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Kingsberry v. District of Columbia

August 9, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John M. Facciola United States Magistrate Judge


This case was referred to me for resolution of Plaintiff's Motion for an Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs. For the reasons stated herein, plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part.


Plaintiff Miriam Kingsberry is the parent of "Minor," who is considered disabled for the purposes of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. On November 17, 2003, plaintiff filed suit in federal court claiming that "the District of Columbia Public School System ("DCPS") violated Minor's right under the IDEA to a Free and Appropriate Public Education ("FAPE") by denying Minor certain educational reevaluations and denying the plaintiff access to Minor's educational records." Kingsberry v. District of Columbia, 03-cv-02378, slip op. at 1 (D.D.C. Feb. 7, 2005).

Prior to bringing this suit, plaintiff petitioned for an administrative hearing on similar grounds. Id. at 3. On September 30, 2003, the administrative hearing officer ("HO") "dismissed the plaintiff's petition with prejudice, holding that neither the denial of the reevaluation nor the plaintiff's inability to access Minor's record constituted a violation of the IDEA." Id. (citation omitted). The HO also denied the plaintiff's motion for reconsideration, holding that "the plaintiff's request for records and reevaluation had no reasonable relationship to Minor's academic performance." Id. (citation omitted).

Having thus exhausted her administrative remedies, the plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit and subsequently moved for summary judgment. Id. at 1. On February 7, 2005, the court granted partial summary judgment in plaintiff's favor, holding that the HO had committed legal error regarding the plaintiff's request for reevaluation. Id. at 10. However, the court sustained the HO's determination regarding plaintiff's request for records and denied plaintiff summary judgment on that issue. Id. at 12.

Plaintiff has now filed a Motion for an Award of Attorney's Fees and Costs ("Pl's. Mot.") pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B) (2000). In ruling on the motion, this court will consider the plaintiff's eligibility for attorneys' fees, the reasonableness of the fees requested, and whether the authority vested in the court to award reasonable attorneys' fees is restricted by the District of Columbia Appropriations Act of 2005.


I. Plaintiff's Eligibility for Attorneys' Fees

"[T]he court, in its discretion, may 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). "[S]section 1415(i)(3)(B) also authorizes a parent who prevails in an IDEA administrative hearing to recover attorney's fees by filing suit for the fees in federal court." Kaseman v. District of Columbia, 329 F. Supp. 2d 20, 23 (D.D.C. 2004) (citations omitted).

In order to qualify as a prevailing party, it is not necessary for parents to obtain all the relief that they initially sought. However, "there must be an 'alteration in the legal relationship of the parties' that has been given some judicial imprimatur. . . " in order for a court to award attorneys' fees. Armstrong v. Vance, 328 F. Supp. 2d 50, 57 (D.D.C. 2004) (quoting Buckhannon Bd. and Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Dep't of Health and Human Res., 532 U.S. 598, 605 (2001).

In this case, the court partially granted plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, affirming plaintiff's right to any future reevaluations that may be necessary for the ongoing development of Minor's educational program. See Kingsberry v. District of Columbia, 03-cv-02378, slip op. at 10 (D.D.C. Feb. 7, 2005) (quoting 34 C.F.R. § 300.536(b)) ("[P]ublic agencies 'shall ensure' that a child receives a reevaluation when the child's parent makes such a request"). This determination operates as an enforceable judgment on the merits and creates "'the "material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties" necessary to permit an award of attorney's fees.'" Armstrong, 328 F. Supp. 2d at 57 (quoting Buckhannon, 532 U.S. at 604 (citation omitted)). Defendants do not contest plaintiff's prevailing party status. Defendant's Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs ("Def's. Opp'n") at 1.

Further, this court finds that plaintiff obtained essentially complete relief, despite having prevailed on only one of her two claims. The purpose of the instant suit was to ensure that Minor received the FAPE to which he was entitled under the IDEA. In July 2003, plaintiff requested Minor's educational records and was told that no records could be located. Complaint at 3. Minor was then transferred from Drapier Elementary School to Kramer Middle School in September 2003. Id. at 2. According to plaintiff, because there were no records available to either herself or Kramer Middle School, Kramer was unable to provide Minor with the services contained in his educational program. Id. at 3. Plaintiff therefore requested that Minor be reevaluated in order to secure FAPE. Id. When this request was denied, plaintiff filed for administrative and legal redress.

As stated above, Minor prevailed on his request for reevaluation but failed to convince the court on his claim regarding his educational records. When the district court affirmed plaintiff's right to the reevaluation of Minor upon request, however, it served the larger purpose of ensuring Minor's right to FAPE. In other words, by prevailing on that claim, plaintiff obtained essentially complete relief. As the Supreme Court has stated, "[w]here a plaintiff has obtained excellent results, his attorney should recover a fully compensatory fee. . . . In these circumstances the fee award should not be reduced simply because the plaintiff failed to prevail on every contention raised in the lawsuit." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 435 (1983) (citing Davis v. County of Los ...

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