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Tammie Garvin, et al v. Government of the District of Columbia

March 30, 2012

TAMMIE GARVIN, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GOVERNMENT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The plaintiffs, Tammie Garvin and her minor child, A.G., bring this action on behalf of A.G., against the District of Columbia government seeking "outstanding . . . attorney's fees and costs [allegedly] owed to [the p]laintiffs in the amount of '$5,822.17," Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 11, pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1491 (2006), Compl. ¶ 1.*fn1 Currently before this Court is the Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pls.' Mot."). After carefully considering the plaintiffs' complaint, the motion, the defendant's opposition to the motion, and the memoranda of law and exhibits submitted in conjunction with those filings,*fn2 the Court concludes that it must grant in part and deny in part the plaintiffs' motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Congress enacted the IDEA "to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). A free appropriate public education entitles "each child with a disability" to an "individualized education program" that is tailored to meet his or her unique needs. 20 U.S.C. §§ 1414(d)(1)(A)-(2)(A). Furthermore, the IDEA authorizes courts to grant attorneys' fees to the prevailing party, pursuant to section 1415(i). 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3).

The following facts are undisputed unless indicated otherwise. A.G. "suffers from a diagnosed disability such that A.G. requires special education services pursuant to the [IDEA]." Memorandum of Point and Authorities in Support of Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pls.' Mem.") at 1-2.*fn3 On May 5, 2009, the plaintiffs filed a complaint with the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education, Office of Compliance & Review, State Enforcement & Investigation Division, Student Hearing Office "alleging that the [District of Columbia Public Schools were] den[ying]" A.G. a free appropriate public education "by failing and refusing to include one-on-one home tutoring services as part of [A.G.'s individualized education program ("IEP")], and by deferring the decision refusing to provide the tutoring to a [District of Columbia Public Schools] employee who was not part of the student's IEP team and who did not participate in the IEP meeting." Pls.' Mem, Exhibit ("Ex.") 1 (Hearing Officer's Determination) at 3.*fn4 "On June 9, 2009[,] pursuant to IDEA, an administrative due process hearing was held concerning the special education needs of A.G." Plaintiffs' Statement of Material Facts as to Which There is No Dispute ("Pls.' Stmt.") ¶ 3; Defendant's Response to Plaintiffs' Statement of Material Facts ("Def.'s Stmt.") ¶ 3. The plaintiffs were the prevailing party in the administrative hearing. Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 4; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 4. Beginning "[o]n July 14, 2009, pursuant to IDEA, a petition for attorney's fees and costs was submitted to D.C. Public Schools," Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 5; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 5, through the submission of various invoices up to and including September 21, 2010, Pls.' Stmt. ¶¶ 5-13. Some of the amounts in the various invoices submitted for payment were paid by D.C. Public Schools, Pls.' Stmt. ¶¶ 5-13; Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 5-13, however, as of the date of the filing of the Complaint in this case on February 15, 2011, the plaintiffs assert that there remains an outstanding balance of attorney's fees equaling "$5,822.17," Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 15. The defendant asserts that the total fees requested by the plaintiffs' invoices is unreasonable, Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 14, and "should be reduced by $4,652.09," Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Opp'n") at 2.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A motion for summary judgment should 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). "[A] material fact is 'genuine' . . . if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party" on an element of the claim. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (citing Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000)). If the Court concludes that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof," then the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 317-18 (1986).

Under the IDEA, a federal district court has the authority to "award reasonable attorneys' fees as part of the costs to a prevailing party who is the parent of a child with a disability." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i). "A court's determination of the appropriate attorney's fees . . . is based on a two-step inquiry." Jackson v. Dist. of Columbia, 696 F. Supp. 2d 97, 101 (D.D.C. 2010). Initially, in a case in which a party is seeking attorneys' fees under the IDEA, a district court must determine if the party is the prevailing party, and next, the court must "determine whether the attorney's fees sought are reasonable." Id. In general, a "reasonable" attorneys' fee is determined by the reasonable number of hours expended multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983) ("The most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate."); see also Nat'l Ass'n of Concerned Veterans v. Sec'y of Def., 675 F.2d 1319, 1324 (D.C. Cir. 1982) (stating that "the key issue in establishing" a reasonable attorneys' fee "is to determine the reasonable hourly rate prevailing in the community for similar work" (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).

Importantly, the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that both the hourly rate and the number of hours spent on particular tasks are reasonable. In re North, 59 F.3d 184, 189 (D.C. Cir. 1995). A plaintiff can show that an hourly rate is reasonable by "submit[ting] 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. Dist. of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995)). Finally, a plaintiff can establish the reasonableness of the hours spent on a matter by submitting an invoice that is "sufficiently detailed to permit the District Court to make an independent determination [of] whether or not the hours claimed are justified." Nat'l Ass'n of Concerned Veterans, 675 F.2d at 1327).

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

The defendant does not contest that the plaintiffs are "prevailing parties" within the meaning of § 1415(i)(3)(B); thus, they are entitled to reasonable attorney's fees under the statute, but the defendant objects to the plaintiffs' counsel's hourly billing rates. Def.'s Opp'n at 4. The defendant also objects to the reasonableness of many of the specific charges. Finally, the defendant argues that the plaintiff is not entitled to an award of prejudgment interest.

A. Were the Hourly Rates Charged Reasonable ?

The plaintiffs' counsel seeks compensation "at an hourly rate of $400.00 for work performed through December 31, 2009[,] and at the hourly rate of $450.00 for work performed from January 1, 2010[,] to the present." Pls.' Mem. at 5. Additionally, the plaintiffs seek "compensation . . . for paralegal staff [of their attorney] at the rate of $125.00 per hour." Id. The plaintiffs rely on the fee matrix outlined in Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 572 F. Supp. 354, 371-72 (D.D.C. 1983), to support the argument that their counsel's fees are reasonable. Pls.' Mem. at 6. The defendant counters that "[i]n their attempt to justify Laffeyrates, [the p]laintiffs are comparing 'apples to oranges'-that of the community of special education attorneys to the community of attorneys for whom the LaffeyMatrix was devised." Def.'s Opp'n at 4-5. The defendant further states:

The prevailing rates for attorneys practicing special education litigation is not measured by the Laffey Matrix. Rather, the Laffey Matrix -- now a tabulation periodically updated by the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia showing prevailing attorneys' hourly rates for complex federal litigation in the District of Columbia -- grew out of the court's decision in Laffey . . . . "The matrix creates one axis for a lawyer's years of experience in complicated federal ...


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