Opinion Released December 21, 2017

In the Interest of A.M.L. & L.M.R., No. 13-17-00451-CV (Memorandum Opinion by Justice Rodriguez; Panel Members: Justices Benavides and Longoria)

In this appeal from an order terminating a mother’s parental rights, the Thirteenth Court of Appeals discussed the grounds for termination under the Texas Family Code.

Mother called 911 in 2015, admitting that she may have injured L.M.R. Deputy Brian Martin came to the scene to find several children in the front yard, one holding a baby. Mother stated that she threw L.M.R. into a cardboard box in the front yard, then threw her into the playpen. Mother had mental disabilities and suffered from severe panic attacks. She stated the was afraid she would hurt L.M.R. if she were not arrested. Mother was arrested and pleaded guilty to injury to a child, receiving probation. L.M.R. and A.M.L. were removed from the home.

The following month, in October 2015, the Department filed suit to terminate Mother’s parental rights. The trial court entered a family service plan, providing steps for Mother to regain custody of her children.

In January 2017, the Department amended its petition to terminate Mother’s rights to L.M.R. and A.M.L. as well as the relevant father’s rights. The Department claimed that Mother violated seven separate subsections of Texas Family Code Section 161.001, and that termination was in the children’s best interest. The trial court agreed, finding five different bases for termination: (1) knowingly allowing the children to be in surroundings dangerous to the children’s well-being; (2) engaging in conduct which endangers the children’s well-being; (3) executing an unrevoked or irrevocable affidavit of relinquishment; (4) having been convicted or placed on any form of probation for causing serious injury to a child; and (5) failing to comply with the terms of the service plan. The court terminated Mother’s rights.

Mother appealed, arguing that termination was erroneous because she substantially complied with the service plan.

Held: The family service plan was only one of the five independently sufficient bases for terminating Mother’s rights. The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

The Texas Family Code allows for the involuntary termination of parental rights if there is clear and convincing evidence to support one predicate finding under Section 161.001(1), and termination is in the child’s best interest. Consequently, when multiple predicate subsections are alleged, an appellant must attack all grounds or at a minimum, the best interest finding, to prevail on a sufficiency challenge. Here however, Mother attacked only one predicate subsection: her failure to comply with the service plan. Mother’s challenge would not succeed even if the failure to comply with the service plan were the only basis for termination because substantial compliance with a service plan is insufficient. Regardless, the court found four other bases which are independently sufficient to support the judgment. The order of termination was affirmed.

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