United States District Court, D. Columbia.
For ANTONIO BROWN, Plaintiff: Alana Michelle Hecht, D.C. DISABILITY LAW GROUP, P.C., Washington, DC.
For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant: Veronica A. Porter, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC.
Re Document Nos.: 7, 9
Granting in Part and Denying in Part Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment; Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff Antonio Brown is an eighteen-year-old student protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (" IDEA" ), 20 U.S.C. § § 1400 et seq. Plaintiff initiated this action to request an award of attorneys' fees and costs incurred while prosecuting administrative claims under the IDEA. Defendant, the District of Columbia, has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment disputing the reasonableness of Plaintiff's request. Because the Court determines that part, but not all, of Plaintiff's request is reasonable, the Court will grant in part and deny in part each party's motion and award fees and costs in the total amount of $31,340.75.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
On September 20, 2013, Plaintiff filed an administrative due process complaint against the District of Columbia Public Schools system (" DCPS" ), alleging four violations of the IDEA. See Hr'g Officer's Decision (" HOD" ), ECF No. 7-3, Ex. 1 at 1, 3. Plaintiff argued that DCPS denied him the free appropriate public education (" FAPE" ) that the IDEA guarantees him based on the following infractions: (1) DCPS failed to identify, locate, and evaluate Plaintiff for special education and related services beginning in November 2011 when Plaintiff's parent visited his school to discuss the student's lack of progress; (2) DCPS did not timely evaluate Plaintiff after his parent requested an assessment in May 2013; (3) DCPS failed to provide prior written notice to Plaintiff's parent of its decision not to evaluate Plaintiff on August 8, 2013; and, (4) DCPS did not render Plaintiff eligible on August 8, 2013, for special education and related services, though Plaintiff had a specific learning disability and experienced emotional disturbance. See Compl., ECF No. 1-2, Ex. B at 16, 20-21, 29 (" Due Process Complaint" ); see also HOD at 3.
After an administrative hearing that lasted one-and-a-half days, the hearing officer submitted a written order granting Plaintiff funding for tuition, counseling services, and transportation for School C from the date of the hearing officer's decision until DCPS could complete an initial evaluation of Plaintiff's entitlement to special education and related services. See HOD at 19. The hearing officer additionally required DCPS to fund independent functional behavioral and psychiatric assessments of Plaintiff, as well as to conduct a speech-language evaluation, which the local educational agency recommended. See id. at 21-22.
Alana Hecht, Esq., represented Plaintiff throughout the administrative process. See generally Hecht Invoice, ECF No. 7-4, Ex. 2. On August 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed a complaint with this Court, attaching an invoice for DCPS in the amount of $47,475.31 for attorneys' fees, paralegal fees, and costs. See Compl. ¶ 72. Plaintiff and Defendant then filed cross-motions for summary judgment regarding the reasonableness of Plaintiff's invoice. In particular, Defendant seeks a reduction in Plaintiff's requested fees on the bases that (1) Plaintiff has not proven that his attorney's rate is prevailing in the community, and Plaintiff therefore should receive 75% of the fee rates in the Laffey Matrix, which is reserved for complex cases; (2) Plaintiff achieved limited success at the administrative hearing; and (3) work spent on Plaintiff's proposed suspension was not part of the due process complaint. The Court now turns to the applicable legal standards and the parties' arguments.
A. Legal Standards
1. Summary Judgment
A party moving for summary judgment on legal fees must demonstrate prevailing party status and reasonableness of the fees requested, both in terms of hours spent and hourly rate. Briggs v. District of Columbia, No. 14-0002, 2014 WL 5860358, at *2 (D.D.C. Nov. 12, 2014). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), a court will grant summary judgment if the movant shows that " 'there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). On the other hand, a court will grant summary judgment against a party " who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element ...