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Morirum Obi Rapu v. D. C. Public Schools

June 27, 2011

MORIRUM OBI RAPU, PLAINTIFF,
v.
D. C. PUBLIC SCHOOLS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy Berman Jackson United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Morirum Obi Rapu brought this action against the District of Columbia and District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") seeking to collect attorneys' fees incurred while bringing a successful administrative action under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq. Now pending before the Court is plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, which the parties agree the Court should treat as a motion for attorneys' fees and costs.*fn1 For the following reasons the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

Plaintiff is the parent of a student enrolled in a DCPS school who filed a due process complaint alleging that DCPS denied her child a free appropriate public education as required under the IDEA. Am. Compl. ¶ 4. On February 9, 2009, the hearing officer issued a decision ("HOD") in plaintiff's favor. Am. Compl. ¶ 9; Answer ¶ 9. After the hearing officer's decision, plaintiff submitted a petition for attorneys' fees to the DCPS seeking $5,410.10. Defendants reimbursed plaintiff in the amount of $1,119.60, resulting in a difference of $4,134.10. Mot. for Summ. J., Ex.5; see also Mot. for Summ. J. at 8.

On August 20, 2009, plaintiff filed a complaint in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia seeking payment for the remaining amount of attorneys' fees and costs incurred as part of the IDEA hearing. Compl. [Dkt. No. 1]. Defendants removed the complaint to this Court on September 18, 2009. Id.

Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on March 15, 2010, in which she seeks attorneys' fees of $5,410.10,*fn2 "minus the amount already paid by the DCPS," and court costs and attorneys' fees for the instant action. Compl. at 4. On June 1, 2010, the Court dismissed the District of Columbia Public Schools as a non-suitable entity, so the District of Columbia remains as the only defendant in this case.

On July 30, 2010, plaintiff filed its motion for summary judgment, which the Court will now consider as a motion for attorneys' fees.

II. Standard of Review

Under the IDEA, this Court has the discretion to "award reasonable attorneys' fees as part of the costs to the parents of a child with a disability who is the prevailing party" in an administrative proceeding. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B). In other words, if the plaintiff seeking attorneys' fees is a prevailing party, the Court must determine whether the attorneys' fees are reasonable. Jackson v. District of Columbia, 696 F. Supp. 2d 97, 100 (D.D.C. 2010). Courts typically determine the reasonableness of attorneys' fees based on the "number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Id. (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)).

The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing both the reasonableness of the hourly rate and the reasonableness of the number of hours spent on a particular task. In re North, 59 F.3d 184, 189 (D.C. Cir. 1995). To show the reasonableness of the hourly rates, plaintiff "must submit evidence on at least three fronts: 'the attorneys' billing practices; the attorneys' skill, experience, and reputation; and the prevailing market rates in the relevant community.'" Jackson, 696 F. Supp. 2d at 101 (quoting Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995)). To show the reasonableness of hours spent on a task, plaintiff may submit an "invoice that is sufficiently detailed to 'permit the District Court to make an independent determination whether or not the hours claimed are justified.'" Holbrook v. District of Columbia, 305 F. Supp. 2d 41, 45 (D.D.C. 2004) (quoting Nat'l Ass'n of Concerned Veterans v. Sec'y of Defense, 675 F.2d 1319, 1327 (D.C. Cir. 1982)).

III. Analysis

As an initial matter, the Court notes that plaintiff's fee submission left much to be desired since it failed to identify which attorney performed the particular tasks for which the law firm submitted bills. Plaintiff's submission supplies the rate at which each task was billed, and a list of rates that each timekeeper charged. Neither defendant nor the Court should have to cross-reference the list of rates per timekeeper against the individual invoice entries to decipher which timekeeper performed the work at issue. See Gray v. District of Columbia, --- F. Supp. 2d ---, 2011 WL 1561553, at *2 (D.D.C. Apr. 26, 2011) (finding that plaintiff failed to carry her burden by submitting a fee petition lacking "sufficient detail, failing to even identify which attorney, or non-attorney, performed each activity for which fees are claimed"). Nevertheless, the Court is able to decide whether the hours claimed for particular tasks are justified and to make a determination of what rates should apply.*fn3 The Court will therefore exercise its discretion and consider the reasonableness of the fee petition.

A. The Hourly Rates

1. The prevailing ...


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