S.M.S., S.L., and A.L.
from Houston Juvenile Court (JU-17-494.01 and JU-17-495.01)
Shumate, Dothan, for appellant.
Gregory B. McCain, Dothan, for appellees S.L. and A.L.
October 13, 2017, D.K. ("the maternal grandfather")
filed in the Houston Juvenile Court ("the juvenile
court") petitions seeking to terminate the parental
rights of S.M.S. ("the father") to the father's
two surviving minor children ("the children"). In
those petitions, the maternal grandfather alleged that the
father had murdered the children's mother, K.A.S., and
the children's sibling, Z.L.S., in February 2013. The
maternal grandfather alleged in his October 13, 2017,
petitions that he wanted to adopt the children.
amended petitions filed in December 2017, the maternal
grandfather alleged that he shared joint legal custody of the
children with S.L. and A.L., who are the children's
paternal aunt and uncle, that he has physical custody of the
children, and that the paternal aunt and uncle had been
awarded rights of visitation with the children. The record
contains a November 3, 2016, judgment corroborating the
maternal grandfather's allegations regarding the custody
arrangement. The maternal grandfather did not name the
paternal aunt and uncle as defendants in his
termination-of-parental-rights actions, but, in amended
petitions, he stated that the paternal aunt and uncle were
"parties." The father was served with process of
the maternal grandfather's actions in October 2017.
October 2017, an attorney filed on behalf of the paternal
aunt a notice of appearance in the
termination-of-parental-rights actions. On December 22, 2017,
the juvenile court entered orders finding that the paternal
aunt did not have standing to be a party to the termination
actions, and it directed the juvenile-court clerk to remove
the paternal aunt's attorney from receiving further
notices from the court in the two termination actions. On
that same date, the juvenile court entered two other orders
in which it set aside the first orders entered earlier on
December 22, 2017. Later, the paternal aunt's attorney
also filed a notice of appearance on behalf of the paternal
termination-of-parental-rights actions were stayed pending
the resolution of criminal charges against the father. In
February 2019, the father was convicted on two counts of
capital murder pertaining to his killing of the
children's mother and the children's sibling. The
father was sentenced to incarceration for life without the
possibility of parole. In the juvenile court, the stays in
the termination-of-parental-rights actions were lifted, and
the juvenile court scheduled a hearing on the merits of those
actions for April 4, 2019.
juvenile court granted a motion to continue the hearing, and
it rescheduled the ore tenus hearing on the maternal
grandfather's petitions for May 2, 2019. On the second
scheduled date for the termination-of-parental-rights
hearing, May 2, 2019, the paternal aunt and uncle filed in
the juvenile court "answers" in opposition to the
maternal grandfather's petitions seeking to terminate the
father's parental rights. In those filings, the paternal
aunt and uncle stated, among other things, that, as joint
legal custodians of the children, they "objected"
to the termination-of-parental-rights actions and
"den[ied] the material allegations of the [petitions, as
amended,] and demand[ed] strict proof thereof."
paternal aunt and uncle and the maternal grandfather attended
the ore tenus hearing that same date. The father was
incarcerated and not present at the
hearing, but he was represented by an attorney. At the
termination hearing, the paternal aunt and uncle objected to
the termination actions, arguing, among other things, that
the termination of the father's parental rights might
impact their rights as joint legal custodians of the
children. The maternal grandfather argued that his petitions
sought only to terminate the parental rights of the father
and did not impact the joint-legal-custody rights of the
paternal aunt and uncle.
2, 2019, the juvenile court entered orders noting that,
during the hearing, the paternal aunt and uncle had orally
moved to dismiss the termination-of-parental-rights actions.
In its May 2, 2019, orders, the juvenile court specified that
the paternal aunt and uncle, the maternal grandfather, and
the father should submit briefs on their positions on the
motion to dismiss filed by the paternal aunt and uncle, and
they all did so.
2, 2019, the juvenile court entered judgments granting the
paternal aunt and uncle's motion to dismiss the maternal
grandfather's termination-of-parental-rights actions. The
maternal grandfather timely appealed ...