United States District Court for the District of Columbia
February 5, 2004.
DARLENE HOLBROOK, et al., Plaintiffs,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: GLADYS KESSLER, District Judge
Plaintiffs, minor children and the parents, guardians, and
court-appointed advocates of minor children,*fn1 seek to collect
attorney's fees and other costs incurred in bringing successful
administrative actions under the Individuals With Disabilities Education
Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq., Defendant is the
Government of the District of Columbia. This matter is before the Court
on Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment. Upon consideration of the
Motion, Opposition, Reply, and the entire record herein, and for the
reasons stated below, Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment is
A. The Governing Law
IDEA guarantees "all children with disabilities" "a free appropriate
public education that emphasizes special education and related services
designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for employment and
independent living." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). As a condition of
receiving funds under the Act, IDEA requires school districts> to adopt
procedures to ensure appropriate educational placement of disabled
students. See 20 U.S.C. § 1413. In addition, school
districts> must develop comprehensive plans for meeting the special
educational needs of disabled students. See
20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(2)(A). These plans are known as "individualized education
programs," or IEPs, and must include "a statement of the child's present
levels of educational performance, . . . a statement of measurable
annual goals, [and] a statement of the special education and related
services . . . to be provided to the child. . . ."
20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A).
IDEA also guarantees parents of disabled children an opportunity to
participate in the identification, evaluation, and placement process. See
20 U.S.C. § 1414 (f), 1415(b)(1). Parents who object to their
child's "identification, evaluation, or educational placement" are
entitled to an "impartial due process hearing,"
20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(6), (f)(1), at which they have a "right to be
accompanied and advised by counsel."
20 U.S.C. § 1415 (h)(1). Parents "aggrieved by" a hearing officer's
findings and decision may bring a civil action in either state or federal
court without regard to the amount in controversy. 20 U.S.C. § 1415
B. The Instant Litigation
The case underlying the instant fee litigation was brought by minor
children and the parents, guardians, and court-appointed advocates of
minor children who claimed that the District of Columbia Public Schools
("DCPS") had failed to provide the children with appropriate special
education and related services in violation of IDEA. Each Plaintiff, by
virtue of a separate IDEA administrative due process hearing, was found
to be entitled to special education and related services.
After winning on the merits of their cases, Plaintiffs filed this
action for attorney's fees and other costs under § 1415(i)(3)(B)
of the IDEA. This statute gives courts the authority to "award reasonable
attorneys' fees as part of the costs to the parents of a child with a
disability who is the prevailing party." 20 U.S.C. § 1415 (i)(3)
(B). See Moore v. District of Columbia, 907 F.2d 165 (D.C. Cir.
1990) (en banc) (holding that IDEA authorizes a parent who prevails in an
IDEA administrative hearing to recover attorney's fees). Defendants
concede that Plaintiffs are "prevailing parties" for the purposes of
§ 1415(i)(3)(B) and as such are entitled to an award of
"reasonable attorneys' fees" under the statute.
Between November 22, 2002 and January 31, 2003, Plaintiffs' counsel,
Elizabeth T. Jester, timely submitted to the DCPS nine invoices for
attorney's fees and other costs incurred in bringing successful IDEA
administrative actions on behalf of each Plaintiff. DCPS reviewed the
invoices and "identified specific items for non-payment that it did not
deem reasonable." Def.'s Opp'n, at 3.*fn2 See id., Attach. B
("Disputed Items List"). In accordance with this Disputed Items List,
DCPS either reduced or denied altogether the amount requested.
The following chart summarizes (1) the invoices for attorney's fees and
other costs submitted by Plaintiffs' counsel on behalf of each Plaintiff;
(2) any payment made by DCPS; and (3) the amount Plaintiffs claim is
Plaintiff Plaintiffs' Invoice DCPS Payment Difference
Jayvon Williams $4,451.90 $2,547.00 $1,904.90
Andrew Edwards $11,791.81 $10,306.00 $1,485.81
Gregory Folson $4,501.06 $2,911.00 $1,590.06
Shawn Miller $5, 887.07 $0 $5, 887.07
Shealee Nalle $10,001.01 $7,038.00 $2, 963.07
Wahykayl Warren $7,590.52 $3,344.00 $4,246.52
Shauntai Wynn $10, 676.62 $7, 103.00 $3,573.62
See Pls.' Statement of Facts, at 2-6.
