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2020 – A Year In Review





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 2021 and beyond.

U.S. Supreme Court Victory

THOMAS P. BRANDT, JOHN F. ROEHM, III, and STEPHEN D. HENNINGER achieved an appellate victory in a lawsuit against a central Texas county and one of its jail nurses (“County Defendants”). Plaintiffs sued the County Defendants, along with the former medical director and director of nursing at the county jail, in federal court for the death of their mother, who had a heart attack at the county jail. Plaintiffs sued the county jail nurse for denial of medical care under the Fourteenth Amendment and sued the county under Monell for an unconstitutional policy, practice, or custom and for unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the county jail. The district court granted summary judgment for the County Defendants. Plaintiffs appealed, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. Plaintiffs filed a writ of certiorari to the U. S. Supreme Court which was denied.

Fifth Circuit Honors FHMBK for Excellence in Appellate Advocacy

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit indicated that one of our appellate briefs is worthy of imitating. Having hundreds of briefs to choose from, the Fifth Circuit chose our appellate brief in Terwilliger v. Reyna as a model for all to follow.

FHMBK congratulates THOMAS P. BRANDT, STEPHEN D. HENNINGER, and LAURA O’LEARY for their excellent work which has been chosen by the Fifth Circuit as the model brief and sole example for civil appellants to follow. For a link to the brief on the Fifth Circuit’s website, click here.

Victories Before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Victory in High Profile No-Boycott-of-Israel Case

THOMAS P. BRANDT, FRANK VALENZUELA, and LAURA O’LEARY obtained a victory for two Texas school districts in a case which challenged the constitutionality of a Texas law which prohibited governmental entities in Texas from entering into certain contracts unless the contractor agreed not to boycott Israel. Several individuals who sought to contract with a variety of governmental entities challenged the law, claiming that it violated their First Amendment rights. The appeal garnered national attention and attracted more than a dozen amicus briefs. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to address the constitutional issues because, while the appeal was pending, the Texas Legislature amended the law such that it no longer applies to sole proprietors. The appellate court agreed with the defendants’ argument that, because the plaintiffs are no longer affected by the law, their claims are moot. The Fifth Circuit vacated the trial court’s preliminary injunction and remanded the case with instructions for the trial court to dismiss the complaint.

Victory in Gambling Case

THOMAS P. BRANDT and JOHN HUSTED obtained a significant appellate victory on behalf of a major east Texas county, its sheriff, and a detective in a federal lawsuit brought by a company operating a business suspected of engaging in illegal gambling operations. The company brought suit alleging unlawful search and seizure and due process claims after the sheriff’s department conducted raids at the premises, seized assets, and brought various charges related to illegal gambling. The corporation alleged that their business operated a lawful sweepstakes, that the defendants knew their sweepstakes was lawful, and that the raids were based on false affidavits. After FHMBK obtained a district court victory for the defendants, the corporation appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. After the parties briefed the matter, the Court of Appeals quickly affirmed the favorable judgment below dismissing all claims against the defendants.

Texas Appellate Court Victory

THOMAS P. BRANDT and JOHN D. HUSTED obtained an appellate court victory on behalf of a west Texas county and it’s sheriff’s office. The plaintiff/appellant brought negligence claims against the county based on alleged physical injuries he sustained from passing out, falling, and hitting his head while was detained in the county jail. In the court below, FHMBK filed and argued a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that the county was entitled to governmental immunity. After considering all briefing on appeal, the court of appeals issued a memorandum opinion and judgment affirming the trial court’s granting of the county’s plea to the jurisdiction.

District Court Victories

JOHN F. ROEHM, III and STEPHEN D. HENNINGER obtained a victory for a north Texas city sued after the city council terminated a tax abatement agreement with a local business. The business sued, asserting claims for breach of contract, violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act, violations of the Texas Constitution’s due course of law provision, and violations of the United States Constitution’s due process clause,. Our office filed a motion to dismiss, arguing the Plaintiff had failed to plead any viable claims. The district court granted the motion and dismissed all claims against the city.

THOMAS P. BRANDT and JOHN F. ROEHM, III achieved a district court victory in a suit filed in federal court. Plaintiff, a pretrial detainee at a county jail, sued the county, the county sheriff, and various county law enforcement officers (“County Defendants”) for alleged constitutional violations. Plaintiff alleged that a county jailer used excessive force when he was tased him and alleged that the county sheriff and various county officers failed to supervise and discipline the officer and were aware of a policy or custom at the county Jail authorizing the use of excessive force against pretrial detainees. The County Defendants filed motions to dismiss which were subsequently converted to motions for summary judgment. The district court granted the County Defendants’ motions for summary judgment.

