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DL v. District of Columbia

March 11, 2009

DL, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Now before the Court is plaintiffs' motion [110] for attorneys' fees and expenses. Upon consideration of the motion, the opposition, the reply, the entire record herein, and applicable law, the motion will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part for the reasons set forth below.

I. BACKGROUND

This case is a class action on behalf of disabled pre-school children in Washington, D.C. The plaintiffs allege that defendants have failed to identify, locate, evaluate, and offer special education and related services in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Individuals with Disabilities and Education Act.

On December 28, 2005, plaintiffs served defendants with plaintiffs' first set of requests for production of documents. After the defendants objected to numerous production requests, the plaintiffs filed a motion to compel. Following the Court's class certification of the plaintiffs' action, the Court denied the motion to compel without prejudice and ordered the parties to consider the impact of the decision on class certification and meet and confer, in person, through counsel, to seek and resolve any remaining differences. (Docket No. [59].) Following further requests for the production of documents and the plaintiffs' numerous unsuccessful attempts to get the defendants to comply with their discovery obligations, the plaintiffs filed a second motion to compel.

On June 27, 2008, the Court granted in part and denied in part*fn1 plaintiffs' motion to compel plaintiffs' first, second, and third requests for production of documents and plaintiffs' first set of interrogatories and directed plaintiffs to file a request for an amount of reasonable attorneys' fees and expenses incurred in filing plaintiffs' motion. (Docket [108] at 5.) The Court found that the District's objections to discovery requests were "almost exclusively unfounded," that its objections were not "substantially justified," and that the District had displayed a pattern of "tardy and piecemeal disclosure." (Mem. Op. [107] at 15, 19.) The Court also found that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a)(5)(A) mandates that the plaintiffs be awarded reasonable attorneys fees and costs in this case. (See id. at 18.)

The plaintiffs' fee request is currently before the Court. Plaintiffs request $287,146.17 in fees and expenses for their counsel's work and expenses negotiating discovery, researching and drafting the two motions to compel, and preparing this fee petition. After reviewing the briefs, the time records, and the District's objections, the Court finds that a total fees and expenses award of $114,319.42 is appropriate and reasonable in this case.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Applicable Law

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a)(5) states that if a motion to compel "is granted-or if the disclosure or requested discovery is provided after the motion was filed-the court must, after giving an opportunity to be heard, require the party or deponent whose conduct necessitated the motion... to pay the movant's reasonable expenses in making the motion, including attorney's fees." "Under Rule 37, the district court has broad discretion to impose sanctions for discovery violations" and to determine what sanctions to impose. Bonds v. District of Columbia, 93 F.3d 801, 807 (D.C. Cir. 1996). The purpose of the rule is "not merely to penalize those whose conduct may be deemed to warrant such a sanction, but to deter those who might be tempted to such conduct in the absence of such a deterrent." Nat'l Hockey League v. Metro. Hockey Club, Inc., 427 U.S. 639, 643 (1976). Accordingly, awarding attorneys' fees to the plaintiffs in this case is not only warranted, but required by the language of Rule 37(a)(5).*fn2

The initial estimate for attorneys' fees is calculated by "multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation times a reasonable hourly rate."*fn3 Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 888 (1984). A strong presumption exists that the product of these two variables-the "lodestar figure"-represents a reasonable fee. Pennsylvania v. Del. Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 565 (1986).

B. Reasonable Rate

The Court first must determine the rates that will apply to plaintiffs' hours. Plaintiffs and defendants agree that an "updated Laffey matrix" should supply the rates that will apply to the attorneys' hours. See Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, 572 F. Supp. 354 (D.D.C. 1983). The parties disagree as to which version of the Laffey matrix should apply, however. "While use of the Laffey Matrix has been upheld by our Circuit since 1988, there are two different versions of it used as proof of the prevailing market rates in federal court litigation in the District of Columbia." Smith v. District of Columbia, 466 F. Supp. 2d 151, 155 (Kessler, J.) (D.D.C. 2006). The version of the matrix advocated by the plaintiffs is updated by using "the legal services component of the CPI [Consumer Price Index] rather than the general CPI." Id. at 156. The matrix advocated by the defendants is maintained by the Civil Division of the United States Attorney's Office and "calculates the matrix rate for each year by adding the change in the overall cost of living, as reflected in the United States Consumer Price Index for the Washington, D.C. area for the prior year." Id. In other words, the updated Laffey matrix based on the legal services index has the advantage of being specifically targeted at legal services, while the USAO index has the advantage of being specifically targeted at the Washington, D.C. area. And, of course, the Laffey matrix advocated by the plaintiffs results in higher rates.

Although the Circuit has not expressed a preference regarding the matrix that should be used, a survey of the district court cases in this Circuit demonstrates that because the fundamental attorneys' fees question is whether or not a fee award is "reasonable," the Court can use its discretion in applying the matrix that results in the most reasonable award.*fn4 For example, one member of this Court has applied the updated Laffey matrix based on the legal services index, stating that it is "more accurate" because it is "based on increases/decreases in legal services rather than increase/decreases in the entire CPI which includes price changes for many different goods and services." Smith v. District of Columbia, 466 F. Supp. 2d at 156. This Court, however, recently held that the legal services matrix reflects national inflation trends, while the USAO matrix accounts for price inflation within the local community, a crucial distinction because the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court have both emphasized ...


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