Robert O. Dawson
Bryant Smith Chair in Law
University of Texas School of Law
2001 Case Summaries 2000 Case Summaries 1999 Case Summaries
Evidence factually sufficient to support
removal from home findings at disposition (99-3-19)
On July 8, 1999, the El Paso Court of Appeals held that the evidence of lack of supervision in the juvenile’s home supported factually the juvenile court’s findings required to remove the juvenile from his home and commitment him to the TYC.
99-3-19. In the Matter of M.A.C., ___ S.W.2d ___, No. 08-98-00132-CV, 1999 WL 486649, 1999 Tex.App.Lexis ___ (Tex.App.-El Paso 7/8/99)[Texas Juvenile Law (4th Ed. 1996)]
Facts: See 99-3-18 for statement of facts.
Opinion Text: In Point of Error No. Two, M.A.C. alleges that the evidence is factually insufficient to support the juvenile court's findings underlying the disposition order, and therefore, the court abused its discretion in committing him to TYC. M.A.C. is correct that a juvenile court's disposition order is reviewable both for sufficiency of the evidence supporting the necessary findings and an abuse of discretion. It is well established that the juvenile court's findings of fact are reviewable for legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence to support them by the same standards as are applied in reviewing the legal or factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting a jury's answers to a charge. A.S., 954 S.W.2d at 861; In the Matter of J.P.O., 904 S.W.2d 695, 699-700 (Tex.App.--Corpus Christi 1995, writ denied). Further, we do not disturb the juvenile court's disposition order in the absence of an abuse of discretion. A.S., 954 S.W.2d at 861; In the Matter of E.F., 535 S.W.2d 213, 215 (Tex.Civ.App.--Corpus Christi 1976, no writ). In conducting this review, we engage in a two-pronged analysis: (1) Did the trial court have sufficient information upon which to exercise its discretion; and (2) Did the trial court err in its application of discretion? Leibman v. Grand, 981 S.W.2d 426, 429 (Tex.App.--El Paso 1998, no pet.); Lindsey v. Lindsey, 965 S.W.2d 589, 591 (Tex.App.--El Paso 1998, no pet.). The traditional sufficiency of the evidence review, articulated below, comes into play when considering the first question. Leibman, 981 S.W.2d at 429-30; Lindsey, 965 S.W.2d at 591. We then proceed to determine whether, based on the elicited evidence, the trial court made a reasonable decision or whether it is arbitrary and unreasonable. Leibman, 981 S.W.2d at 430; Lindsey, 965 S.W.2d at 591. The question is not whether, in the opinion of the reviewing court, the facts present an appropriate case for the trial court's action, but whether the court acted without reference to any guiding rules and principles. Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 242 (Tex.1985), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1159, 106 S.Ct. 2279, 90 L.Ed.2d 721 (1986); Leibman, 981 S.W.2d at 530; Lindsey, 965 S.W.2d at 591. The mere fact that a trial judge may decide a matter within his discretionary authority in a different manner than an appellate judge in a similar circumstance does not demonstrate that an abuse of discretion has occurred. Southwestern Bell Telephone Company v. Johnson, 389 S.W.2d 645, 648 (Tex.1965); Leibman, 981 S.W.2d at 530; Lindsey, 965 S.W.2d at 592.
M.A.C. challenges only the factual sufficiency of the evidence to support the juvenile court's findings. In reviewing this factual sufficiency challenge, we view all of the evidence but do not view it in the light most favorable to the challenged findings. See A.S., 954 S.W.2d at 860; R.X.F. v. State, 921 S.W.2d 888, 900 (Tex.App.--Waco 1996, no writ); see also Clewis v. State, 922 S.W.2d 126, 129 (Tex.Crim.App.1996). Only if the finding is so contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence as to be clearly wrong and unjust will we conclude that the evidence is factually insufficient. See A.S., 954 S.W.2d at 860; R.X.F., 921 S.W.2d at 900, citing Cain v. Bain, 709 S.W.2d 175, 176 (Tex.1986) and Clewis, 922 S.W.2d at 129.
The juvenile court's exercise of discretion in making an appropriate disposition is guided by the requirements of Section 54.04 of the Family Code. A.S., 954 S.W.2d at 861. Section 54.04(c) provides that the trial court may not make a disposition placing a juvenile outside of his home unless the court finds that the child, in the child's home, cannot be provided the quality of care and level of support and supervision that the child needs to meet the conditions of probation. Tex.Fam.Code Ann. § 54.04(c). Further, in order to commit a child to the Texas Youth Commission, the court must additionally find and state in its disposition order that placement outside of the child's home is in the child's best interest and that reasonable efforts were made to prevent or eliminate the need for the child's removal from the home. Tex.Fam.Code Ann. § 54.04(i). M.A.C. challenges the factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting each of these findings.
