United States District Court for the District of Columbia
August 4, 2004.
MIKEISHA BLACKMAN, et al., Plaintiffs,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants. JAMES JONES, et al., Plaintiffs, v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: PAUL FRIEDMAN, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This action was filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to enforce the
rights of the plaintiff class members under the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.,
and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,
29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. Pending before the Court is a motion for attorneys'
fees and costs filed by plaintiff Michelle Bridgeford, mother and
next friend of Rochelle Bridgeford. Defendants filed both an
opposition and a supplemental opposition to plaintiffs' motion,
and plaintiffs filed reply briefs and a supplement to their fee motion. Upon consideration of the
arguments of the parties, the Court concludes that plaintiffs are
entitled to attorneys' fees, and their motion therefore is
On November 14, 2000, plaintiffs filed a motion for a
preliminary injunction seeking defendants' compliance with an
August 28, 2000 settlement agreement entered into by the parties
in lieu of proceeding with a formal IDEA due process hearing.
See Plaintiffs' Motion for an Award of Attorney's Fees and
Costs ("Pls.' Mot.") at 2. The Court referred this motion to the
Special Master for a report and recommendation pursuant to the
February 12, 1999 Order of Reference. Upon consideration of the
resulting report and recommendations, the Court issued an Order
granting plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and
ordering defendants to file a report containing a written plan
for defendants' compliance with the settlement agreement. See
Order of February 12, 2001 (In the matter of Michelle Bridgeford)
("February 12 Order") at 1-2. The Order also provided that if
defendants failed to abide by the Order, defendants risked being
fined up to $5,000.00 per violation. See id. at 2.
Plaintiffs then filed the instant motion for attorneys' fees
seeking fees in the amount of $3,856.00 and $116.60 in costs for
counsel's efforts in connection with the preliminary injunction
motion. See Pls.' Mot. at 1. With the motion plaintiffs
included a declaration of counsel Elizabeth T. Jester and
attached an accounting of the legal services provided. See
id., Ex. A. Plaintiffs since have filed a supplement to their
motion requesting fees and costs in the amount of $3,076.13 for
their counsel's efforts in prosecuting the instant motion and
again included an accounting. See Supplement to Plaintiffs'
Motion for an Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs at 1. In sum, therefore, counsel seeks
a total of $7,048.73 in attorneys' fees and costs.
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. See 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, defendants do not contest that
the amount of attorneys' fees and costs sought by the plaintiffs
is reasonable. Instead, they challenge plaintiffs' motion on two
more general grounds. Defendants first argue that the attorneys'
fees sought are limited by the statutory cap on attorneys' fees
that restricts how much the District of Columbia actually may pay
in attorneys' fees in cases brought under the IDEA. See
Defendant District of Columbia's Memorandum of Points and
Authorities in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for an Award of
Attorneys' Fees and Costs at 3.*fn1 After defendants filed
their first opposition brief, however, the Court issued an
opinion squarely rejecting this argument. See Blackman v.
District of Columbia, 145 F. Supp.2d 47, 53 (D.D.C. 2001)
(statutory cap does not apply to Section 1983 claims). Second, defendants argue that plaintiffs are not entitled to
attorneys' fees in light of the Supreme Court's opinion in
Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Dep't of
Health & Human Res., 532 U.S. 598 (2001), which changed the
landscape for awarding attorneys' fees under fee-shifting
statutes such as 42 U.S.C. § 1988. See Defendants' Supplemental
Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Opposition to Plaintiffs'
Motion for an Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs ("Defs.' Supp.
Mem.") at 4-8.*fn2 In an action brought pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Court in its discretion "may allow the
prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the
costs" under the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976,
42 U.S.C. § 1988. In Buckhannon, the Supreme Court concluded
that there must be an "alteration in the legal relationship of
the parties" that has been given some judicial imprimatur in
order to qualify as a "prevailing party" under fee-shifting
statutes. Id. at 605.
Defendants argue that plaintiffs do not meet the Buckhannon
standard because "plaintiffs' specific request for a one-on-one
aide had been rendered moot by defendants' having supplied a
one-on-one aide on November 17, 2000, three months before [the
February 12 Order]." Defs.' Supp. Mem. at 4. As the January 22,
2001 Report and Recommendations of the Special Master indicated,
however, defendants conceded in a November 30, 2000 meeting
before the Special Master that they had not yet provided
plaintiff adequate services. See Report and Recommendations of
the Special Master (In the matter of Michelle Bridgeford) at 5-6.
In the February 12 Order, the Court, in consideration of the
Report and Recommendations and in the absence of objections by the parties, granted plaintiffs
injunctive relief, ordered defendants to take express action in
order to secure the relief sought, and imposed a schedule of
fines on defendants in the event that defendants failed to comply
with the Order. See Order of February 12 at 1-2. The Court
concludes that this Order altered the legal relationship of the
parties by ordering the defendants to take certain steps on
behalf of plaintiff or face sanctions, and clearly satisfies the
"judicial imprimatur" requirement of Buckhannon. In the absence
of any further ground on which defendants objected to plaintiffs'
motion, the Court will grant plaintiffs' motion and award counsel
the attorneys' fees and costs plaintiffs have requested.
Accordingly, it is hereby
ORDERED that plaintiffs' motion for attorneys' fees and costs
[757-1] is GRANTED; and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that defendants shall, within 30 days of this
Order, pay plaintiffs $7,048.73 in attorneys' fees and 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.