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MEDFORD v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

July 13, 1988

LARK MEDFORD, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants; CHRISTOPHER SWAINGIN, et al., Plaintiffs, v. THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SPORKIN

 STANLEY SPORKIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

 Plaintiffs in these two cases seek to collect attorneys' fees and other costs incurred in bringing successful administrative actions under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act ("EHA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.

 Defendants interpose two basic legal defenses. They contend attorneys' fees should not be available for administrative proceedings. They also contend that the Act should not apply retroactively. In addition, defendants object to plaintiff's designation of these cases as related to other cases pending before me.

 Defendants also object to granting attorneys' fees on several factual grounds. They allege that in certain cases plaintiffs have not prevailed on the merits, that the amounts plaintiffs seek are unreasonable, that the hourly rates sought are improper, and that certain time was spent unproductively.

 Because none of defendants' legal or their factual arguments has merit, the plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment.

 THESE ARE RELATED CASES

 These cases can only be understood in relation to an earlier matter I adjudicated, Lani Moore v. District of Columbia, C.A. 87-0941. In that case, I addressed and resolved the same legal issues raised in both of these cases. See generally Lani Moore v. District of Columbia, (" Lani Moore I "), 666 F. Supp. 263 (D.D.C. 1987). The Act can be applied retroactively. Id. Fees can be awarded to parents who prevail in administrative proceedings. Id. See also 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(4)(B).

 I also addressed factual disputes strikingly similar to those at issue here in determining an appropriate attorneys' fees award in Lani Moore. See generally Lani Moore v. District of Columbia, (" Lani Moore II "), 674 F. Supp. 901 (D.D.C. 1987).

 In that case, plaintiffs submitted a great deal of material and presented extensive testimony to support a rate of $ 125.00 per hour for partners and $ 115.00 per hour for associates for the type and quality of work performed by plaintiff's counsel. Id. at 4. Nevertheless, to expedite resolution of the matter, plaintiffs' counsel accepted a rate of $ 115.00 per hour for partners and $ 75.00 per hour for associates. Id. at 5. Based on this material and testimony, I found plaintiffs' counsel's documentation adequate and their time reasonably and productively expended, contrary to defendants' contention that they had padded or inflated their bills. Id. at 10-13.

 I also set forth the standard for "prevailing" in this sort of a controversy. Parties that obtain what they reasonably seek -- whether through a negotiated settlement or via combat-like litigation -- "prevail" for purposes of the award of attorneys' fees. Id. at 5-8.

 Plaintiffs in Lark Medford attached a related case designation to the Complaint they filed in the District of Columbia District Court on July 16, 1987. According to the Lark Medford plaintiffs -- whose counsel are the same as the counsel in Lani Moore -- their case was "related" to Lani Moore, which was pending before me on the merits at that time, because the legal issues were identical and the underlying facts were remarkably similar. *fn1" Lark Medford involves claims for attorneys' fees by twenty-six handicapped children (or their representatives) who have prevailed in at least one due process hearing; have incurred attorneys' and/or experts' fees; and have submitted a claim for reimbursement to DCPS. Defendants have either denied or ignored all of these claims. Last year, the nine plaintiffs in Lani Moore were in essentially the same position as these twenty-six handicapped children find themselves now. They had prevailed at due process hearings and had been denied reimbursement. They sought attorneys' fees in federal district court.

 Similarly, plaintiffs in Swaingin attached a related case designation to their Complaint when they filed it on January 6, 1988. They did so for the same reasons that the Lark Medford plaintiffs had done so. The legal and factual issues in that case were similar to those in both Lark Medford, which of course was then pending on the merits before me, and Lani Moore, which by that time was resolved. According to the Swaingin plaintiffs:

 
The issues and facts presented in the instant multi-plaintiff action regarding prevailing parties at DCPS administrative hearings and the reimbursement of attorneys' fees and costs to prevailing parties are nearly identical to the issues and facts presented in Medford.

 See Swaingin, Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendant's Objection to Related Case Designation, Motion for a Stay and Motion for Enlargement of Time at para. 5. All three cases raise the same legal issue of whether handicapped children who prevail in administrative due process hearings brought pursuant to the EHA are entitled to attorneys' fees under the Handicapped Children's Protection Act of 1986, Public Law 99-372 ("HCPA"). It would make no sense to have several different district court judges review the same legal issue -- particularly when the matter is now on appeal. *fn2"

 Defendants nevertheless oppose my exercising jurisdiction over these cases on a "related case" basis because of alleged factual differences. Such opposition is without merit. Even though defendants correctly contend that each individual handicapped child's proceeding involves some separate "factual" issues, such variation is insufficient to undercut the efficiency rationale for finding these cases to be related. The fact that identical legal issues are involved in all three cases greatly outweighs any argument for splitting these cases up based on trivial factual variances between each handicapped child's experience with the bureaucracy. *fn3"

 Were defendants' conception of these cases to control, the proceedings and attorneys' fees dispute for each handicapped child would constitute a "case" -- and would be a separate district court litigation. According to such reasoning, not only would Lani Moore, Lark Medford and Swaingin be unrelated, but also each of those cases should be split into its individual components. Swaingin, which involves a collection of five handicapped children's attorneys' fees disputes brought by the same counsel, would be five cases, Lark Medford would be twenty-six cases and Lani Moore would have been nine cases. The ultimate result of the method defendants urge would be 40 separate cases pending before numerous different district court judges. The dockets of the federal district court for the District of Columbia would become jammed with EHA attorneys' fees cases.

 Defendants are responsible for the large number of rejected attorneys' fees claims. As discussed in Lani Moore II, and further discussed below, defendants' refusal to negotiate a fair fee award in a reasonable fashion is the principal cause of this onslaught of cases. In addition, many fee claims are simply not processed by defendants. They are ignored. Defendants, of course, have every right to take a tough stance. The courts, however, must develop a way of disposing of such matters expeditiously. Plaintiffs' suggestion that these cases are related is a measured and reasonable response to defendants' tactics. Plaintiffs' counsel cannot be expected to wage simultaneous contests in the court of every federal district court judge in the District of Columbia in order to collect attorneys' fees for matters in which they have prevailed on the merits. To force them to do so would only compound an already bad situation. Because treating these cases as related achieves great economies and preserves scarce judicial resources, defendants' arguments must be rejected. *fn4" The related case rule must be enforced. These cases are related and they are properly before me.

 THE MERITS

 As discussed above, the legal issues in this case are controlled by my ruling in Lani Moore. Plaintiffs' submission of virtually identical briefs regarding the legal issues in these three cases corroborates this conclusion. Attorneys' fees may be awarded to parties who prevail in administrative proceedings. Attorneys' fees are awardable in each of the handicapped children's cases before me -- they were all brought after July 3, 1984. See Lani Moore I, 666 F. Supp. at 264 ("Though passed in late 1986, the Act provided that attorneys' fees would be awardable for any action brought . . . after July 3, 1984"). Moreover, because both of these cases were brought after the passage of the HCPA, the ...


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