United States District Court, District of Columbia
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
DEBORAH A. ROBINSON United States Magistrate Judge
Plaintiffs commenced this action against the District of Columbia to recover $9, 020.98 in attorneys’ fees and costs that they incurred in connection with administrative proceedings conducted pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq. Complaint (Document No. 1). This action was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for full case management. Order of Referral (Document No. 8). Pending for consideration by the undersigned are Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”) (Document No. 12) and Defendant’s Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 14). Upon consideration of the motions, the memoranda in support thereof and opposition thereto, the attached exhibits, and the entire record herein, the undersigned will recommend that the court deny Plaintiffs’ motion and grant in part Defendant’s motion.
Plaintiff Annette Brown is the parent of Plaintiff J.B., a minor student residing in the District of Columbia, Complaint ¶ 2, who is eligible to receive special education and related services, see Motion, Exhibit 1 at 3. Plaintiffs filed an administrative due process complaint against the District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”) on May 19, 2010, in which they raised a number of issues “challenging the appropriateness of [J.B.’s] educational programs, placement, and measures initiated by [DCPS] to ensure that [J.B.] received a free appropriate public education . . . .” Motion, Exhibit 1 at 1, 3-4. After conducting hearings on Plaintiffs’ complaint, the hearing officer issued a determination (“HOD”) on July 17, 2010, finding largely in Plaintiffs’ favor. Id. at 4-17.
Following the hearing officer’s determination, Plaintiffs commenced an action in this court seeking $19, 015.70 in attorneys’ fees and costs that they incurred in the underlying administrative proceedings. Complaint, Brown, et al. v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action No. 11-380 (D.D.C. Feb. 15, 2011), ECF No. 1. The court (Wilkins, J.), adopting the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Kay, found that Plaintiffs were due $8, 230.23. Order and Final Judgment, Brown, et al. v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action No. 11-380 (D.D.C. Feb. 10, 2012), ECF No. 16. Thereafter, in that same action, Plaintiffs requested $17, 565.80 for attorneys’ fees and costs incurred while pursuing their action for fees. Plaintiffs’ Motion for an Award of Attorney’s Fees and Costs, Brown, et al. v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action No. 11-380 (D.D.C. May 7, 2012), ECF No. 22. The court awarded Plaintiffs $13, 934.55 for “reasonable attorneys’ fees expended to obtain the underlying judgment for fees incurred in connection with the original administrative action brought under the IDEA.” Order, Brown, et al. v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action No. 11-380 (D.D.C. Oct. 11, 2012), ECF No. 26.
On February 20, 2012, after the court issued its first order awarding fees in Civil Action No. 11-380, Plaintiffs submitted an invoice to Defendant requesting an additional $14, 033.18, to account for $13, 985 in attorneys’ fees and $48.18 in costs incurred from November 8, 2010 through February 17, 2012. Motion, Exhibit 2. In May 2012, Defendant paid $5, 010.20 of the requested amount. See Motion, Exhibit 3; Motion, Exhibit 4. Plaintiffs commenced this action on October 9, 2013 requesting the balance. Complaint ¶ 8.
CONTENTIONS OF THE PARTIES
Plaintiffs contend that they are entitled to an award of $9, 020.98 for attorneys’ fees and costs because the hearing officer’s determination rendered them the prevailing parties in the underlying administrative proceedings. Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment (“Plaintiffs’ Memorandum”) (Document No. 12-1) at 2. Plaintiffs aver that the hourly rates billed by their counsel are reasonable given her “extensive legal experience” and the applicable prevailing market rates established by the Laffey matrix.Id. at 6-8. Plaintiffs further aver that the number of hours billed are reasonable because the work “was necessary to obtain DCPS’ compliance with the Hearing Officer’s Determination.” Id. at 9.
Defendant, in opposition to Plaintiffs’ motion and in support of its cross-motion, contends that this action is barred by (1) the statute of limitations under District of Columbia law because Plaintiffs commenced this suit more than three years following the hearing officer’s determination; (2) the doctrine of res judicata because this court, in Civil Action No. 11-380, already resolved Plaintiffs’ claim for attorneys’ fees in connection with the July 17, 2010 hearing officer determination; and (3) a provision in a January 10, 2012 settlement agreement between the parties which precluded further claims. Defendant’s Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment and Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (“Defendant’s Memorandum”) (Document Nos. 13, 14-1) at 4-10. In the alternative, Defendant contends that Plaintiffs have not provided authority to demonstrate that the hours billed “nearly a year and a half after” the hearing officer’s determination are reimbursable. Id. at 10-11. Defendant further contends that Plaintiffs are precluded from relitigating the reasonableness of her counsel’s hourly rates because the court already made a determination in Civil Action No. 11-380. Id. at 7-8.
In response, Plaintiffs contend that this matter is properly before the court because they filed their complaint “within 3 years of the provision of the services on the invoice at issue, ” and that the running of the statute of limitations “should be keyed to the date the services were rendered . . . .” Plaintiffs’ Reply to Defendant’s Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (“Plaintiffs’ Reply”) (Document Nos. 16, 17) at 1, 3. Plaintiffs further contend that the doctrine of res judicata does not apply because this matter involves a different invoice than the invoices that were considered by the court in Civil Action No. 11-380. Id. at 3. Likewise, Plaintiffs contend that the findings of the court in Civil Action No. 11-380 “are not binding” in this matter because the “services and costs” at issue “were not evaluated or reviewed” in that action. Id. at 4. With respect to the effect of the parties’ January 2012 settlement agreement, Plaintiffs aver that the agreement “resolved a 2nd administrative due process complaint which had nothing to do with matters raised in the first administrative due process complaint, ” and further aver that Defendant was not a party to the agreement executed between Plaintiffs and DCPS. Id. at 5.
Defendant submits that decisions from this court support a finding that the statute of limitations begins to run when the hearing officer issues a final determination, and notes that Plaintiffs “never sought to amend” their complaint in Civil Action No. 11-380 to request the “additional amount sought in this action.” Defendant’s Reply to Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (“Defendant’s Reply”) (Document No. 18) at 2-3. In response to Plaintiffs’ contention that the doctrine of res judicata is not applicable, Defendant avers that “[t]here is nothing in the IDEA or related case law that allows Plaintiffs to piecemeal an action for attorneys’ fees, ” and that “[s]uch an approach to attorneys’ fees contravenes the IDEA” because it does not allow the court to determine the reasonableness of the entire amount requested for a particular matter. Id. at 4-5. Defendant challenges Plaintiffs’ interpretation of the parties’ settlement agreement and submits that “DCPS and the District are not ‘different parties’ . . . .” Id. at 6.
“The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). An issue is genuine if the “evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Whether a fact is material is determined based on whether it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id.
The party seeking summary judgment must identify “those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ’ which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” CelotexCorp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). “[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 256 (internal quotation marks omitted). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmoving party’s] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the ...