United States District Court for the District of Columbia
August 4, 2004.
CHAWNTAVIA WATKINS, et al., Plaintiffs,
PAUL VANCE, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: PAUL FRIEDMAN, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court for further consideration of
Plaintiffs' Third Motion for Interim Attorneys' Fees filed in
connection with counsel's efforts in prosecuting the claims of a
number of plaintiffs. Upon consideration of plaintiffs'
supplemental submission and the Court's prior opinions and orders
issued in this matter, the Court will grant plaintiffs relief as
Plaintiffs filed this action on December 18, 1998 under the
Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, to enforce their rights under
the Individual with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"),
20 U.S.C. § 1400 et. seq. On September 20, 2000, the Court
granted in part and denied in part plaintiffs' third motion for
attorneys' fees and costs relating to plaintiffs' counsel's
prosecution of this matter. Specifically, the Court granted the
motion insofar as the Court found that plaintiffs are prevailing
parties in this matter and that the hours expended by plaintiffs' attorneys were reasonable. See Memorandum Opinion and Order of
September 20, 2000 at 3. The Court denied the motion insofar as
(1) the hourly rate for Patricia Julianelle was not reasonable
under the Laffey matrix in light of the Court's Memorandum
Opinion and Order of March 31, 2000 ("March 31 Memorandum
Opinion"); and (2) counsel had failed to provide the Court with
information sufficient enough to determine whether the rates
requested for "MDL" and "JA" are reasonable. See id. The
Court ordered plaintiffs to file supplemental briefs addressing
these two issues, which brief plaintiffs filed. Defendants did
not respond to plaintiffs' supplemental brief.
A. Evaluation of Attorneys' Fees Petitions
The Court previously has set forth the appropriate analytical
framework for determining the award of attorneys' fees and costs
in 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 they each
of them 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).*fn1 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 also Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. at
333; Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107
(D.C. Cir. 1995). 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.*fn2
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. Plaintiffs' Remaining Fee Petitions
In its March 31, 2000 Memorandum Opinion, the Court determined
that "the maximum fee that an attorney of Ms. Julianelle's
experience should receive is . . . $160 per hour from June 1,
1999 to May 31, 2000." Memorandum Opinion and Order of March 31,
2000 at 4. In response to the Court's later September 20, 2000
Order, plaintiffs have submitted with their supplemental brief a
revised invoice of Ms. Julianelle's work that reflects this
adjusted rate. See Plaintiffs' Supplemental Memorandum
Regarding Plaintiffs' Third Motion for Interim Attorneys' Fees
("Pls.' Supp."), Attach. 1, Plaintiffs' Revised Invoice Regarding
Joshua McMillan; and Attach. 2, Plaintiff's Revised Invoice for
PI-Attorneys' Fees. The Court finds this new schedule adequately
addresses the Court's previous concerns regarding Ms.
Julianelle's hourly billing rate.
Plaintiffs also have provided materials in support of their
claims for fees for the efforts of "MDL," or Maria D. Luciano.
According to the materials, Ms. Luciano is a paralegal who
received her paralegal degree from Antioch School of Law in 1997
and has been employed in the Law Offices of Donna L. Wulkan since
1996. The Law Office generally bills for Ms. Luciano's work at
$75.00 per hour, and submitted an invoice reflecting this rate.
See Pls.' Supp., Attach. 3, Sworn Affidavit of Maria D. Luciano
at 1.*fn3 In light of Ms. Luciano's position and experience as documented in plaintiffs' submission, the Court
concludes that $75.00 is a reasonable rate to charge for her
Finally, the Court considers the materials provided by
plaintiffs in support of their fee application with respect to
"JA," or Jamie L.A. Rodriguez. Ms. Rodriguez is a second year
associate with the Law Offices of Donna Wulkan who has worked on
"dozens" of special education cases in the District of Columbia
and Maryland, and is a member in good standing of the Bars of the
District of Columbia and Maryland Pls.' Supp., Attach. 4, Sworn
Affidavit of Jamie L.A. Rodriguez at 1. As reflected in the
invoice submitted, Ms. Rodriguez's efforts in September 1999
through January 2000 were billed at a rate of $125.00, a rate
below the permissible rate provided for in the Laffey Matrix.
See Laffey Matrix 1992-2003 (providing rate of $165.00 for
attorneys with one to three years of experience). In light of Ms.
Rodriquez's position and experience as documented in plaintiffs'
submission, the Court concludes that $125.00 is a reasonable rate
to charge for her work.
Because the Court previously concluded that plaintiffs are
prevailing parties and that the hours expended by plaintiffs'
attorneys' were reasonable, in light of the foregoing the Court
will order defendants to pay the amounts requested by plaintiffs
pursuant to the invoices submitted with plaintiffs' supplemental
brief. Accordingly, it is hereby
ORDERED that defendants shall pay plaintiffs in attorneys' fees
in the amount of $8582.50 on or before September 3, 2004. If this
amount is not paid on or before September 3, 2004, it will bear
interest at the rate established by 28 U.S.C. § 1961 from
September 4, 2004.