The opinion of the court was delivered by: PAUL FRIEDMAN, District Judge
This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs' fourth motion
for attorneys' fees with respect to counsel's activities in
connection with the claims of Kenneth Massey, Joshua McMillian
and De'Mitria Rice and in connection with the time expended
litigating their claims for attorneys' fees.*fn1 Upon
careful consideration of the parties' briefs and supporting
materials, the Court will grant plaintiffs' motion in part and
deny it in part. I. BACKGROUND
The procedural history with respect to the three remaining
plaintiffs in these consolidated actions is as follows: The
plaintiffs in Civil Action No. 98-3081 originally filed their
complaint on December 18, 1998 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to enforce
their rights under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act
("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. The Court consolidated this
action with several other actions including Blackman v. District
of Columbia, Civil Action No. 97-1629 on February 17, 1999. On
April 20, 1999, the Court granted preliminary injunctions
regarding the claims of plaintiffs Joshua McMillian and Kenneth
On February 23, 2000, Alicia Rice, on her own behalf and on
behalf of De'Metria Rice, filed Civil Action No. 00-0330 under
Section 1983 to enforce their rights under the IDEA, and on
February 29, 2000, the Court consolidated this action with those
already consolidated with the Blackman matter. On August 17,
2000, the Court granted the preliminary injunctive relief
regarding the claim of De'Mitria Rice in Civil Action No.
00-0330. Counsel for plaintiffs in the above-captioned actions
then filed a joint motion for attorneys' fees in compliance with
the Court's January 30, 2001 Order in Civil Action No. 00-0330,
which directed plaintiffs to file their motions for attorneys'
fees in the original action rather than in the Blackman matter.
Plaintiff Kenneth Massey seeks the recovery of $30,146.42 in
attorneys' fees and costs, plaintiff Joshua McMillian seeks the
recovery of $1,395.10 in attorneys' fees and costs, and plaintiff
De'Mitria Rice seeks $16,821.85 in attorneys' fees and costs.
Plaintiffs also jointly seek $6,698.83 in fees for litigating
their third and fourth motions for attorneys' fees claims.
Defendants concede that plaintiffs have prevailed in this matter
and are entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees and costs. They
argue, however, that the amount of attorneys' fees sought by plaintiffs is unreasonable and should be reduced. In their reply,
plaintiffs concede that with respect to the claim of Kenneth
Massey, the July 12, 1999 billing entry is duplicative and that
the request for fees therefore should be reduced by $80.00.
Plaintiffs also concede that with respect to Joshua McMillian, a
fee petition for counsel's efforts on December 21, 1999, January
20, 2000 and January 21, 2000 already was submitted in a previous
motion for attorneys' fees. Plaintiffs' request for fees
therefore will be reduced by a further $212.80. Plaintiffs argue
that the Court should reject defendants' remaining arguments for
a reduction in attorneys' fees.
A. Standard for Evaluating Attorneys' Fees Petitions
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. See Blackman v.
District of Columbia, 59 F. Supp.2d 37, 42-44 (D.D.C. 1999). To
recover reasonable attorneys' fees, plaintiffs must first
demonstrate that each is a prevailing party in the litigation.
See id. at 40-41. The Court then must determine whether the
fees sought are reasonable by calculating "the number of hours
reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable
hourly rate" the so-called "lodestar" fee. Hensley v.
Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983).*fn2 In this case,
defendants do not contest that plaintiffs are prevailing parties,
and the Court's review of the motion and related filings confirm
that in fact plaintiffs did prevail in this matter. On the issue of reasonableness, plaintiffs must submit
supporting documentation with the motion for attorneys' fees,
providing sufficient detail so that the Court can determine
"with a high degree of certainty" that the hours billed were
actually and reasonably expended, that the hourly rate charged
was reasonable, and that the matter was appropriately staffed to
do the work required efficiently and without duplicative billing.
In re Olson, 884 F.2d 1415, 1428-29 (D.C. Cir. 1989) (emphasis
in original); see Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. at 333;
Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C.
Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1115 (1996). At a minimum, a
fee applicant must provide some information about the attorneys'
billing practices and hourly rate, the attorneys' skill and
experience (including the number of years that counsel has
practiced law), the nature of counsel's practice as it relates to
this kind of litigation, and the prevailing market rates in the
relevant community. See Covington v. District of Columbia, 57
F.3d at 1107.*fn3
Once the plaintiff has provided such information, there is a
presumption that the number of hours billed and the hourly rate
are reasonable, and the burden shifts to the defendants to rebut
plaintiff's showing of reasonable hours and reasonable hourly
rates for attorneys of this skill level and experience for this
kind of case. "[I]n the normal case the Government must either
accede to the applicant's requested rate or provide specific
contrary evidence tending to show that a lower rate would be
appropriate." Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d at
1109-10 (quoting Nat'l Ass'n of Concerned Veterans v. Secretary of
Defense, 675 F.2d 1319, 1326 (D.C. Cir. 1982)) (emphasis added).
