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Briggs v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

April 21, 2015

SHAMEA BRIGGS, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant

For SHAMEA BRIGGS, Plaintiff: Elizabeth T. Jester, JESTER & WILLIAMS, Great Falls, VA.

For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant: Laura George, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL/DC, Washington, DC.

Re Document No.: 10

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.

GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Shamea Briggs is the parent of J.K., a child protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (" IDEA" ), 20 U.S.C. § § 1400 et seq. Plaintiff initiated this action to recover attorney's fees and costs incurred while litigating claims under the IDEA. On November 12, 2014, the Court granted in part and denied in part Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, awarding Plaintiff $13,885.83 in legal fees for the successful prosecution of Plaintiff's administrative claims. Briggs v. District of Columbia, No. 14-cv-0002, 73 F.Supp.3d 59, 2014 WL 5860358 (D.D.C. Nov. 12, 2014). Plaintiff also sought to recover fees and costs pertaining to this fee-collection litigation, but because she had failed to submit any related documentation, the Court ordered Plaintiff to submit additional briefing on the subject. Now before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for an award of attorney's fees and costs, which seeks " fees on fees," or an award of fees and costs stemming from the prosecution of this civil action for fees. Upon consideration of Plaintiff's motion and the parties' briefs, the Court concludes that it must grant in part and deny in part Plaintiff's motion for fees on fees.

II. BACKGROUND[1]

On November 30, 2012, Plaintiff filed an administrative due process complaint against the District of Columbia Public Schools system (" DCPS" ) on behalf of student J.K. pursuant to the IDEA. After a three-hour administrative hearing on February 1, 2013, Plaintiff prevailed, and she subsequently sought $19,573.79 in attorney's fees and costs from DCPS. See Compl. ¶ ¶ 4, 5, ECF No. 1; Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶ 17, ECF No. 6. When no payment was received, Plaintiff filed a civil complaint against Defendant, the District of Columbia, on January 1, 2014. See Compl. ¶ 6. Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment followed on March 3, 2014. See Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 5.

Elizabeth Jester, Esq., has represented Plaintiff throughout both administrative proceedings and civil litigation before this Court. Her $19,573.79 invoice for costs and fees pertaining to the administrative action was based on billing rates of $505.00 per hour for work done through May 2013, $510.00 per hour for work completed through September 2013, and $145.00 per hour for paralegal services. See Compl. ¶ 5; Pl.'s Mem. Support Mot. Summ. J. at 5--8, ECF No. 5-2; Jester Decl. ¶ 11, ECF No. 5-3. Those rates mirror the rates set forth in the Laffey matrix, which is prepared by the Civil Division of the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia for use when a fee-shifting statute permits the recovery of reasonable attorney's fees. See Pl.'s Mem. Support Mot. Summ. J. at 6--7; Laffey Matrix, Pl.'s Ex. 3, ECF No. 5-7.

In its opposition to Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, Defendant did not dispute that Plaintiff was the prevailing party in the underlying administrative action, but it did dispute the reasonableness of Plaintiff's requested hourly rates. See Def.'s Opp'n Pl.'s Mot. Fees at 9--13, ECF No. 6. On November 12, 2014, the Court granted in part and denied in part Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, awarding Plaintiff 75% of the applicable Laffey rate. See Briggs, 2014 WL 5860358, at *4. The Court determined that Plaintiff had not offered sufficient evidence to link the full Laffey rates, which represent the " presumptive maximum rates for complex federal litigation," to Plaintiff's " fairly simple local administrative matter that was settled by a three hour administrative hearing in which there was only one witness." Id. at *3. Thus, the Court explained that Ms. Jester would receive $378.75 per hour worked between October 2012 and May 2013, and $382.50 per hour worked between June 2013 and September 2013. Id. at *4 n.4.

In addition to seeking attorney's fees for the prosecution of the underlying administrative proceedings, Plaintiff's complaint also sought to recover " fees on fees," or the fees incurred while pursuing this fee-collection litigation before the Court. See Compl. ¶ 7(C). But because " Plaintiff did not submit any documents that would allow the Court to assess the Plaintiff's costs for this action," the Court ordered that Plaintiff submit additional documents that would allow the Court to assess the incurred costs and fees. Briggs, 2014 WL 5860358, at *4.

On December 3, 2014, Plaintiff filed a motion for fees on fees, seeking an additional $17,150.55, including $16,683 for legal services performed by Ms. Jester and $467.55 for the costs incurred in pursuing the matter before this Court. Pl.'s Mot. Fees at 1, ECF No. 10. Plaintiff's requested fees are once again based on the full Laffey rate, and she asserts that a rate of $510 per hour is reasonable for her work performed between December 31, 2013, through May 31, 2014, as is a rate of $520 per hour for all work performed from June 1, 2014 to the present. Pl.'s Mem. Support Mot. Fees at 2--4, ECF No. 10-1.

Defendant, noting that " fees on fees" awards are discretionary and that this Court already rejected the reasonableness of applying the full Laffey rate in this case, argues that Plaintiff's requested rate for this uncomplicated fee-collection matter is unreasonable. Def.'s Opp. to Pl.s' Mot. Fees at 2--3, ECF No. 11. As a result, Defendant avers that no fees on fees award should be provided, or ...


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