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M.R v. District of Columbia

January 30, 2012

M.R., PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Robert and Marjorie Rennhack filed suit as the parents and next friends of their minor son M.R., a disabled child receiving special education and related services from the District of Columbia under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. The Complaint seeks payment for attorney's fees incurred by Plaintiffs in obtaining reimbursement for tuition and expenses related to M.R.'s placement at the Grove School for the 2009-2010 school year. Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' [8] Motion for Summary Judgment. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for consideration.*fn1 For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that Plaintiffs are not a "prevailing party" for purposes of the IDEA and thus are not entitled to attorney's fees under the statute. Therefore, Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

Although the parties provide the Court with a very limited factual record, the few facts necessary to decide Plaintiffs' motion are not in dispute. M.R. is a twenty year old student eligible for special education and related services by the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS"). Pls.' Stmt. of Undisputed Facts ("Pls.' Stmt.") ¶ 1. M.R. attended the Grove School, a private residential school in Connecticut, during the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years. Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ("Def.'s Stmt.") ¶ 1. Pursuant to the IDEA, DCPS funded M.R.'s placement at the Grove School. Id. at ¶ 2.

In June 2009, Plaintiffs requested funding for M.R. to remain at the Grove School during the 2009-2010 school year. Pls.' Ex. G (10/2/2009 Ltr P. Rosenstock to D. Dukes). DCPS requested documentation in support of this request. Id. Plaintiffs' attorneys provided certain documents in October 2009. Id. In December, Plaintiffs' attorneys contacted DCPS to schedule an Individualized Educational Program meeting to discuss M.R.'s continued placement at the Grove School. Pls.' Ex. H (12/15/2009 Email P. Rosenstock to T. Keiko). DCPS indicates the meeting was initially scheduled for January 2010, but was postponed until May 6, 2010 because of scheduling conflicts. Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 6-7. The District did not receive written permission allowing the Grove School's personnel to speak with the DCPS until the May 2010 IEP meeting. Id. at ¶ 7.

On September 15, 2010, Plaintiffs filed a Due Process Complaint Notice seeking reimbursement for M.R.'s attendance at the Grove School for the 2009-2010 School Year. Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 2; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 8; Pls.' Ex. J (Due Process Compl. Notice). In lieu of an administrative hearing, the parties entered into a settlement agreement on October 4, 2010. Pls.' Ex. A (Settlement Agreement). The agreement provided, in relevant part, that DCPS would reimburse Plaintiffs for "the provision of specialized instruction and related services at The Grove School for the 2009-2010 [school year]" as well as "reasonable and documented attorney fees." Id. The attorney's fee provision specifically provides:

Parent agrees to accept reasonable and documented attorney fees, as full and final payment of any attorney fees and related costs incurred, or to be incurred, in this matter. Payment of the specified amount is contingent upon submission of the following: a) a certified invoice confirming to the DCPS attorney fee guidelines, issued October 1, 2006, and itemizing all costs incurred to date relating to the pending hearing request; and b) signature by the parent below or written authorization by the parent for the attorney to enter into this Settlement Agreement on the parent's behalf.

Id. at ¶ 12. Pursuant to the terms of the agreement, Plaintiffs withdrew the request for a Due Process hearing with prejudice. Pls.' Ex. B (10/5/2010 Ltr P. Rosenstock to S. Newsome).

Plaintiffs' attorneys submitted a request for fees and costs to DCPS on October 27, 2010. Pl.'s Ex. C (10/27/2010 Ltr M. Eig to DCPS Office of General Counsel). Plaintiffs sought reimbursement in the amount of $38,708.41. Id. at 2. DCPS approved payment for $3,310.40 after finding Plaintiffs' attorneys' hourly rates excessive and many of the expenses too remote in time to justify reimbursement. Pls.' Ex. D (DCPS Attorney Invoice Submission and notations on Plaintiffs' request for attorney's fees). Plaintiffs filed this action on March 29, 2011 seeking (1) a declaratory judgment that "defendants [sic] have violated plaintiffs' rights under the IDEA;" and (2) an order "[c]ompelling defendants [sic] to pay plaintiffs and their counsel reasonable attorneys' fees and costs as defined by the IDEA." Compl. at 3. The Complaint invokes this Court's jurisdiction under the IDEA and does not purport to seek enforcement of the settlement agreement itself.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Plaintiffs seek summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. "The court shall grant summary judgment 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).

A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by:

(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials); or

(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce ...


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