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HOLBROOK v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

February 5, 2004.

DARLENE HOLBROOK, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GLADYS KESSLER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

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 granted. Page 2

I. BACKGROUND

  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." Page 3 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 (i)(2).

  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 Page 4 § 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 still "outstanding."

  Plaintiff Plaintiffs' Invoice DCPS Payment Difference

  Jayvon Williams $4,451.90 $2,547.00 ...


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