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Dickens v. Friendship-Edison P.C.S.

July 21, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alan Kay, United States Magistrate Judge


Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Fees and Costs [24] ("Mot."), Defendant Friendship-Edison Public Charter School's ("FECPS") Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion ("Opp'n") [26], and Plaintiffs' Reply to Defendants' Opposition ("Reply") [27]. Plaintiffs are requesting an award of attorneys' fees and costs incurred in connection with the prosecution of administrative complaints and this lawsuit. Upon consideration of the memoranda and exhibits submitted in connection with this Motion, the Opposition thereto, and Plaintiffs' Reply, for the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs' Motion is granted in part and denied in part. An appropriate order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.


In August 2009, this Court found that remaining Plaintiffs*fn2 -- parents of minor children who had undergone administrative due process hearings at FECPS in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA" or "the Act") -- were "prevailing parties" under the Act and entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees. (Mem. Op. on Pls.' Mot. for Summ. J. and Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Mem. Op.") [22] at 13.) Accordingly, this Court granted these Plaintiffs' summary judgment motions and directed the parties to file supplemental briefings assessing the reasonableness of Plaintiffs' claimed fees. (Order [23] dated 08/04/09.)

On March 22, 2010, Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion, along with detailed billing invoices -- both for the underlying administrative actions and the instant action -- and affidavits addressing the experience and qualifications of the attorneys and support staff participating in the case. (Mot., Exs. B-L.) Plaintiffs move this Court for an award in the amount of $30,096.38.*fn3 (Mot. at 6.) Plaintiffs' fee and cost requests break down as follows:

 FEESCOSTSTOTAL TD$7,806.95$522.16$8,329.11 GW$14,275.40$490.46$14,765.86 AM$3,228.75$208.96$3,437.71 Fee Litigation$3,213.70$350.00$3,563.70


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(2) states in relevant part that "[c]laims for attorneys fees and related non-taxable expenses shall be made by motion" and further, such motion "must specify the judgment and the statute, rule or other grounds entitling the moving party to the award; and must state the amount or provide a fair estimate of the amount sought." Under the IDEA, plaintiffs are entitled to reimbursement of "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). To establish that the hourly rate charged is reasonable, a fee applicant must show: (1) the attorneys' billing practices; (2) the attorneys' skill, experience, and reputation; (3) and the prevailing market rates in the relevant community. Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995); see § 1415(i)(3)(C) (fees awarded under the IDEA "shall be based on rates prevailing in the community in which the action or proceeding arose for the kind and quality of services furnished"). Prevailing parties may recover fees both for civil litigation in federal court and for administrative litigation before hearing officers. Smith v Roher, 954 F. Supp. 359, 362 (D.D.C. 1997).

The court should exclude from its fee calculation hours that were not "reasonably expended." Lopez v. District of Columbia, 383 F. Supp. 2d 18, 24 (D.D.C. 2005)(citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 (1983), abrogated on other grounds by Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 795-805 (2002)); see § 1415(i)(3)(F)(iii). Hours expended may be "unreasonable" if they are excessive for the type of task performed, if they reflect redundant or overstaffed efforts, or if they are "otherwise unnecessary." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434.*fn4 Plaintiffs satisfy the burden of demonstrating the reasonableness of hours "by submitting invoices that are sufficiently detailed to 'permit the District Court to make an independent determination whether or not the hours claimed are justified.'" Lopez, 383 F. Supp. 2d at 24 (citing Nat'l Ass'n of Concerned Veterans v. Sec'y of Def., 675 F.2d 1319, 1327 (D.C. Cir. 1982)).

The burden is on the party seeking fees to justify the request. In re North, 8 F.3d 847, 852 (D.C. Cir. 1993). To meet that burden, the applicant must establish entitlement to the award, document the appropriate hours, and justify the reasonableness of the rate charged. Covington, 57 F.3d at 1107. Defendants may challenge the claimed attorneys' fees, but they "must provide 'specific and contrary evidence' to rebut the presumption of reasonableness... and demonstrate that a lower rate would be appropriate." Lopez, 383 F. Supp. 2d 18, 24 (D.D.C. 2005) (quoting Kaseman, 329 F. Supp. 2d at 26 (citing Covington, 57 F.3d at 1110-11)). The trial court retains considerable discretion in evaluating the reasonableness of a fee request. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i); see Kattan v. District of Columbia, 995 F.2d 274, 278 (D.C. Cir. 1993) ("A district court's discretion as to the proper hourly rate to award counsel should not be upset absent clear misapplication of legal principles, arbitrary fact finding, or unprincipled disregard for the record evidence.") (citing King v. Palmer, 950 F.2d 771, 786 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (en banc)).


This Court has determined that remaining Plaintiffs are "prevailing parties" entitled to an award of reasonable attorneys' fees under the IDEA, 20 U.S.C. §1415(i)(3)(B). (Mem. Op. at 13.) "The initial estimate of a reasonable attorney's fee is properly calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation times a reasonable hourly rate." Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 888 (1984) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983), abrogated on other grounds by Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 795-805 (2002)). Here, Plaintiffs have provided, both by affidavit and in the detailed invoices appended to their motion, evidence of the standard rates billed by the attorneys involved and those attorneys' educational backgrounds and years of experience in special education law. (Mot., Exs. B-L.) As evidence of the prevailing hourly rates in the community, Plaintiffs direct the Court's attention to the Laffey Matrix, which this Court recognizes as a measure for the reasonableness of hourly rates in IDEA cases. See, e.g., Jackson v. District of Columbia, 603 F. Supp. 2d 92, 96-97 (D.D.C. 2009) ("Courts in this district have routinely held that attorneys' fees in IDEA actions are reasonable if they conform to the Laffey Matrix.") (citations omitted).

Defendant does not challenge the use of the Laffey Matrix in determining a reasonable rate; however, it does object to the use of the Matrix as applied to certain attorneys and paralegals. (Opp'n at 2-3.) Defendant also objects to the number of hours billed, arguing that many entries on Plaintiffs' invoices are unreasonable or non-compensable. (Id. at 3-4.) For the same reason, Defendant also objects to Plaintiffs' claimed costs. (Id. at 8-9.) Finally, Defendant argues for ...

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