On March 10, 2003, Plaintiffs filed the instant action claiming that
DCPS improperly reduced or denied their requests for attorney's fees and
other costs. Plaintiffs seek to collect (1) $21,651.05 in "outstanding"
attorney's fees and other costs incurred in bringing successful IDEA
administrative actions*fn3; (2) pre- and post-judgment interest on each
award; and (3) attorney's fees and other costs incurred by virtue of the
instant fee litigation.
Generally, a "reasonable" attorney's fee is based on the reasonable
number of hours expended multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate. See
Nat'l Ass'n of Concerned Veterans v. Sec'y of Def., 675 F.2d 1319
(D.C. Cir. 1982); Cobell v. Norton, 231 F. Supp.2d 295, 300
(D.D.C. 2002); Blackman v. District of Columbia, 59 F. Supp.2d 37,
42 (D.D.C. 1999) (citing to Hensley v. Eckerhart,
461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)).
Defendant concedes that the hourly rates Plaintiffs seek, i.e., an
hourly attorney rate of $280 and an hourly paralegal rate of $90, are
reasonable. See Def.'s Opp'n, at 3. Defendant challenges only
the number of hours expended on particular tasks and Plaintiffs' claim
for other costs.
A. The Hours Expended on Particular Tasks Are Reasonable
Defendant charges that the number of hours Plaintiffs' counsel expended
on particular tasks was "excessive and duplicative." Def.'s Opp'n, at 7.
Specifically, DCPS objected to the 3.4 hours Plaintiffs' counsel spent
preparing Plaintiff Gregory Folson's hearing disclosure, and the 10.1
hours she spent preparing for Plaintiff Shealle Nalle's IDEA
administrative hearing, as "excessive" and reduced the time to 2 hours
and 6 hours, respectively. See Def.'s Opp'n, at 5. DCPS also
reduced by half the 8.7 hours that Plaintiffs' counsel spent preparing
nine invoices, claiming that it was "overkill." See id. at 7.
DCPS also objected to the 3 hours Plaintiffs' counsel spent preparing
three referral packages for Plaintiff Shauntai Wynn, and reduced the time
to .25 hours for each package. See id. at 6. Defendant claims
that this reduction is reasonable because "the task should not have taken
an hour to complete each time." Id.
Plaintiffs have the burden of demonstrating that the number of hours
expended on particular tasks was reasonable. See Nat'l Ass'n of
Concerned Veterans, 675 F.2d at 1337 (Tamm, J., concurring);
Cobell, 231 F. Supp.2d at 305. This burden is satisfied by
submitting an invoice that is sufficiently detailed to "permit the
District Court to make an independent determination whether or not the
hours claimed are justified." Nat'l Ass'n of Concerned
Veterans, 675 F.2d at 1327. To be sufficient, the invoice "need not
present the exact number of minutes spent nor the precise activity to
which each hour was devoted nor the specific attainments of each
attorney." Id. (quoting Copeland v. Marshall, 641 F.2d 880, 891
(D.C. Cir. 1980)). The touchstone inquiry is whether the time expended on
particular tasks was reasonable. See Copeland, 641 F.2d at 891.
Parties cannot be reimbursed for nonproductive time or duplicative
Plaintiffs have demonstrated that the number of hours expended on
particular tasks was reasonable. Plaintiffs' counsel submitted time
records that show the specific tasks she performed, the hours she
expended on each task (calculated in tenth-hour segments), and the date
each task was performed. She also submitted a detailed affidavit
explaining the hours claimed for each task identified by DCPS as
unreasonable in its Disputed Items List. See Jester Aff..
In addition, Defendant's criticisms are of the "nit-picking" variety
which this Circuit has warned against. See Nat'l Ass'n of Concerned
Veterans, 675 F.2d at 1337-38 (Tamm, J., concurring) ("Neither
broadly based, ill-aimed attacks, nor nit-picking claims by the
Government should be countenanced."). Moreover, Defendant's
objections are simply conclusory assertions regarding the amount of
time that Defendant thinks Plaintiffs' counsel `should have spent' on
certain documents and litigation tasks. "It is neither practical nor
desirable to expect the trial court judge to [review] each paper . . .
to decide, for example, whether a particular motion could have been done
in 9.6 hours instead of 14.3 hours." Copeland, 641 F.2d at 903.
