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Adrienne Wright, et al v. District of Columbia

January 11, 2012

ADRIENNE WRIGHT, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is pending before the Court on Plaintiffs Adrienne Wright, et al., ("Plaintiffs") Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support thereof ("Pls.' Mot.") [16]; Defendant District of Columbia's Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Opp.") [17]; and Plaintiffs' Reply to the Opposition ("Reply") [14]. Plaintiffs have requested from the District of Columbia ("the District" or "Defendant") a total of $62,563.18 in legal fees and costs, of which the District has paid $43,207.33. The instant Motion requests the additional $19,355.85 as well as prejudgment interest. The parties have consented to proceed before a Magistrate Judge [10]. Based on the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs' Motion will be granted-in-part and denied-in-part.

I. BACKGROUND

Adrienne Wright ("Wright") is the parent of a minor child who prevailed in an administrative action brought pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Improvement Act (collectively "IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. Pursuant to 20 U.S.C. §1415(i)(3)(B), a court may award attorney fees to a parent who prevails in an IDEA proceeding. Wright participated in a February 5, 2010 due process hearing at which the hearing officer considered whether the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") denied the minor child a Free Appropriate Public Education ("FAPE") as required under the law.

The Hearing Officer's Decision ("HOD") concluded that DCPS did not provide the minor child a FAPE by failing to provide the child with an appropriate Individual Education Plan ("IEP"), failing to conduct the proper evaluations and failing to provide the student with a placement to meet his educational needs. (HOD [16-5] at 7-9.) The HOD ordered DCPS to place the child in a private full-time special education school for the remainder of that school year, to fund independent evaluations of the child and to conduct four meetings to revise the child's IEP and review the results of the evaluations. (Id. at 10.) The District does not dispute Plaintiffs' prevailing party status in this case.

Elizabeth Jester ("Jester") represented Plaintiffs at the administrative hearing and at subsequent meetings. Jester documents 138.3 hours of attorney time, 18 hours of which were billed at $400 per hour and 120.3 of which were billed at $450 per hour. Jester documents 3.2 hours of paralegal time at $125 per hour. For costs, Jester documents 2,587 pages in copies and 168 pages of faxes at $0.25 per page. Jester asks for 210 miles of mileage at two different rates of $0.585 and $0.558 per mile. Finally, Jester includes postage charges.

Plaintiffs submitted four separate invoices to the District for attorney fees and costs, each of which was paid in part. On February 19, 2009, Plaintiffs requested $37,693.07, of which the District paid $25,417.88. On July 22, 2010, Plaintiffs requested $12,776.41, of which the District paid $9,314.61. On October 25, 2010, Plaintiffs requested $7,413.29, of which the District paid $4,509.30. On December 27, 2010, Plaintiffs requested $4,680.41 of which the District paid $3,965.54. (Pls.' Mot., Exs. 2-14 [16-6 through 16-18].)

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The IDEA gives courts authority to award reasonable attorney fees to the parents of a child with a disability who is the prevailing party. 20 U.S.C. §1415(i)(3)(B); Moore v. District of Columbia, 907 F.2d 165, 176 (D.C. Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 998 (1990). The plaintiff has the burden of establishing the reasonableness of any fee requests. See In re North, 59 F.3d 184, 189 (D.C. Cir. 1995); Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995) ("a fee applicant bears the burden of establishing entitlement to an award, documenting the appropriate hours, and justifying the reasonableness of the rates.") Fee awards are generally calculated by producing the "lodestar" amount, equal to the number of hours reasonably expended in the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly fee. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983).

20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(C) states that fee awards in IDEA cases "shall be based on rates prevailing in the community in which the action or proceeding arose for the kind and quality of services furnished." The determination of a market rate is "inherently difficult" and is decided by the court in its discretion. Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 896 n.11, 104 S.Ct. 1541, 1547, n.11 (1986). To demonstrate a reasonable hourly rate, plaintiffs "must offer evidence to demonstrate their attorneys' experience, skill, reputation, and the complexity of the case they handled." Covington, 57 F.3d at 1108.

A party moving for summary judgment on legal fees accordingly must demonstrate prevailing party status and the reasonableness of the fees requested in terms of hours spent and hourly rate. Rooths v. District of Columbia, No. 09-cv-0492, 2011 WL 3529292, at *3 (D.D.C. Aug. 9, 2011). Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a), summary judgment shall be granted if the movant shows that there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). Summary judgment should be granted against a party "who 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).

The court is required to draw all justifiable inferences in the non-moving party's favor and to accept the non-moving party's evidence as true. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. The non-moving party must establish more than "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. The non-moving party may not rely on allegations or conclusory statements; instead, the non-moving party is obliged to present specific facts that would enable a reasonable jury to find it its favor. Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999).

III. ANALYSIS

A. Reasonable ...


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