United States District Court, D. Columbia
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
TAMECKA MERRICK, Plaintiff: Charles Anthony Moran, LEAD
ATTORNEY, MORAN & ASSOCIATES, Washington, DC.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant: Laura George, LEAD ATTORNEY,
OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL/DC, Washington, DC.
BERMAN JACKSON, United States District Judge.
Tamecka Merrick brought this action pursuant to the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("
IDEA" ), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., seeking
attorneys' fees and costs totaling $136,044.18 for work
completed in support of a successful IDEA administrative
action against the District of Columbia Public Schools
(" DCPS" ) on behalf of her minor child. Compl.
[Dkt. # 1]. Plaintiff moved for summary judgment. Pl.'s
Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. # 10] (" Pl.'s Mot." );
Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 10]
(" Pl.'s Mem." ). The Court referred the matter
to a Magistrate Judge, who issued a Report and Recommendation
suggesting that the Court award plaintiff $64,127.43 in
attorneys' fees and costs. R. & R. [Dkt. # 14] at 20-21.
Plaintiff filed timely written objections to the Report.
Pl.'s Objs. to R. & R. [Dkt. # 15] (" Pl.'s
Objs." ). Defendant responded to plaintiff's
objections, but did not object to any portion of the report,
Def.'s Opp. to Pl.'s Objs. [Dkt. # 16] ("
Def.'s Resp." ), and plaintiff replied. Pl.'s
Reply to Def.'s Resp. [Dkt. # 17] (" Pl.'s
Reply" ). The parties also filed supplemental memoranda
in the wake of the D.C. Circuit's recent opinion in
Eley v. District of Columbia, 793 F.3d 97 (D.C. Cir.
2015). See Pl.'s Mot. for Leave to Suppl. R.
[Dkt. # 18] (" Pl.'s Supp. Mot." ); Def.'s
Resp. to Pl.'s Supp. Mot. [Dkt. # 19] (" Def.'s
Supp. Resp." ).
review of the Report, the parties' filings, the
Eley decision, and the record in this case, the
Court will adopt the Magistrate Judge's recommendations
in all but three respects. First, the Court finds that
plaintiff's unsuccessful claims at the administrative
level do not form the
basis for a 10% fee reduction. Second, the Court will not
deduct 3.9 hours of work performed by counsel in connection
with a meeting held in February 2014. Finally, the Court will
not compensate plaintiff's attorney at a rate of $382.50
per hour, a number that the Magistrate Judge reached by
reducing the applicable U.S. Attorney's Office ("
USAO" ) Laffey Matrix rate of $510.00 per hour
by 25%. Instead, the Court finds that plaintiff has carried
her burden to show that $510.00 per hour more accurately
reflects the reasonable hourly rate for her counsel's
time. The Court will therefore grant in part and deny in part
plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, and it will
enter judgment in the amount of $107,555.43 in favor of
seventeen-year-old son (" R.W." ) is deaf and has
been diagnosed with numerous conditions, including bipolar
disorder and oppositional-defiant disorder. Hearing Officer
Determination [Dkt. # 10-1] (" HOD" ) ¶ ¶
5, 9; Pl.'s Mem. at 1. During the 2011-2012 school year,
R.W. attended DCPS Wilson High School (" Wilson" ),
which had a small program for deaf and hard-of-hearing
students. HOD ¶ 16; Pl.'s Mem. at 2. Although Wilson
provided R.W. with an interpreter for his mainstream classes,
R.W. struggled academically. HOD ¶ 16. R.W. became
frustrated by a constant need to look back and forth between
the interpreter, the teacher, and the board. Id.
This challenge, coupled with R.W.'s inability to
communicate with other students, caused his anger to surface.
Id. At the end of January 2012, R.W.'s behavior
escalated to the point that he required emergency psychiatric
hospitalization, and in February, R.W.'s insurance
carrier moved him to an out-of-state treatment center, where
he remained until November 2012. Id. ¶ 17.
release from the treatment center, R.W. entered DCPS
Anacostia High School (" Anacostia" ). HOD ¶
18; Pl.'s Mem. at 2. R.W. was the first deaf student to
attend Anacostia, and the school was unable to appropriately
accommodate him. HOD ¶ 18. Upon DCPS's
recommendation, R.W. returned to Wilson, but R.W. continued
to struggle. Id. ¶ ¶ 20-21. In June 2013,
R.W. was detained on juvenile charges. Id. ¶
filed an administrative complaint with the assistance of
counsel on August 2, 2013. See HOD at 1. She was
represented by Pierre Bergeron, a solo practitioner, who was
occasionally assisted by Pamela Roth, another solo
practitioner. See Services & Expenses, Ex. 5 to
Pl.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 10-5] (" Services &
Expenses" ). Plaintiff alleged that DCPS had denied
R.W.'s right to a free appropriate public education
(" FAPE" ), see HOD at 1, and she advanced
four specific arguments:
1. DCPS failed to " timely and accurately provide
evaluations/ reevaluations in all areas of suspected
2. DCPS failed to " timely identify the seriousness of
the emotional and deaf disabilities and other health
impairment . . . with the result that [R.W.] deteriorated and
continued to be repeatedly sent home early."
3. DCPS failed to " provide and implement an appropriate
individualized education plan." Id.
