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2019: A BIG Year at FHMBK. Here are the highlights…





Fanning Harper Martinson Brandt & Kutchin is pleased to share a look at the successes, victories, and honors earned by our attorneys in representing you this past year. We are grateful for the confidence you place in us and look forward to working with you in 2020 and beyond.


THOMAS P. BRANDT, LAURA O’LEARY, and CHRISTOPHER BRANDT obtained a significant victory in the Texas Supreme Court which benefits governmental entities throughout the state. The Supreme Court held that governmental entities can assert governmental immunity by means of a no-evidence motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Court also held that the Texas Open Meetings Act does not waive governmental immunity for declaratory relief. For more details, click here.


THOMAS P. BRANDT, LAURA O’LEARY, and STEPHEN D. HENNINGER obtained an appellate victory in a Section 1983 suit against a north Texas city and several of its police officers. Plaintiff was a student at a high school who brought a homemade device to school. Several teachers became concerned by the device and called the local police. When the Plaintiff failed to adequately explain why he had brought the device to school, he was arrested on a hoax bomb charge and briefly detained at police headquarters. Although the charges were ultimately dropped, Plaintiff sued the city and several police officers, asserting that his right to be free from unlawful arrest had been violated. The city and police officers filed motions to dismiss, and the district court granted the motions and dismissed all of Plaintiff’s claims against all Defendants. Plaintiff appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court, finding that all of Plaintiff’s claims against the city and officers had been properly dismissed.

THOMAS P. BRANDT and STEPHEN D. HENNINGER obtained an appellate victory in a Title IX case involving allegations of sexual assault and retaliation. FHMBK obtained a jury trial victory for the school district. Plaintiff appealed the case to the United State Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The Fifth Circuit affirmed FHMBK’s victory in a published opinion on March 4, 2019.

THOMAS P. BRANDT and CAROLINE SILEO successfully defended a county sheriff and two investigators in an appeal by a prisoner of the summary judgment FHMBK obtained for the defendants in the district court. The prisoner alleged various state and civil rights claims against the Defendants stemming from incidents surrounding his criminal conviction for shooting and killing his father. FHMBK filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that the Defendants were entitled to the dismissal of the prisoner’s claims. The district court agreed and dismissed the claims with prejudice. The prisoner appealed, asserting that the district court had abused its discretion and that it had erred in granting the motion for summary judgment. The Twelfth Court of Appeals disagreed with the prisoner and affirmed the district court’s granting of summary judgment.


THOMAS P. BRANDT and JOHN D. HUSTED successfully defended an east Texas county against numerous federal claims brought by a resident after his arrest and detention in the county jail. The Plaintiff brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas alleging that the county violated his federal equal protection rights, participated in a conspiracy to violate his constitutional rights, was deliberately indifferent to his medical needs while in custody, and that it violated his privacy rights under the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. FHMBK moved for dismissal of the Plaintiff’s claims against the county. The district court granted the motion and dismissed all claims against the county.


THOMAS P. BRANDT and LAURA O’LEARY obtained a victory in a lawsuit alleging claims for race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII. The Plaintiff alleged that a school district discriminated against her by preventing her from serving as a substitute teacher at one of the district’s campuses. The trial court granted the school district’s motion to dismiss in its entirety. The court held that the Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies and failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted with respect to her allegations of race discrimination and retaliation.

THOMAS P. BRANDT and FRANK VALENZUELA prevailed on a case filed by the parents of a middle school student in federal court in Austin, Texas, asserting Title IX, federal constitutional, and state constitutional claims against a school district. The claims concerned an alleged instance of inappropriate physical contact by a teacher and the removal of the student from the teacher’s class. The school district filed a motion to dismiss on all of the claims, and the court granted the motion.

THOMAS P. BRANDT and JOHN D. HUSTED successfully defended a major Texas county, its sheriff, and an investigating officer against U.S. and Texas constitutional claims of unlawful search and seizure and due process violations brought by a company operating a business in the county that is alleged to have engaged in illegal gambling operations. The company brought suit after the sheriff’s department conducted raids at the premises, assets were seized, and various charges related to illegal gambling were brought. The corporation alleged that their business was operating a lawful sweepstakes, that the Defendants knew that their sweepstakes was not illegal, and that the search and seizures were done pursuant to affidavits containing false and misleading statements. FHMBK moved to dismiss all claims against the Defendants. The district court granted the motions to dismiss, finding that the Defendants’ acts were reasonable and that the search was conducted pursuant to valid warrants.

ROCKY LITTLE and CHRISTOPHER BRANDT obtained summary judgment on a premises liability case. The Plaintiff was a customer at a local grocery store and claimed that he slipped and fell due to a puddle of water in the bathroom. The Plaintiff claimed that he had suffered extensive back injuries that required surgery due to the fall at the store. FHMBK successfully argued that the Defendant did not have notice of the water in the bathroom and, therefore, was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

STEPHEN D. HENNINGER and CHRISTOPHER BRANDT obtained a victory for a north Texas city sued after one its police officers shot and killed a criminal suspect. The family of the suspect filed a civil rights lawsuit complaining of excessive force, and accusing the city of inadequately training and supervising its police officers. FHMBK filed a motion to dismiss, arguing the Plaintiffs had failed to plead any viable claims. The district court granted the motion and dismissed all claims against the city.


LINDSEY HARDY recently obtained a defense verdict in Dallas County. Plaintiff was a pedestrian who claimed the Defendant hit her. Fortunately, an eyewitness confirmed that Plaintiff was not watching where she was going, and that she walked into the Defendant’s vehicle as he pulled forward on a green light.


