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Devore v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

March 31, 2015

GWENDOLYN DEVORE, on behalf A.M., Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant

For Gwendolyn Devore, On Behalf of A.M., Plaintiff: Alana Michelle Hecht, LEAD ATTORNEY, 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.

Page 114

MEMORANDUM OPINION

AMY BERMAN JACKSON, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Gwendolyn Devore brings this action pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (" IDEA" ), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., king attorneys' fees and costs totaling $34,776.63 for work completed in support of a successful IDEA administrative action against the District of Columbia Public Schools (" DCPS" ) on behalf of her minor grandchild. Compl. [Dkt. # 1]. Both parties have moved for summary judgment. Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 8] (" Pl.'s Mot." ); Def.'s Opp. to Pl.'s Mot. & Cross-Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 10] (" Def.'s Mot." ). After the Court referred the matter to a Magistrate Judge, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation advising that plaintiff be awarded $26,370.26 in attorneys' fees and costs. Report & Recommendation [Dkt. # 16] (" Report" ) at 13. Plaintiff timely filed written objections to the Report. Pl.'s Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Proposed Findings & Recommendations [Dkt. # 18] (" Pl.'s Objections" ). Defendant responded to plaintiff's objections, but it did not object to any portion of the Report. Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Objections [Dkt. # 19] (" Def.'s Resp." ).

After careful review of the Report, the parties' pleadings, and the available evidence, the Court rejects the Report's recommendation that plaintiff's counsel be compensated at a rate of $217.50 per hour and that counsel's paralegal be compensated at a rate of $108.75 per hour. See Report at 13. The Magistrate Judge reduced the applicable Laffey Matrix[1] rates of $290 per hour and $145 per hour by 25% on the grounds that the underlying action was not complex. See id. at 10--12. But the Court finds that the Laffey Matrix rates plaintiff requested supply reasonable hourly rates for plaintiff's counsel's time and her paralegal's assistance in this particular

Page 115

case. The Court will therefore grant plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and deny defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment, and it will enter judgment in the amount of $34,776.63 in favor of plaintiff.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, the grandparent and sole guardian of a student enrolled in a District of Columbia Public School and the student's educational advocate, filed a due process complaint with DCPS on April 8, 2013, alleging that defendant denied her grandchild access to a free appropriate public education as required under the IDEA. Report at 2; Hearing Officer Determination, Ex. 1 to Pl.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 8-3] (" HOD" ) at 1. On May 30, 2013, and June 7, 2013, the Hearing Officer conducted a two-day due process hearing. HOD at 2. During the hearing, plaintiff entered thirty-five documents into evidence, defendant entered twenty-one documents, and the Hearing Officer entered thirteen documents. Id. at 3--5. The hearing included the testimony of eight witnesses, including two experts. Id. at 5. On June 22, 2013, the Hearing Officer issued an order reflecting the parties' agreement resolving the case in plaintiff's favor. Id. at 30; Report at 2--3, 6; Compl. ¶ ¶ 8, 56.

Following the decision, plaintiff's counsel, Alana Hecht, submitted an invoice to DCPS seeking reimbursement of her fees and costs for the administrative proceeding. See Ex. 2 to Pl.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 8-4] (" Invoice" ). She sought reimbursement for $34,776.63, based on costs of $281.13 and fees for 150.6 hours[2] of work -- 87.3 hours of attorney services at a rate of $290 per hour, and 63.3 hours of paralegal services at a rate of $145 per hour.[3] See Invoice at 60; see also Report at 3. In support of her request for fees, counsel averred that she has been practicing law since 2005, and that she is the sole attorney at and an owner of D.C. Disability Law Group, P.C., which focuses exclusively on the field of special education law. V.S. of Att'y Alana Hecht, Ex. 3 to Pl.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 8-5] (" Hecht Statement" ) ¶ ¶ 15, 22--23. In addition, Hecht stated that her paralegal, Chithalina Khanchalern, possesses a master's degree in Special Education and has extensive experience in the field of special education litigation. Id. ¶ ¶ 48--50.

Defendant never paid plaintiff's counsel's invoice, and on January 16, 2014, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking reimbursement of the requested attorneys' fees and costs. Compl. ¶ ¶ 2--3. On January 17, 2014, this Court referred the case to a Magistrate Judge for full case management and the preparation of a report and recommendation pursuant to Local Civil Rule 72.3.

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Referral to Magistrate Judge Order [Dkt. # 3]. On July 7, 2014, plaintiff moved for summary judgment, and on August 7, 2014, defendant cross-moved for ...


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