B. Reasonableness of the Fee Petitions
With respect to all three claims, defendants argue that the
hourly billing rate for attorney Jamie Rodriguez should be
reduced from $160.00 per hour to $125.00 per hour for those
billing entries falling between December 15, 1999 and May 31,
2000. Defendants claim that billing documentation submitted by
plaintiffs' counsel in a separate case shows that Ms. Rodriguez's
billing rate was only $125.00 per hour and thus the higher rate
is unjustified. The Court concludes, however, that the higher
rate is appropriate. First, defendants' argument is based on a
faulty premise. Plaintiffs' counsel charged clients $125.00 per
hour for work performed by Ms. Rodriguez for that period of time
after she began working for the law firm and before she was
admitted to the bar. After Ms. Rodriguez was admitted to the bar,
in December 1999, her billing rate was raised to $175.00 per
hour. Thus, contrary to defendants' assertions, the $160.00 per
hour plaintiff seeks to recover for Ms. Rodriguez's work from
December 15, 1999 to May 31, 2000 actually is lower than her
normal billing rate. Second, the prevailing party is entitled to
recover attorneys' fees based on the Laffey matrix. See
Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1105 & n. 14,
1109 (D.C. Cir. 1995); Blackman v. District of Columbia,
59 F. Supp.2d 37, 43 (D.D.C. 1999) (citing Laffey v. Northwest
Airlines, Inc., 572 F. Supp. 354, (D.D.C. 1983), rev'd on other
grounds, 746 F.2d 4 (D.C. Cir. 1984)). In this case, based on
Ms. Rodriguez's experience at the time and the evidence submitted
in support of this motion, plaintiff is entitled to recover $160
per hour for the time she spent working on this matter. With respect to the claim of Kenneth Massey, defendants argue
that the time spent by plaintiffs' counsel reading and reviewing
pleadings and rulings in this case is excessive and should be
reduced by at least half. Similarly, defendants object that the
time spent by counsel preparing the third and fourth attorneys'
fees motions also is excessive. In connection with this case and
plaintiffs' previous requests for attorneys' fees, the Court has
rejected similar arguments, observing that special education
cases such as this are often complex and concluding that
plaintiffs' counsel have exercised appropriate billing judgment
making the number of hours expended reasonable. See Watkins v.
Ackerman, Civil Action No. 98-3026, Memorandum Opinion and Order
at 1-2 (D.D.C. Sept. 20, 2000); Watkins v. Ackerman, Civil
Action No. 98-3026, Memorandum Opinion and Order at 6 (D.D.C.
March 31, 2000). The Court has evaluated defendants' arguments in
connection with this specific motion for attorneys' fees and the
documentation provided to support the claim, and concludes that
defendants have failed to provide the Court with any persuasive
reason why it now should question whether plaintiffs' counsel has
exercised appropriate billing judgment when reviewing the various
pleadings, reports and documents involved in this case.
C. Fees Sought Pursuant to Section 1983, Not the IDEA
For all three claims, defendants also argue that certain
attorneys' fees incurred by plaintiffs are barred by the IDEA.
With respect to Kenneth Massey, defendants challenge fees for
counsel's activities subsequent to the Order of April 12, 2001
that directed defendants to develop and implement an IEP. With
respect to De'Metria Rice, defendants similarly object to fees
relating to counsel's efforts undertaken after the August 17,
2000 Order granting plaintiffs' preliminary injunction.
Defendants contend that attorneys' fees may be recovered under
the IDEA only for proceedings brought under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i) and
not for fees incurred for work performed by an attorney in
connection with IEP meetings, post-decision counseling or
post-decision attempts to place a plaintiff in a particular
school or program. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B) ("In any
action or proceeding brought under [the IDEA], the court, in its
discretion, may award reasonable attorneys' fees . . . [to] the
prevailing party."). Attorneys' fees incurred after the orders
were issued are not recoverable, defendants argue, because such
fees were not incurred in connection with an administrative or
judicial proceeding but rather were incurred after the judicial
proceeding had concluded.
The claims advanced by these plaintiffs were not brought under
the IDEA but rather under Section 1983, and the IDEA's
restrictions on attorneys' fees therefore do not apply. See
Blackman v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 97-1629,
Memorandum Opinion and Order at 5 (D.D.C. Oct. 17, 2001) (claim
of J. Howard) (IDEA restrictions on recovery of attorneys' fees
for certain activities do not apply to Section 1983 claims).
Furthermore, even if the restrictions in the IDEA did apply in
this context, Section 1415 of the IDEA provides that attorneys'
fees may not be recovered in connection with an IEP meeting
"unless such meeting is convened as a result of an
administrative proceeding or judicial action."
20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(D)(ii) (emphasis added). In the Order of April 12,
2001, the Court directed defendants to develop an IEP for Kenneth
Massey "as soon as practicable." See Order of April 12, 2001 at
1. The Court concludes that plaintiffs' counsel's efforts in
scheduling a timely IEP meeting, especially in light of
defendants' failures to provide Kenneth an adequate IEP in the
first place, are recoverable because the effort was the direct
result of a court order. Similarly, this Court's Order of August
17, 2000 relating to De'Metria Rice expressly concerned her transportation to St. Coletta ...