The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman, United States District Judge
The Court has previously set forth the appropriate analytical framework
for determining the award of attorneys' fees and costs in special
education cases like this one where the plaintiffs have prevailed.
Blackman v. District of Columbia, 59 F. Supp.2d 37, 42-44 (D.D.C.
1999). There is no need to reiterate that analysis here. In this case,
there is no doubt that the plaintiffs have prevailed, and defendants do
not contest this point. The defendants also do not contest that the
amount of attorneys' fees and costs sought by the plaintiffs is
The only argument that defendants raise in their opposition is that the
attorneys' fees sought are limited by the statutory cap on attorneys'
fees which restricts how much the District of Columbia actually may pay
in attorneys' fees in cases brought under the IDEA.*fn1 Why defendants
make this argument is puzzling because it squarely was addressed and
rejected by the Court in an opinion issued on May 10, 2001 — nearly
one month before defendants filed their opposition to plaintiffs'
motion. See Blackman v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 97-1629,
2001 WL 502121 (D.D.C. May 10, 2001) (claim of Michael Edmonds). In its
May 10 opinion, the Court concluded that because the claims of members of
the Blackman and Jones classes (including the claims asserted by these
plaintiffs) were brought under Section 1983 and not under the IDEA
itself, the statutory cap on attorneys' fees does not apply; the Court
therefore may both award and order immediate payment of attorneys' fees
in excess of the statutory cap. See id. at *2-5. After reading
defendants' opposition, the Court must conclude that defendants or their
lawyers either have not read the May 10, 2001 opinion or simply have
opted to ignore the Court's decision.*fn2 Although either alternative
is, of course, entirely unacceptable, the latter explanation gives the
Court greater cause for concern.
It should be obvious that when the Court takes the time and effort to
write an opinion, to send a copy of the opinion to counsel for the
parties, to post the opinion on the District Court's website, and to have
the opinion published, it expects that the attorneys involved in the case
not only will read the opinion but also will take that decision into
account in future filings. Unfortunately, based on past experience with
the Office of the Corporation Counsel in this matter, the Court cannot
assume (as it should be able) that any particular Assistant Corporation
Counsel has read or even received the May 10, 2001 opinion. Here,
however, there are facts suggesting that counsel in this case was or
should have been aware of the opinion. As required by Local Civil Rule
7.1(m), plaintiffs' counsel attempted to resolve the issue of attorneys'
fees with Assistant Corporation Counsel Urenthea McQuinn who, according
to plaintiffs, refused to consider payment above the statutory cap
despite the May 10, 2001 opinion. If Ms. McQuinn had not read the opinion
before the call from plaintiffs' counsel, this conversation provided
ample notice that the Court recently had issued an opinion dealing with
attorneys' fees in this litigation. Furthermore, because the undersigned
the May 10, 2001 decision at a meeting with two of the
attorneys supervising the special education litigation in the Office of
the Corporation Counsel, John Greenhaugh and Robert C. Utiger, whose
names also appear on the opposition in this case, and at a second meeting
with the Corporation Counsel himself, the Court knows that the
appropriate people were notified about this decision.
If the defendants or their lawyers did not agree with the May 10, 2001
opinion, they should have taken the appropriate steps to challenge the
Court's decision in the court of appeals. Simply ignoring the opinion in
future filings was not and is not an option — and it accomplishes
nothing but delay and wasting the time of this Court and of members of
the plaintiffs' Bar. As the defendants' opposition reiterates arguments
that already have been unequivocally rejected by the Court, defendants'
submission borders on the type of frivolous filing that warrants
sanctions under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Certainly if defendants' opposition reflects a deliberate decision to
ignore an opinion of the Court which is the controlling law of the case,
such conduct probably would be sanctionable under Rule 11. With respect
to the motion for interim attorneys' fees and costs, the only argument
advanced by defendants has been foreclosed by the Court's May 10
decision. Since they have conceded that the plaintiffs are the
prevailing parties and that the attorneys' fees and costs sought in the
motion are reasonable, it is hereby
ORDERED that plaintiffs' motion for interim attorneys' fees and costs
[814-1] is GRANTED; and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that defendants' shall, within 30 days of this Order,
pay plaintiffs $13,419.00 in attorneys' fees and $258.00 in costs. If
this amount is not paid within 30 days, it will bear interest at the rate
established by 28 U.S.C. § 1961 from the 31st calendar day following
entry of this Order.