United States District Court, D. Columbia.
For BRIDGET GREEN, Plaintiff: Elizabeth T. Jester, LEAD ATTORNEY, JESTER & WILLIAMS, Great Falls, VA.
For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant: Laura George, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL/DC, Washington, DC.
Amit P. Mehta, United States District Judge.
Plaintiff Bridget Green, acting on behalf of her minor child, E.A., brought this action seeking an award of attorneys' fees and costs arising from an administrative proceeding brought on E.A.'s behalf under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Plaintiff contends that she is entitled to $53,385.52 in fees and costs because she prevailed in the administrative proceedings. Defendant District of Columbia counters that Plaintiff is entitled to some but not all of the fees and costs requested because she did not prevail on all claims asserted. The District of Columbia also urges reduction of the award because (1) the proposed hourly rate for calculating fees is excessive and (2) some of the submitted fees and costs are unreasonable. Before the court are Plaintiff's and Defendant's respective Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. After considering the parties' submissions and the relevant law, the court grants in part and denies in part both motions and awards attorneys' fees and costs to Plaintiff in the amount of $32,934.71.
A. Factual Background
At all times relevant to this action, Plaintiff's child, E.A., was a student in the District of Columbia's public school system. On May 21, 2013, the District of Columbia Public Schools (" DCPS" ) convened a meeting to develop an Individualized Education Program (" IEP" ) for E.A. See Hearing Officer Determination, ECF No. 9-5 at 7 [hereinafter HOD]. An IEP, as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (" IDEA" ), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., is " a written statement for each child with a disability" that includes " the child's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance" and sets forth the " services" and " accommodations" to be provided to the child, id. § 1404(d)(1)(A)(1)(1). In advance of E.A.'s IEP meeting, he was evaluated both by " independent professionals" who worked with him at his daycare facility and by " DCPS's eligibility team members" whose only contact with E.A. was for diagnostic purposes. See HOD at 4; see also id. 5-7. The resulting IEP (the " Initial IEP" ) required DCPS to provide E.A. with five hours per week of " Specialized Instruction" in a general education setting and two hours per month of both " Occupational Therapy" and " Speech-Language Pathology" outside of a general education setting. Initial IEP, ECF No. 19-1 at 8. The Initial IEP concluded that E.A. had a " developmental delay" but " rejected the disability classification of autism spectrum disorder" advanced by Plaintiff, HOD at 7, and expressly declined to provide E.A. with a " dedicated aide," Initial IEP at 8. Thereafter, E.A. was assigned to a general education classroom at a DCPS school. See HOD at 7.
Dissatisfied with the Initial IEP, Plaintiff hired counsel and on September 12, 2013, filed an administrative due process complaint against DCPS alleging that the Initial IEP denied E.A. the " free appropriate public education" (" FAPE" ) to which he is entitled under the IDEA. 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A); see also Pl.'s Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 9-4 at 2 [hereinafter Pl's Mot.]. Specifically, the complaint alleged that the Initial IEP (1) failed to " offer appropriate related services in the areas of occupational therapy , speech/language and behavioral support and a 1-to-1-aide, and fail[ed] to offer appropriate specialized instruction and individualized classroom support/accommodations" ; (2) improperly classified E.A. " as developmentally delayed instead of autistic" ; (3) failed " to offer placement in a full-time program that provides full-time special education services in a small class setting with specially trained teachers" ; and (4) failed " to take into account the conclusions, recommendations and other information in [E.A.]'s independent evaluations . . . ." HOD at 1; see also Def.'s Stmt. of Undisputed Material Facts, ECF No. 11-2 at ¶ 3 [hereinafter Def.'s Stmt. of Facts]; Def.'s Cross-Mot. for Summ. J. and Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 11-1 at 2 [hereinafter Def.'s Mot.]. Plaintiff requested six remedies that collectively, she alleged, would guarantee E.A. a FAPE. HOD at 2; see also Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 4.
DCPS held E.A.'s due process hearing on November 5-6, 2013, during which Plaintiff and E.A. were represented by counsel. Def.'s Stmt. of Facts at ¶ 6; see also HOD at 2. The hearing officer issued her " determination" on November 17, 2013. Def.'s Stmt. of Facts at ¶ 7; see also generally HOD. In it, the hearing officer framed the issues before her as follows:
1. Did DCPS develop an inappropriate IEP in May 2013?
2. Did DCPS deny Student a FAPE by failing to offer placement in a full-time program that offers full-time special education services in a small class setting with specially trained teachers because the proposed DCPS school is inappropriate?
3. Did DCPS deny Student a FAPE by failing to take into account recommendations and other information in Student's independent evaluation?
HOD at 3.
As to the first issue, the hearing officer determined " that DCPS denied [E.A.] a FAPE by failing to comply with the procedures set forth in IDEA regarding initial evaluations." HOD at 8. These procedural deficiencies, the hearing officer found, prevented her from making a final judgment about the appropriateness of the Initial IEP. Id. (" [T]he hearing officer cannot confirm that the IEP is reasonably calculated to provide Student with educational benefits." ). The hearing officer similarly found that she could not make a final determination about the second issue--the appropriateness of E.A.'s school placement. Id. at 9 (" As the appropriateness of a student's assigned location of services turns on whether the location can implement an appropriate IEP for a given student, the hearing officer concludes that the existing evidence is insufficient to allow a determination of the appropriateness of Student's assigned location of services for SY 2013/14." ). With the aim of resolving the first two issues, the hearing officer ordered DCPS to administer additional evaluations to E.A. and to convene a meeting to revise the Initial IEP and alter E.A.'s school placement as appropriate. Id. at 10. As to the third issue, the hearing officer concluded that Plaintiff " failed to meet its burden of proof," id. at 9, and denied and dismissed with prejudice Plaintiff's claim that DCPS failed to adequately consider E.A.'s independent evaluations, id. at 10.
DCPS conducted additional evaluations of E.A., as ordered by the hearing officer. See Parties' Joint Resp. to Court's Order of Feb. 11, 2015, ECF No. 18 at 1-2, 4 [hereinafter Parties' Joint Resp.]. On January 16, 2014, and February 13, 2014, DCPS convened meetings for the purpose of revising, as appropriate, the Initial IEP. Id. These meetings produced a revised IEP, issued on February 16, 2014 (the " Revised IEP" ), which differed in several ways from the Initial IEP. See id. at 2-5. E.A.'s " Occupational Therapy" treatment increased from two to three hours per month; his " Speech-Language Pathology" treatment increased from two to four hours per month; and his " Behavioral Support Services" increased from zero to two hours per month. Id. at 2; Revised IEP, ECF No. 19-2 at 11. The Revised IEP did not, however, alter E.A.'s school placement, ...