Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Jemina Huntley v. District of Columbia

May 3, 2012

JEMINA HUNTLEY, PLAINTIFF,
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 this Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Fees and Costs ("Fee Motion") and Memorandum in support thereof ("Memorandum") [10]; Defendant's opposition to the Motion ("Opposition") [11]; and Plaintiff's reply to the Opposition ("Reply") [12].*fn1

Plaintiff Jemina Huntley ("Plaintiff') has requested $2,865.25 in legal fees and costs, a portion of which is contested by Defendant District of Columbia ("Defendant" or "the District") on grounds that the Plaintiff is not a prevailing party, the hourly rate charged by Plaintiff's counsel is excessive, and some of counsel's billing entries are "remote" in time. (Opposition, Exh. 1 [Defendant's chart of proposed allowable fees and reasons for fee reductions].)

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is the parent of a minor child who brought an administrative action 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's fees to a parent who prevails in an IDEA proceeding. Prior to filing this civil action, the Plaintiff participated in a February 8, 2008 due process hearing. The Hearing Officer considered whether or not the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") denied the student a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") and subsequently issued a Hearing Officers' Decision, on February 15, 2008, requiring the District to investigate whether Plaintiff already exercised her right to compensatory education, waived her right to compensatory education, or was entitled to an IEP meeting. (February 29, 2008 HOD at 2-3, quoting Paragraph 3 of the "Order" which accompanied the February 15, 2008 HOD.) *fn1 The District does not dispute Plaintiff's prevailing party status for the February 15, 2008 HOD.

Plaintiff subsequently filed a Motion for Clarification on February 26, 2008, to amend the February 15, 2008 HOD to establish a deadline for DCPS's investigation and the compliance with the HOD. (February 29, 2008 HOD [1] at 2-3.) DCPS did not file a response to the Motion for Clarification and the Hearing Officer established a March 20, 2008 deadline for the completion of DCPS's investigation and its compliance with the February 15, 2008 HOD. (Id.) The District disputes Plaintiff's prevailing party status as to the February 29, 2008 HOD ruling on the Motion for Clarification. (Opposition, Exh. 1.)

Plaintiff originally filed her complaint for legal fees and costs with the Small Claims and Conciliation Branch of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Defendant removed this and other simultaneously filed cases to this Court and the parties consented to the referral of all such cases to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for all purposes. The parties were directed to brief the issues in these cases in the form of motions for legal fees and responses thereto.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The IDEA gives courts authority to award reasonable attorney's fees to the parents of a child with a disability who is the prevailing party. 20 U.S.C. §1415(i)(3)(B). An action or proceeding under IDEA includes both civil litigation in federal court and administrative litigation before hearing officers. Smith v. Roher, 954 F. Supp. 359, 362 (D.D.C. 1997); 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.") "An award of attorneys' fees is calculated by multiplying a reasonable hourly rate by the number of hours reasonably expended on the case." Smith, 954 F. Supp. at 364 (citing Hensley v. Eckerhard, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)); Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 888 (1984). The result of this calculation is the "lodestar" amount. Smith, 954 F. Supp. at 364.

20 U.S.C. §1415(i)(3)(C) states that "[f]ees awarded under this paragraph shall be based on rates prevailing in the community in which the action or proceeding arose for the kind and quality of services furnished." 20 U.S.C. §1415(i)(3)(C). To demonstrate a reasonable hourly rate, the fee applicant must show: an attorney's usual billing practices; counsel's skill, experience and reputation; as well as the prevailing market rates in the community. Covington, 57 F.3d at 1107. The determination of a "market rate for the services of the lawyer 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 . . . that the requested [hourly] rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation." Id. An attorney's usual billing rate may be considered the "reasonable rate" if it accords with the rates prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers possessing similar skill, experience and reputation. Kattan by Thomas v. District of Columbia, 995 F.2d 274, 278 (D.C. Cir. 1993) (emphasis added).

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. 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." Accord 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 nonmoving party's favor and to accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. The nonmoving party must establish more than "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. Nor may the non-moving party 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).

Under the IDEA, parents of a child with a disability may only collect reasonable attorneys' fees if they are the "prevailing party." 20 U.S.C. ยง1415(i)(3)(B)(I). The District of Columbia Circuit uses a three-part test to determine prevailing party status: "(1) there must be a 'court-ordered change in the legal relationship' of the parties; (2) the judgment must be in favor of the party seeking the fees; and (3) the judicial pronouncement must be accompanied by judicial relief." Wilson v. Gov't of Dist. of Columbia, 269 F.R.D. 8, 15 (D.D.C. 2010) (citations omitted). An order from an administrative ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.