FRANK VALENZUELA and CHRISTOPHER BRANDT prevailed in a case filed by an inmate in federal court in Waco, Texas, against various county employees asserting numerous federal constitutional claims arising from his detention in the county jail. The employees filed a motion to dismiss which the court, sua sponte, converted into a motion for summary judgment. The court granted the employees’ motion for summary judgment.



RON M. IHLE obtained summary judgment on a premises liability case. The Plaintiff was a customer at a local grocery store and claimed that she slipped and fell at the store due to the negligence of the Defendant. The Plaintiff claimed that she sustained serious injuries due to this accident which required surgical intervention. FHMBK showed the Court that Defendant had no notice of the alleged dangerous condition, and was therefore, entitled to summary judgment.

RON M. IHLE recently obtained a defense verdict in a dental malpractice lawsuit. The Plaintiffs alleged that the Defendant had performed substandard dental work, and Plaintiffs sought significant damages. FHMBK showed that the Defendant had not only met the required standard of dental care but that she had gone above and beyond what was required of her in the treatment of the Plaintiffs. The jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of the Defendant.


JOHN D. HUSTED successfully represented a north Texas police department against a police commander’s appeal of his discharge. Since the police department terminated the commander’s employment for cause after he made various inappropriate threats to various subordinate officers, he was denied an honorable discharge. The commander appealed the decision to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE). After proceedings before the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH), FHMBK was able to obtain a dismissal of the appeal in favor of the police department.

JOHN D. HUSTED successfully represented a north Texas police department against a police officer’s appeal to TCOLE of her discharge from the department. The officer was denied an honorable discharge after she was terminated for insubordination. The officer performed an improper traffic stop resulting in an accident, and then refused orders to cooperate with the subsequent investigation and disciplinary measures. After a full evidentiary hearing on the merits before SOAH, the administrative law judge held that the police department’s decision to give a general discharge instead of an honorable discharge was appropriate and should be upheld.


FHMBK is once again honored to have three of its attorneys named to 2019 list of Texas Super Lawyers. This is the tenth consecutive Super Lawyer selection for JOSHUA T. KUTCHIN and the ninth selection for THOMAS P. BRANDT and GEORGE L. LANKFORD.

In addition to being named to the list of Texas Super Lawyers, THOMAS P. BRANDT and GEORGE L. LANKFORD were also named in the 26th Edition of The Best Lawyers in America. Mr. Brandt was named for his experience in the areas of Education Law and Litigation, and Labor and Employment Law. Mr. Lankford was named for his experience the area of Insurance Law.

GEORGE L. LANKFORD was also invited to be included in Marquis Who’s Who in America’s 71st Edition.

FHMBK is also proud to announce that JOHN D. HUSTED, Member, has been selected to the 2019 Texas Rising Stars list. This is Mr. Husted’s fourth time being named to this list.


FHMBK is pleased to announce the addition of STEPHANIE PITEL to the firm. She joined FHMBK as an associate in September 2019. Ms. Pitel, who is licensed in both Texas and Arizona, earned her JD from Arizona Summit Law School after graduating cum laude from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. Her practice areas include insurance coverage, insurance defense litigation, and appellate advocacy.




LAURA O’LEARY joined S. Anthony Safi, of Mounce, Green, Myers, Safi, Paxson & Galatzan, PC of El Paso, Texas in speaking at this year’s School Law Conference sponsored by the University of Texas in Austin. Mr. Safi and Ms. O’Leary’s presentation was entitled, “The Crossroads: Section 504, the ADA, and Chapter 21,” and it provided a comparison of the causes of action for employment discrimination based on disability under Section 504, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code, plus a brief look at recent developments in Section 504 student litigation.

JENNIFER KELLEY and KATHRYN VAUGHAN presented to a group of insurance adjusters on March 15, 2019 in Dallas, Texas. Jennifer and Kathryn presented “MCS-90 And Its Role In Trucking Insurance.”

FRANK VALENZUELA was a panelist at the Hispanic National Bar Association Corporate Counsel Conference held in Albuquerque, New Mexico on March 21, 2019. The panel on which he sat was titled, “Shark Tank: Surviving the Murky Waters of Handling Government Clients.”

On March 21, 2019, THOMAS P. BRANDT and LAURA O’LEARY gave a presentation to the Dallas Bar Association Government Law Section entitled “The State of Transgender Litigation.” The presentation explained the current state of transgender litigation as it affects governmental entities, with an emphasis on Title VII and Title IX claims. One attendee said the following about the talk: “One of the best I have attended, and I have been practicing a long time…you treated a very tough, very emotionally charged topic with a lot of respect.”

FRANK VALENZUELA presented an Employment Law Update at the Hispanic Issues Section meeting at the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting on June 13, 2019.

FRANK VALENZUELA also presented at this year’s State Bar of Texas’ Advanced Government Law seminar on the topic of Individual Immunity on July 25, 2019.

STEPHEN D. HENNINGER presented at this year’s TMLIRP Attorney Workshop on August 30, 2019 on the topic of litigating police excessive force claims in a post-Ferguson world.

THOMAS P. BRANDT and  FRANK VALENZUELA presented at this year’s TASA/TASB Conference held September 20-21, 2019 in Dallas, Texas. Mr. Brandt and Mr. Valenzuela spoke on transgender rights in schools.

THOMAS P. BRANDT presented at this year’s TAC Defense Counsel Symposium held October 18, 2019, on the topic of Qualified Immunity/Litigation Strategy.

On October 24, 2019, FRANK VALENZUELA participated in a panel discussion entitled “Litigating Religious Freedom in Texas and DFW” as part of the Second Annual DFW Summit on Religious Freedom hosted by the DFW Alliance for Religious Freedom.