the child's home can create an environment that
endangers the physical and emotional well-being of a child as
required for termination under subsection D." In re
J.E.M.M., 532 S.W.3d 874, 881 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th
Dist.] 2017, no pet.).
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (the
Department) sought termination based on J.K.'s
methamphetamine use and the children's exposure to
domestic violence. An affidavit executed by Department
caseworker Sean Dahlberg explained that the Department had
been involved with J.K. and the children's father
(Father), since December of 2017. In particular, the
Department asked J.K. to attend therapy and take random drug
tests. In the months prior to the children's removal in
February of 2018, J.K. took only one drug test. The test was
negative, but J.K. refused to take any further tests. Elaine
Mata, another Department caseworker, testified that J.K.
tested positive for methamphetamine twice after the
Department removed the children. J.K. denied using drugs at
any point, but the district court could reasonably disregard
her testimony and infer, based on her refusals and subsequent
positive drug tests, that she used methamphetamine while the
children were still in her home. See In re E.M., 494
S.W.3d 209, 222 (Tex. App.-Waco 2015, pet. denied) ("A
factfinder may reasonably infer from a parent's refusal
to take a drug test that the parent was using drugs.");
In re C.R., 263 S.W.3d 368, 374 (Tex. App.-Dallas
2008, no pet.) (same).
also described the incident that led to the children's
removal. In February of 2018, someone dialed 911 from
J.K.'s house and hung up without speaking. J.K. called
back soon afterwards "stuttering" that "he was
gone" and that police were not needed. Police officers
responded to the call anyway, but J.K. refused to let them
verify that the children were safe until her parents arrived.
During her testimony, J.K. did not dispute that domestic
violence had occurred in the home and agreed that W.B. was
struck during one such incident. However, she stressed that
she is no longer involved with Father. J.K. points to this
testimony as proof that the children would not be in danger
if they were returned to her. We must reject this argument
because when evaluating endangerment under Subsection D,
courts "consider the children's environment before
the Department obtained custody." See In re
J.E.M.M., 532 S.W.3d at 881.
all the evidence in the light most favorable to the finding,
the district court could have reasonably formed a firm belief
or conclusion that J.K. knowingly placed or knowingly allowed
the children to remain in a dangerous environment. See In
re D.M., 452 S.W.3d 462, 470 (Tex. App.-San Antonio
2014, no pet.) (stating that "parental illegal drug
use" supports conclusion of child endangerment); In
re G.M.G., 444 S.W.3d 46, 59 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th
Dist.] 2014, no pet.) ("Abusive or violent conduct can
produce a home environment that endangers a child's
well-being."). We conclude that legally sufficient
evidence supports the district court's endangerment
finding by clear and convincing evidence, and we overrule
J.K.'s first issue.
second issue, J.K. challenges the legal sufficiency of the
district court's finding that termination of her parental
rights was in the best interest of the children. We review ...