THOMAS P. BRANDT and JOHN HUSTED obtained a victory on behalf of a central Texas county, it’s sheriff, and other county officers in a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by a pretrial detainee alleging various constitutional rights claims. The detainee alleged that the county, the sheriff, and the other officers denied his right to recreation, right to access to courts, and right to religious freedom. FHMBK moved for summary judgment and successfully obtained dismissal and final judgment on behalf of all defendants.

THOMAS P. BRANDT and JOHN D. HUSTED obtained a victory on behalf of two north Texas police officers in a lawsuit brought by an individual asserting federal claims of unlawful arrest, malicious prosecution, and failure to intervene after the officers arrested the individual for a DWI. After FHMBK moved for summary judgment on behalf of the officers, the court entered an order dismissing all claims against the officers, determining that they were entitled to qualified immunity.

LAURA O’LEARY once again served on the planning committee for the University of Texas School Law Conference. The 2021 Conference will be held by live webcast on February 22, 24, and 26. On February 24, 2021, FRANK VALENZUELA will present “Bostock and Its Consequences for School Districts – Title VII…and Beyond?” at the UT School Law Conference.

THOMAS P. BRANDT and LAURA O’LEARY obtained dismissal of several constitutional claims and a claim under Title IX in a lawsuit against a school district brought by parents of a young student. The family alleged that the student had been sexually harassed at school by a classmate. The district court dismissed the Plaintiffs’ claims alleging violation of the student’s right to bodily integrity, failure to train, failure to supervise, and failure to adopt appropriate policies concerning sexual harassment.

THOMAS P. BRANDT, LAURA O’LEARY, and CHRISTOPHER BRANDT obtained victory in a lawsuit by a substitute teacher against a school district. The substitute teacher alleged claims under Title VII, asserting that she had been subjected to discrimination on the basis of her race. Finding that the substitute teacher failed to demonstrate administrative exhaustion of her claims, the district court dismissed the Plaintiff’s claims in their entirety.

CHRISTOPHER BRANDT obtained a victory for a north Texas school district in a personal injury case arising from an auto accident. After we filed an answer and plea to the jurisdiction on behalf of the district, the plaintiff dismissed all her claims with prejudice.


GEORGE LANKFORD successfully defended a stucco subcontractor in a multiparty lawsuit over the construction of a million dollar plus home. The homeowners’ major complaint was water intrusion into the home. We provided evidence that defectively installed flashing by another party was predominately responsible.

GEORGE LANKFORD successfully defended a framing subcontractor in a large commercial construction matter against bodily injury claims. The claimant contended he was injured when his scaffolding collapsed. The nominal settlement was reached, among other things, when evidence was shown that someone else erected the scaffolding.

Administrative Victories

GEORGE LANKFORD successfully defended a framing subcontractor through arbitration in a multiparty hotel construction suit. The large international hotel chain contended, among other things, that there were framing defects in every room in the hotel. The claims against our client were settled for a cost of defense amount after our client recovered the retainage that was withheld by the general contractor.

Honors and Announcements

FHMBK is once again honored to have three of its attorneys named to 2020 list of Texas Super Lawyers. This is the eleventh consecutive Super Lawyer selection for JOSHUA T. KUTCHIN and the tenth selection for THOMAS P. BRANDT and GEORGE L. LANKFORD.

In addition to being named to the list of Texas Super Lawyers, THOMAS P. BRANDT, JOSHUA KUTCHIN, and GEORGE L. LANKFORD were also named in the 27th 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; and Mr. Kutchin was named for his experience in Personal Injury Litigation (defense).

On October 16, 2020, FRANK VALENZUELA was a guest on 910 KATH’s GRN Alive show to discuss the nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court of the United States. Frank was blessed to have Justice Barrett as a professor at the Notre Dame Law School.

ON A LIGHTER NOTE…FRANK VALENZUELA is competing in a Fantasy SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) league with more than 9,500 participants. As of the time of publication, Frank is currently #1 in the world! FHMBK congratulates Frank and wishes him and the other FHMBK attorney participants the best of luck!

Texas Insurance Law Update

For FHMBK’s Coverage Group’s 2020 Insurance Law Update, click here.

Speeches and Presentations

Upcoming in 2021

LAURA O’LEARY once again served on the planning committee for the University of Texas School Law Conference. The 2021 Conference will be held by live webcast on February 22, 24, and 26. On February 24, 2021, FRANK VALENZUELA will present “Bostock and Its Consequences for School Districts – Title VII…and Beyond?” at the UT School Law Conference.