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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Based on a unanimous jury verdict, the trial court terminated the respondents’ parent-child relationship with S.A.P., their one-year-old son. Based on an estoppel defense that was neither pleaded nor submitted to the jury, a divided court of appeals reversed. HOLDING:Reversed and remanded. The court of appeals reversed based on identical letters Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services sent to each respondent within two weeks of S.A.P.’s birth that said, in part, “Agency staff has concluded that you did not have a role in the alleged abuse or neglect.” The court holds that any error in the trial court’s failure to dismiss the proceedings was not preserved. First, estoppel was never pleaded. Second, estoppel was never submitted to the jury. An unpleaded issue may be tried by consent, but it still must be submitted to the jury. Third, the letters did not conclusively estop the TDPRS from seeking termination. As the court of appeals noted, equitable estoppel generally does not apply to governmental entities. The court of appeals cited no case invoking the doctrine to prevent a state agency charged with protecting children from doing so. “Indeed, we have difficulty imagining how parents found by a jury to have endangered their children can have the”clean hands’ needed to estop such a finding.” Even if the doctrine might apply in some parental termination case, it cannot be applied conclusively here, the court decides. First, the TDPRS letters arguably relate only to a report of abuse on the day S.A.P. was born; they do not promise TDPRS would never attempt termination for conduct that occurred before or after that date or that related to the respondents’ other children. The grounds for termination answered affirmatively by the jury were broad enough to include all of the latter. Second, the letters promise only to destroy evidence in the agency’s files, not to refrain from using the same evidence from other sources. Third, the evidence of detrimental reliance, if any, was far from conclusive; the court notes that neither the court of appeals nor the respondents explain why their participation in counseling and other family support services was detrimental. OPINION:Per curiam.

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