4. DCPS failed to " provide an appropriate placement and
location of services" for R.W. Id.
sought two forms of relief: " (i) Placement in a
full-time residential treatment center," and " (ii)
compensatory education." Id. at 2.
September 6, 2013, before the administrative hearing had
occurred, DCPS convened a meeting and determined that
R.W.'s individualized education plan (" IEP" )
should be updated to provide for residential placement. HOD
¶ 7. But by the date of the administrative hearing,
October 1, 2013, DCPS still had not found a residential
facility for R.W., see id. at 1, ¶ 8,
and the child remained in juvenile detention. Id. at
October 16, 2013, the Hearing Officer granted plaintiff all
the relief she requested. See HOD at 11-12. The
Hearing Officer ordered DCPS to convene an IEP meeting within
ten days to select a residential placement for R.W., and
further ordered DCPS to place R.W. at that facility for the
remainder of the 2013-2014 school year. Id. ¶
¶ 29-30. The Hearing Officer also granted
plaintiff's request for compensatory education.
Id. at 11-12. Pursuant to the Hearing Officer's
order, R.W. was placed in a residential facility in December
2013. R. & R. at 11.
plaintiff received the relief she sought, the Hearing Officer
did not accept all four of her arguments. HOD at 7-12. As to
plaintiff's first claim, the Hearing Officer found that
plaintiff did not meet her burden to prove that DCPS failed
to timely " evaluate/reevaluate" her son.
Id. at 7-8. The Hearing Officer further found that
plaintiff's second argument -- that DCPS failed to
identify the seriousness of R.W.'s disabilities -- was
not a separate claim, but rather should be considered in the
context of plaintiff's third and fourth claims.
Id. at 8. As to the third claim, the Hearing Officer
found that plaintiff had proven that DCPS denied R.W. a FAPE
by " failing to provide him with an appropriate IEP on
April 10, 2013," but that she did not " meet [her]
burden of proof on the implementation aspect of this
claim." Id. at 9-10. And as to the fourth
claim, the Hearing Officer concluded that plaintiff prevailed
on the issue of denial of a FAPE regarding placement and
location of services only insofar as Wilson and Anacostia
were not appropriate schools for R.W. Id. at
brought an action in this Court seeking an award of
$136,044.18 for 269.2 hours of work plus costs. See
R. & R. at 1, 20; Pl.'s Mem. at 12; Services & Expenses
at 1. Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment, and the
Court referred the matter to a Magistrate Judge, who issued a
Report and Recommendation on March 23, 2015. R. & R. The
Magistrate Judge recommended reducing plaintiff's award
to $64,037.25 in fees and $90.18 in costs on several grounds.
Id. at 20-21.
the Magistrate Judge recommended that plaintiff not be
for 3.9 hours billed by counsel related to an IEP meeting in
February of 2014. Id. at 11-12. The Magistrate Judge
then divided the remaining 265.3 hours into three categories
-- legal work, clerical work, and travel time -- and
recommended compensating each at a different rate.
Id. at 20-21. For the legal work, the Magistrate
Judge recommended a rate of $382.50 per hour, or 75% of the
applicable Laffey Matrix rate of $510.00, to account
for what he viewed as the reduced complexity of the case.
Id. at 18. In addition, the Magistrate Judge found
that plaintiff's counsel had billed for six hours of
travel, and recommended awarding fees for that time at half
of 75% of the Laffey rate, or $191.25 per hour.
Id. at 19. Finally, the Magistrate Judge found that
counsel billed 54.6 hours for clerical and administrative
tasks, for which he recommended reimbursement at 75% of the
Laffey rate for a paralegal, or $108.75 per hour.
Id. at 20.
Magistrate Judge further recommended a 10% reduction to
account for plaintiff's failure to succeed on every claim
she advanced at the administrative hearing. R. & R. at 10. In
addition, the Magistrate Judge recommended a reduction of 15%
for " unnecessary" work, including the preparation
of an amended complaint; five motions to amend a single
filing; the filing of a motion to expedite the hearing,
followed by a motion to continue, followed by a second motion
to expedite; and " several other amendments to existing
documents." Id. at 13-14. All of these
reductions brought the total fee award to $64,037.25.
Id. at 21.
respect to costs, the Magistrate Judge recommended reducing
the reimbursement rate for certain copies from $0.25 to
$0.15, resulting in a cost award of $90.18. R. & R. at 20.
April 6, 2015, plaintiff filed objections to all of the
Magistrate Judge's recommendations except the 50%
reduction of the attorneys' fee rate for travel time and
the $90.18 award for costs. Pl.'s Objs. Defendant did not
file objections of its own, and it asks the Court to adopt
the Magistrate Judge's Report in its entirety. Def.'s
10, 2015, the D.C. Circuit issued an opinion in Eley v.
District of Columbia that addressed the evidentiary
showing a plaintiff must make in order to establish the
amount of attorney's fees to which she is entitled.
See 793 F.3d at 104-05; see also 20 U.S.C.
§ 1415(i)(3)(C) (entitling a prevailing parent to
attorneys' fees " based on rates prevailing in the
community in which the action or proceeding arose for the
kind and quality of services furnished" ). In that
decision, the Court of Appeals underscored the principle that
a fee applicant bears the burden of producing satisfactory
evidence that the ...