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Trinetta Mcclam and N.M v. District of Columbia

September 6, 2011

TRINETTA MCCLAM AND N.M., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

After prevailing in an administrative action under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Improvement Act (collectively "IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., Trinetta McClam and her son, N.M., brought this suit seeking attorney's fees and costs. Plaintiffs have now filed a motion for summary judgment; the District of Columbia opposes and seeks entry of judgment, arguing, inter alia, that the attorney's billing rate is excessive. As explained below, the motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTS

Ms. McClam is the parent of a minor child, N.M. As provided for by the IDEA, she pursued a free appropriate education for her disabled child. On October 27 and 28 and November 12, 2009, an administrative due process hearing was held concerning N.M.'s special education needs. The District concedes that Ms. McClam and N.M. were the prevailing parties in that proceeding. See Opp'n [Dkt. # 9] at 1.

Under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B), a court may award attorney's fees to a parent who prevails in an IDEA proceeding. Thus, Plaintiffs submitted a petition for attorney's fees and costs to the District in the amount of $44,038.32. Pls.' Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 8] ("Pls.' Mot."), Ex. 2 [Dkt. # 8-6] (invoice dated Dec. 30, 2009). On April 27, 2010, the District paid $31,333.65 on this first invoice. Then, Plaintiffs submitted a invoice for fees and costs in the amount of $3,170.47. Pls.' Mot., Ex. 4 [Dkt. # 8-8] (invoice dated Dec. 27, 2010). The District made a supplemental payment in the amount of $2,724.78 on May 13, 2011.

The District did not pay the full amount of the invoices because it deleted amounts attributable to the period before the underlying August 13, 2009 due process complaint filing and after the November 22, 2009 Hearing Officer's Determination ("HOD"). The District reduced the amounts further by discounting the attorney's hourly rate from $400 and $450 per hour to $300 per hour through December 9, 2009 and to $400 per hour thereafter and by discounting the photocopying charge from $0.25 per page to $0.15 per page. The District also refused to pay mileage and fax charges.

Because the District did not pay the full amount of attorney's fees and costs submitted, Plaintiff brought suit seeking the remainder of the amounts invoiced, i.e., $13,150.36. Plaintiffs now move for summary judgment. The District filed an opposition, asking that Plaintiffs' motion be denied and seeking entry of judgment for defendant. See Opp'n at 2, 12. Because the District seeks entry of judgment, the Court treats the Opposition as a cross motion for summary judgment. The cross motions for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment shall be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); accord Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). Moreover, summary judgment is properly granted against a party who "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion . . . fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. A nonmoving party, however, must establish more than "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. In addition, the nonmoving party may not rely solely on allegations or conclusory statements. Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999). Rather, the nonmoving party must present specific facts that would enable a reasonable jury to find in its favor. Id. at 675. If the evidence "is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted).

III. ANALYSIS

A. Rates

The IDEA authorizes an award of attorney's fees to a prevailing party who is the parent of a child with a disability. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B). Attorney's fees "shall be based on rates prevailing in the community in which the action or proceeding arose for the kind and quality of services furnished." Id. § 1415(i)(3)(C). Thus, to recover attorney's fees, a party must demonstrate that she is the prevailing party and that the fees sought are reasonable. Rooths v. Dist. of Columbia, No. 09-492, 2011 WL 3529292, at * 3 (D.D.C. Aug. 9, 2011). Courts determine whether a fee is reasonable by by calculating the "lodestar fee," i.e. the number of hours reasonably expended multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437 (1983).*fn1 The fee applicant bears the burden of establishing all elements of the requested fee award, including entitlement to the award, documentation of appropriate hours, and justification for the reasonableness of the rates. Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 897 (1984); Covington v. Dist. of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995).*fn2

The determination of a market rate is "inherently difficult" and is decided by the court in its discretion. Blum, 465 U.S. at 896 n.11. "To inform and assist the court in the exercise of its discretion, the burden is on the fee applicant to produce satisfactory evidence - in addition to the attorney's own affidavits - that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation." Id. "[A]n attorney's usual billing rate is presumptively the reasonable rate, provided that this rate is in ...


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