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Means v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District Circuit

November 20, 2013

KATRINA MEANS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant. No: 21, 26, 27

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Rudolph Contreras United States District Judge

SUSTAINING PLAINTIFFS’ OBJECTIONS TO THE MAGISTRATE’S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND ADOPTING THE REMAINING FINDINGS OF THE MAGISTRATE’S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs, Katrina Means et al., were the prevailing parties in an administrative due process hearing brought pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (“IDEA”). Plaintiffs then moved for reasonable attorney’s fees as a result of that litigation. The issue was referred to Magistrate Judge Kay, whose July 17, 2013 Report and Recommendation (“R&R II”) found that 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(D)(i) precluded the plaintiffs from recovering fees after February 27, 2013. This is because Judge Kay’s October 11, 2012 Report and Recommendation (“R&R I”) awarded the plaintiffs less money than the defendant offered in their February 27, 2013 Offer of Judgment. Plaintiffs now object to Judge Kay’s findings in the R&R II, arguing that the Offer of Judgment was ambiguous and thus does not bar recovery of fees generated after that date. Defendant asks the Court to overrule the plaintiffs’ objection and adopt the magistrate’s report. Defendant also raises a new objection to the magistrate’s report, that awarding fees-on-fees in IDEA litigation is wholly unconstitutional. Because the Court finds that the defendant’s offer of judgment was not greater than the plaintiffs’ actual recovery, and that the defendant did not properly object to the magistrate’s failure to consider his constitutional argument, it sustains the plaintiffs’ objections. The Court adopts the magistrate’s report and recommendation in part and amends in part.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. The IDEA Proceeding

Plaintiffs were the prevailing parties in an administrative due process hearing on March 25, 2010. Following this, defendant, the District of Columbia, agreed to reimburse the plaintiffs for “reasonable and documented attorney’s fees.” Dismissal Order at 2, Docket No. 10, Ex. 5. The plaintiffs submitted two invoices for attorney’s fees and costs totaling $29, 550.69. Pls.’ Statement of Material Facts ¶ 5, n.1, Docket No. 10, Ex. 1. Defendants, through D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) paid $12, 976.58 of the plaintiffs’ requested amount. Plaintiff then filed suit in this Court for the remaining $16, 574.11. Pls.’ Statement of Material Facts 10-1 ¶¶ 7 10, 12.

B. The Magistrate’s First Report and Recommendation

Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on the unpaid attorney’s fees, totaling $16, 574.11, was submitted by this Court to Magistrate Judge Kay for a report and recommendation. See generally Docket No. 21, 22, 25. Judge Kay recommended that this Court grant in part and deny in part the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, awarding plaintiffs $9, 910.92 in unpaid fees. Oct. 11, 2012 Report and Recommendation, Docket No. 14. On February 27, 2013, after Judge Kay had issued R&R I but before the report had been adopted by this Court, the defendant made an offer of judgment to the plaintiff for $13, 000.00 to settle all claims. Def’s Opp’n to Pls’ Mot. for Atty’s Fees and Costs, Ex. 1, Docket No. 22. The plaintiffs did not communicate further and the offer was rejected through inaction. Def.’s Opp’n at 13. On March 7, 2013, this Court adopted Judge Kay’s R&R I for an award of $22, 887.50, offset by the $12, 976.57 paid by the defendant, leaving $9, 910.92 to be paid. Id.

C. The Magistrate’s Second Report and Recommendation and the Instant Action

The plaintiffs now ask for $19, 737.48 in fees and costs (fees on fees)[1] for work done on the motion for attorney’s fees. Pls.’ Mot. Atty Fees and Costs, Docket No. 21. The plaintiffs seek reimbursement for 38.3 hours of work by Elizabeth Jester, the plaintiffs’ attorney, and 0.8 hours of work by Mary Williams, Ms. Jester’s paralegal, totaling $19, 457.00. Id. Ms. Jester’s hourly rate is $505.00 and Ms. Williams’s hourly rate is $145.00. See Id . Thus far, the defendant has not made any payment for these fees. On July 17, 2013, Judge Kay filed a second Report and Recommendation (R&R II) on the plaintiffs’ motion, resolving two issues regarding the plaintiffs’ proposed fees-on-fees amount: 1) the total number of hours for which plaintiffs could receive reimbursement of attorney’s fees, and 2) the reasonable hourly rate for those compensable hours.

1. Judge Kay reduced the number of hours for which plaintiffs could receive attorney’s fees

Plaintiffs proposed 40.1 total hours worked on the fees-on-fees litigation. Judge Kay subtracted 1 hour of Ms. Jester’s work relating to the plaintiffs’ 42 U.S.C. §1983 claim as it was dismissed, and 3.8 hours of Ms. Jester’s work regarding objections to R&R I. R&R II at 5. Judge Kay noted that the plaintiffs had no right to fee recovery on those actions because this Court decided both claims against the plaintiffs. See id.

Judge Kay also found that the plaintiffs could not claim any work done after February 27, 2013, the date of the defendant’s offer of judgment. R&R II at 6. Under 20 U.S.C.§1415(i)(3)(D)(i), plaintiffs cannot be awarded attorney’s fees for work done after being offered a settlement sum higher than the subsequent award granted by the district court. Because the $13, 000 the defendant offered was more than the $9, 910.92 this Court awarded when this Court adopted R&R I, Judge Kay subtracted 7.3 hours for the work Ms. Jester claimed after ...


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