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Wallace v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

May 16, 2012

LESTINA WALLACE, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant

Page 44

For LESTINA WALLACE, Plaintiff: Douglas Tyrka, TYRKA & ASSOCIATES, LLC, McLean, VA.

For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant: Laura George, LEAD ATTORNEY, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL, Civil Litigation, Washington, DC.

Page 45

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ALAN KAY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

This matter is pending before this Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for [summary judgment on the issue of] Fees and Costs (" Fee Motion" ) and Memorandum in support thereof (" Memorandum" ) [12]; Defendant's opposition to the Motion (" Opposition" ) [13]; and Plaintiff's reply to the Opposition (" Reply" ) [14]. [1] Plaintiff Lestina Wallace (" Plaintiff') has requested $1,098.80 in legal fees and costs, a portion of which is contested by Defendant District of Columbia (" Defendant" or " the District" ) on grounds that the documentation supporting such claim is inadequate; 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 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's fees to a parent who prevails in an IDEA proceeding. Prior to filing this civil action, the Plaintiff participated in a January 28, 2008 due process hearing wherein the Hearing Officer considered whether or not the District of Columbia Public Schools (" DCPS" ) denied the student

Page 46

a free appropriate public education (" FAPE" ) by failing to convene a compensatory education meeting requested by the Petitioner. (Feb. 12, 2008 Hearing Officer Decision and Order (" HOD" ) at 2, attached to Notice of Removal [1].) The Hearing Officer ultimately concluded in his HOD that " [a] preponderance of the evidence supports the contention of the Petitioner that DCPS denied the student FAPE by failing to convene an appropriate team meeting to discuss compensatory education . . . ." (HOD at 5.)

The District does not dispute Plaintiff's prevailing party status in this case but the District does note its objection to Plaintiff's " inadequate documentation" in a chart attached to its Opposition as Exhibit 1. The District proffers no explanation for this objection other than its claim that the HOD in this case " appears identical" to the HOD in two other cases. This Court notes that the HODs in those three cases dealt with the same issue; i.e., the District's refusal to hold a meeting to determine compensatory education after the Plaintiffs in those cases indicated their election to forego Catalog products and instead requested a team meeting. (HOD at 5.) The Hearing Officer noted that " [u]nder [the] Blackman/Jones Consent Decree, members of the Jones class [were] entitled to compensatory education either by receiving compensatory education products from the Catalog or after rejecting the Catalog offered through a determination of appropriate compensatory education services at a MDT team meeting." ( Id. ) The hearings in the three cases were held on different dates and the separate Plaintiffs are identified in each HOD. This Court finds no reason to penalize the Plaintiff in terms of her ability to recoup attorneys' fees simply because the same Hearing Officer wrote three HODs based on similar facts.

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 subsequently 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, ...


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