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Brighthaupt v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 13, 2014

LAKESIA BRIGHTHAUPT, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN M. FACCIOLA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

This case was referred to me for all purposes. Currently pending and ready for resolution are 1) Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment [#14], and 2) Defendant’s Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment and Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment [#16].

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs in this case are 1) Lakesia Brighthaupt and her child, J.B.; 2) Monica Browne and her child, M.Y.; and 3) Ja’Quelle Yeager and her child, J.Y. Complaint [#1] ¶¶ 2-4. The defendant is the District of Columbia, which operates the District of Columbia Public Schools system (“DCPS”). [#1] ¶ 5. In this action, plaintiffs seek an award of attorney’s fees under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq. (“IDEA”).[1]

On December 11, 2012, an administrative due process hearing under the IDEA was held as to J.B. [#1] ¶ 8. On December 28, 2012, the Hearing Officer (“HO”) issued a determination finding that Lakesia Brighthaupt and J.B. were prevailing parties. Id. On June 20, 2013, plaintiffs submitted a fee petition for $31, 276. [#1] ¶ 9. The parties engaged in settlement discussions but were unable to agree on an amount. [#1] ¶ 10. On August 27, 2013, plaintiffs filed the current complaint seeking the full amount originally claimed. [#1] ¶ 11.

On April 15, 2013, an administrative due process hearing under the IDEA was held as to M.Y. [#1] ¶ 12. That same day, the HO issued a determination finding that Monica Browne and M.Y. were prevailing parties. Id. On June 20, 2013, plaintiffs submitted a fee petition for $24, 664. [#1] ¶ 13. The parties engaged in settlement discussions but were unable to agree on an amount. [#1] ¶ 14. On August 27, 2013, plaintiffs filed the current complaint seeking the full amount originally claimed. [#1] ¶ 15.

On April 3, 2013, an administrative due process hearing under the IDEA was held as to J.Y. [#1] ¶ 16. On April 4, 2013, the HO issued a determination finding that Ja’Quelle Yeager and J.Y. were prevailing parties. Id. On June 23, 2013, plaintiffs submitted a fee petition for $31, 707. [#1] ¶ 17. The parties engaged in settlement discussions but were unable to agree on an amount. [#1] ¶ 18. On August 27, 2013, plaintiffs filed the current complaint seeking the full amount originally claimed. [#1] ¶ 19.

DISCUSSION

I. Standard of Review

Motions for summary judgment are governed by Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which states that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986).

II. Applicable Law

Pursuant to the IDEA, the Court “in its discretion, may 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). The statute further provides that “[f]ees . . . shall be based on rates prevailing in the community in which the action or proceedings arose for the kind and quality of services furnished.” 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(C).

According to the Supreme Court, “[t]he 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” in order to arrive at the total or “lodestar” amount. Hensely v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). In the District of Columbia Circuit, “a fee applicant's burden in establishing a reasonable hourly rate entails a showing of at least three elements: the attorneys’ billing practices; the attorneys’ skill, experience, and reputation; and the prevailing market rates in the relevant community.” Covington v. Dist. of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995).

III. Analysis

A. Plaintiffs were Prevailing Parties

Defendant does not contest plaintiffs’ status as prevailing parties in this matter. See generally [#16]. Thus, the only issue before the Court is whether the fees plaintiffs seek are reasonable.

B. Plaintiffs’ Counsel’s Fees

1. Houck’s Billing Practices

Plaintiffs’ counsel, Carolyn Houck, seeks an hourly rate of $435. [#14-13] at 2. According to Houck, her hourly rates are slightly lower than those provided by the Laffey[2] matrix, which indicates that an hourly rate of $445 is appropriate ...


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