Accordingly, the Court is satisfied that the hours expended on particular
tasks are reasonable.
B. The Costs Claimed Are Justified
DCPS has denied most of Plaintiffs' claims for other costs (e.g.,
copying, faxing, and postage), on the basis that those costs are "part of
the normal cost of doing business" and thus properly included in
Plaintiffs' counsel's determination of her hourly rate for services. An
attorney, however, is entitled to "all expenses associated with the
litigation that [she] would normally expect to pass on to fee paying
clients," provided such costs are reasonably incurred and reasonable in
amount. McKenzie v. Kennickell, 645 F. Supp. 437, 452 (D.D.C.
1986) (citing to Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, 572 F. Supp. 354,
385 (D.D.C. 1983), aff'd in pertinent part, 746 F.2d 4 (D.C.
The costs Plaintiffs claimed, e.g., copying, faxing, and postage, are
traditionally considered part of a reasonable attorney's fee. See
Bailey v. District of Columbia, 839 F. Supp. 888, 892 (D.D.C. 1993)
(concluding that "Congress has authorized
all of these costs [photocopying, travel, long distance telephone,
and postage expenditures] to be shifted to defendants as elements of a
`reasonable attorney's fee' under [IDEA] § 1415[(i)(3)(B)]");
Sexcius v. District of Columbia, 839 F. Supp. 919, 927 (D.D.C.
1993) (concluding that "photocopying, postage, long distance telephone,
messenger, and transportation and costs are customarily included in a
reasonable `attorney's fee'"). Moreover, Defendant does not challenge
these costs as unreasonable (and they appear modest and reasonable on
their face). Accordingly, the Court is satisfied that the costs claimed
C. Plaintiffs Are Entitled to Pre-and Post-Judgment
Interest on Each Award
Plaintiffs seek pre-and post-judgment interest on each award.
"`[W]hether pre-judgment interest is to be awarded is subject to the
discretion of the court and equitable considerations.'" Oldham v.
Korean Air Lines Co., Ltd., 127 F.3d 43, 54 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (citing
Motion Picture Ass'n of Amer., Inc. v. Oman, 969 F.2d 1154,
1157 (D.C. Cir. 1992). The purpose of such awards is to compensate the
plaintiff for any delay in payment resulting from the litigation.
See id. (citing Motion Picture Ass'n of Amer., Inc.,
969 F.2d at 1157 ("interest compensates for the time value of money and
thus is often necessary for full compensation")). Our Circuit has held
that "the prime rate, i.e., the rate that banks charge for short-term
unsecured loans to credit-worthy customers, is an
appropriate measure of pre-judgment interest." Oldham,
127 F.3d at 54.
The Court concludes that Plaintiffs are entitled to pre-judgment
interest on each award for several reasons.
First, Defendants' arguments in the instant fee litigation border on
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Second, Defendants' stonewalling has caused Plaintiffs' counsel to wait
in excess of two years to be paid for her services.*fn5
Third, unreasonable penny-pinching scrutiny, such as Defendant has
engaged in here produces serious chilling effects on the availability of
competent, experienced attorneys to serve this clientele. This is
extremely problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is
that IDEA practice is highly specialized an attorney who does
IDEA work must understand the intricacies and the realities of the
practice in order to obtain effective relief
for his or her client in terms of an appropriate, individualized,
Fourth, and finally, IDEA lawyers are, in the vast majority of cases,
small-firm or solo practitioners who have dedicated their professional
lives to advancing the interests of disabled children, often at
well-below-market rates. Certainly the District of Columbia should not
discourage lawyers who do such important work by failing to pay them for
their services in a timely fashion. For these reasons, the Court
concludes that Plaintiffs are entitled to pre-judgment interest on each
28 U.S.C. § 1961(a), the federal statute governing the award of
post-judgment interest, provides that "[i]nterest shall be allowed on any
money judgment in a civil case recovered in a district court. . . .
Such interest shall be calculated from the date of the entry of the
judgment. . . ." The phrase "any money judgment" in § 1961(a)
includes a judgment awarding attorney's fees and other costs. See
Akinseye v. District of Columbia, 339 F.3d 970, 972 (D.C. Cir.
2003). Accordingly, Plaintiffs are entitled to post-judgment interest
calculated at the statutory rate on each award under 28 U.S.C. § 1961
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment is
An Order will issue with this opinion.