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A.B. v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 31, 2014

A.B., a minor by her mother and Next Friend Ebony R. Holmes-Ramsey, Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

AMY BERMAN JACKSON, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Ebony R. Holmes-Ramsey and A.B., Ms. Holmes-Ramsey's minor child, filed a motion seeking attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $140, 019.94 pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B) (2012), for work completed in the underlying litigation.[1] Pls.' Mot. for an Award of Attys' Fees & Costs ("Pls.' Mot.") [Dkt. # 52]. Defendant opposed the motion, arguing that although plaintiffs are "prevailing parties" within the meaning of section 1415(i)(3)(B), they are not entitled to the entire amount of the fees requested. Def.'s Mem. in Opp. to Pls.' Mot. ("Def.'s Opp.") [Dkt. # 56].

On May 10, 2013, the Court referred the matter to a Magistrate Judge pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a) and Local Rule 72.2(a). May 10, 2013 Order [Dkt. # 53]. The Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation, finding that although plaintiffs were a "prevailing party" within the meaning of section 1415(i)(3)(B) on some aspect of their case, they are only entitled to $37, 133.70 in attorneys' fees and costs. Aug. 6, 2013 Report and Recommendation on Mot. for Attys' Fees ("Attys' Fees Report") at 14 [Dkt. # 60]. Plaintiffs filed timely written objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, Pls.' Objection to Attys' Fees Report ("Pls.' Object.") [Dkt. # 61], and defendant filed a response. Def.'s Resp. to Pls.' Object. [Dkt. # 62]. Defendant did not object to any part of the Report and Recommendation.

After careful review of the Report and Recommendation, plaintiffs' objections, and defendant's response to plaintiffs' objections, the Court will adopt the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation except to the extent that it reduces the applicable hourly rate set by the Laffey matrix by 25%. The Court will therefore grant plaintiffs' motion for attorneys' fees and costs in part and deny it in part, and will enter judgment in the amount of $49, 432.12.

BACKGROUND

I. Statutory Background

Generally, parties bear their own litigation expenses, including the fees paid to an attorney, regardless of whether they win or lose. Fox v. Vice, 131 S.Ct. 2205, 2213 (2011); Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. Wilderness Soc'y, 421 U.S. 240, 247 (1975). But in some circumstances, Congress has provided "express statutory authorization to the contrary, " creating what has come to be known as "fee-shifting provisions." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429 (1983), citing Alyeska Pipeline, 421 U.S. at 240. The IDEA contains a fee-shifting provision. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B).

Section 1415(i)(3)(B) of that Act provides that this Court has the discretion to "award reasonable attorneys' fees as part of the costs to a prevailing party who is the parent of a child with a disability." Id. In other words, if the plaintiff seeking attorneys' fees is a prevailing party, the Court must determine whether the attorneys' fees are reasonable. Jackson v. District of Columbia, 696 F.Supp.2d 97, 101 (D.D.C. 2010). Courts typically determine the reasonableness of attorneys' fees based on the "number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Id., quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433.

The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing both the reasonableness of the hourly rate and the reasonableness of the number of hours spent on a particular task. Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 896 n.11 (1984); Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995); In re North, 59 F.3d 184, 189 (D.C. Cir. 1995). To show the reasonableness of the hourly rates, plaintiff "must submit 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, 57 F.3d at 1107. To show the reasonableness of hours spent on a task, plaintiff may submit an "invoice that is sufficiently detailed to permit the District Court to make an independent determination whether or not the hours claimed are justified.'" Holbrook v. District of Columbia, 305 F.Supp.2d 41, 45 (D.D.C. 2004), quoting Nat'l Ass'n of Concerned Veterans v. Sec'y of Defense, 675 F.2d 1319, 1327 (D.C. Cir. 1982).

II. Factual Background[2]

Plaintiff A.B. is a minor residing in the District of Columbia and has been diagnosed as having special needs. District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") evaluated A.B. for the first time in July of 2009, right before A.B.'s fourth birthday. The school district proposed an Individualized Education Plan ("IEP") on October 7, 2009, but it was never implemented because A.B.'s mother - plaintiff Holmes-Ramsey - felt that the proposed services and placement would not adequately address A.B.'s needs. After securing independent evaluations of A.B. by a speech pathologist and a clinical psychologist, A.B.'s mother filed a due process complaint on March 19, 2010, alleging that DCPS violated the IDEA and the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Act, 42 U.S.C. § 11301 et seq. A due process hearing was held on April 21-22, 2010, and the hearing officer issued his decision on May 1, 2010 ("first HOD"), concluding that the sole violation of A.B.'s rights was DCPS's failure to identify her as a child with disabilities prior to her third birthday.

On July 2, 2010, DCPS convened an IEP meeting to review and revise A.B.'s IEP, and it increased the level of services she would receive. A.B.'s mother, however, was concerned that the IEP was still not adequate, and she filed a second due process complaint on August 13, 2010. The second due process hearing was held in October 2010, and the hearing officer issued a decision on November 2, 2010 ("second HOD"), finding in favor of plaintiffs only on their claim that DCPS failed to fully implement the remedy underlying the first HOD by failing to provide A.B. with transportation to a summer speech camp.

During the pendency of the second due process hearing, plaintiffs appealed the first HOD. The court granted in part and denied in part defendant's partial motion to dismiss plaintiffs' section 504 Rehabilitation Act claim and their 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim. See Nov. 2, 2010 Order at 1 [Dkt. # 8]; Nov. 2, 2010 Mem. Op. at 18-19 [Dkt. # 9]. The court also granted defendants' motion to dismiss defendants Mayor Fenty and Interim Chancellor Henderson as improperly named defendants. See Nov. 2, 2010 Order at 1; Nov. 2, 2010 Mem. Op. at 18. Subsequently and with leave of court, plaintiffs amended their complaint to appeal both the first and the second HOD, arguing that DCPS's actions violated the IDEA, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Act, and section 1983.

The matter was then referred to the Magistrate Judge for full case management. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and - based on the Report and Recommendation issued by the Magistrate Judge - this Court ultimately entered judgment in favor of defendant on all of plaintiffs' claims except the claim that the hearing officer improperly discredited the testimony of plaintiffs' expert witnesses. After a hearing on the question of whether the Court could take up the issue of ...


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