United States District Court, D. Columbia.
For Merrell Jay, Plaintiff: Alana Michelle Hecht, D.C. DISABILITY LAW GROUP, P.C., Washington, DC USA.
For District of Columbia, Defendant: Tasha Monique Hardy, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL/DC, Washington, DC USA.
REGGIE B. WALTON, United States District Judge.
The plaintiff brought suit in this case against the Government of the District to Columbia to recover attorney's fees incurred during administrative proceedings conducted under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 (2012) (the " IDEA" ). Complaint for Declaratory Judgment & Relief (" Compl." ) ¶ 1. Currently before this Court is the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (" Pl.'s Mot." ) and the Defendant's Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (" Def.'s Opp'n). After carefully considering the parties' submissions, the Court concludes that it must grant in part and deny in part both the plaintiff's motion and the defendant's cross-motion for the following reasons.
The following facts are undisputed unless indicated otherwise. The " [p]laintiff is a twenty[-]year[-]old-adult student with a disability who has been deemed eligible to receive special education and related services from the District of Columbia Public Schools [(the " District" )]." Compl. ¶ 6. On June 24, 2013, the plaintiff filed a thirty-nine page due process complaint against the District pursuant to the IDEA, " alleging [three] separate violations of [the] IDEA, including whether [the District] denied [him] . . . [Free Access to a Public Education (" FAPE" )] . . . ." Pl.'s Mem., Exhibit (" Ex." ) 3 (Verified Statement of Attorney Alana Hecht (" Hecht Decl." ) ¶ 51; see also Compl. ¶ 39; Compl., Ex. B (Due Process Complaint) at 39. " The parties had a resolution session on July 16, 2013[, where n]o agreement was reached between the parties, and the parties expressed a desire to go immediately to the due process hearing." Pl.'s Mem., Ex. 3 (Hecht Decl.) ¶ 54. " Prior to [the plaintiff's] counsel doing much of the preparation for the Due Process Hearing, she reached out to [the District's] counsel about the possibility that the parties may be able to come to an agreement in the form of a Consent Order." Id. ¶ 57. On August 13, 2013, the parties appeared for the scheduled due process hearing, Pl.'s Mem. at 22; however, it is not entirely clear to what extent the due process hearing was conducted, compare Compl. ¶ 48 (" [The plaintiff] proceeded with [his] case in chief and called [one] witness prior to the lunch break." ), and Def.'s Opp'n, Ex. 4 (Hearing Transcript) (showing the plaintiff's attorney commenced with the direct examination of Ms. Chithalina Khanchalern), with Pl.'s Mem., Ex. 3 (Hecht Decl.) ¶ 67 (" Instead of having a hearing, the parties engaged in back and forth negotiations regarding the formulation of a Consent Order." ). However, ultimately the parties agreed to the issuance of a " Consent
Order . . . that would provide [the plaintiff] with nearly all [of] the relief requested in the Due Process Complaint . . . , and would still allow the [plaintiff] to be reimbursed for his attorney['s] fees for the time and costs that [his attorney] expended in litigating the case." Pl.'s Mem., Ex. 3 (Hecht Decl.) ¶ 68. On August 15, 2013, the hearing officer issued a Consent Order, consistent with these terms. Compl., Ex. C (Consent Order) at 4.
Following the issuance of the Consent Order, the plaintiff instituted this suit to recover his attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $26,253.72 incurred preparing for and participating in the aborted administrative proceedings and negotiating the parties' settlement. Pl.'s Mem., Ex. 2 (D.C. Disability Law Group, P.C. - Project Summary (" Invoices" )). The District disputes the reasonableness of the requested fees. See generally Def.'s Opp'n.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A motion for summary judgment should be granted " 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). " [A] material fact is 'genuine' . . . if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party" on an element of the nonmoving party's claim. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Holcomb v. Powell,433 F.3d 889, 895, 369 U.S.App.D.C. 122 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (citing Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.,530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000)). If the Court concludes that " the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case ...