We will first consider the evidence offered by the State. M.A.C. resided in his mother's home along with three of his siblings. O.G. divorced or separated from M.A.C.'s father because he had been physically abusive of both her and the children. The couple had been separated for fifteen months at the time of Barrera's pre-disposition report. O.G. reported to Barrera that M.A.C. did not comply with the regulations of her home and she did not have control over him. Although M.A.C. completed elementary school and two years at Escuela Secundaria Tecnica # 60, he had not attended school during the previous year. O.G. had enrolled M.A.C. in two different schools but he refused to attend. Despite a curfew set by O.G., M.A.C. often arrived home after his curfew and on other occasions he did not come home at all. O.G. was unaware that M.A.C. had taken her border crossing card and had it in his possession when detained in connection with this case. The evidence also showed that M.A.C. had been referred to the Juvenile Detention Home in Cuidad Juarez for a graffiti offense where he remained in custody for a few days until his father took custody of him. Because M.R.C. had reportedly been out of town, Barrera did not interview him until after the pre-disposition report had been completed. Barrera spoke with Rosa Maria Aguirre, the Director of the Mexican National Children's Program. She believed it would be difficult for M.A.C. to be in the program given the parents' lack of control, and consequently, she had not agreed to accept him.
M.A.C. offered his own testimony as well as that of both parents. O.G. denied telling Barrera that she lacked control of her son. Instead, she only told Barrera that M.A.C. sometimes came home a little late. M.A.C. always reported to her where he was going and he asked permission before spending the night with friends. M.A.C. also helped her with the housework. O.G. further disputed telling Barrera that M.A.C. refused to attend school. According to her, they were looking for a technical school to enhance M.A.C.'s ability to find employment. O.G. did not know that M.A.C. had been ordered to perform community service in connection with his referral for the graffiti offense in Cuidad Juarez or that he had failed to complete it.
M.R.C. told the juvenile court that M.A.C. always obeyed him and he would be willing to take responsibility for his son if he were released to the Mexican National Children's Program. M.R.C., a dietician for a day care center in Cuidad Juarez, lives along with his brother and another person in an apartment connected to his parents' home. M.R.C.'s parents and older brothers live in the other part of the home. One of M.R.C.'s brothers is a heroin addict and is currently undergoing treatment. After they completed an addition, there would be room for M.A.C. in the apartment. M.R.C. knew that M.A.C. had failed to complete the community service ordered in connection with the graffiti offense. He did not ensure that M.A.C. finished his community service because he had been out of town on a work-related matter and then he had gone on vacation with his other children.
M.A.C. told the juvenile court that he generally obeyed his mother. He admitted that he had not completed the community service ordered in connection with the graffiti offense. M.A.C. promised that if placed in the Mexican National Children's Program he would obey his parents, enroll in school, and abide by the rules of the program.
M.A.C. relies on In the Matter of A.S. to support his argument that the evidence is factually insufficient to support the challenged findings. Although there are some factual similarities between the two cases, A.S. is distinguishable in all relevant respects. The record in A.S. contained no evidence to establish that reasonable efforts had been made to prevent or eliminate the need for A.S.'s removal from the home. A.S., 954 S.W.2d at 862-63. Here, the juvenile probation officer spoke with the director of the Mexican National Children's Program about M.A.C. but determined that he did not qualify for the program due to a lack of parental control and supervision. In A.S., unlike the instant case, the evidence supported the juvenile probation officer's conclusion that A.S.'s mother had adequate control over her children and could provide the level of care and support that is necessary to meet the terms of juvenile probation. Id. at 863. Although both parents denied a lack of control over M.A.C., the evidence supports a contrary conclusion. Given the facts in A.S., we concluded that the evidence did not support the finding that placement outside of the home was in A.S.'s best interest. Id. Since placement in the home of either of his parents is inappropriate, and consequently, M.A.C. could not be placed in the Mexican National Children's Program, M.A.C.'s need for rehabilitation could only be met by commitment to TYC. In light of these facts, the trial court's finding that commitment to TYC is in M.A.C.'s best interest is not contrary to the great weight and preponderance of the evidence. Finding no abuse of discretion, Point of Error No. Two is overruled.
2001 Case Summaries 2000 Case Summaries 1999 Case Summaries