Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Collins v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 30, 2015

TRENITA COLLINS, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION ADOPTING UNCONTESTED REPORT & RECOMMENDATION OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

KETANJI BROWN JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Plaintiff Trenita Collins (“Plaintiff”) is the mother of “D.C.”-a minor child who is a student with a disability in the District of Columbia Public Schools System (“DCPS”). In this lawsuit, Plaintiff seeks to recover from defendant District of Columbia (“Defendant”) attorneys’ fees and costs that she incurred in connection with an administrative due process proceeding in which she alleged that DCPS failed to provide D.C. with a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). The Administrative Hearing Officer decided in Plaintiff’s favor on one of the five grounds that she advanced; in the instant action, Plaintiff seeks a judgment declaring that she was the prevailing party in the administrative proceeding and awarding her $59, 361 in attorneys’ fees and costs.

On January 30, 2015, this Court referred this matter to a Magistrate Judge for full case management. On May 15, 2015, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment (Pl.’s Motion for Summ. J., ECF No. 11), arguing that she prevailed at the administrative level and seeking attorneys’ fees and costs in the amount of $59, 361 under the IDEA. (Id. at 3-7.) On June 12, 2015, Defendant filed a cross-motion for summary judgment (Def.’s Opp’n to Pl.’s Mot. for Summ. J. & Cross-Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 13) in which it conceded that Plaintiff was a prevailing party with respect to one of her claims, but asserted that this Court should reduce the fee award because (1) counsel’s hourly rate is unreasonable, with respect to both the administrative proceeding and the instant proceeding, and (2) Plaintiff only partially prevailed at the administrative level. (Id. at 2, 4-10.)

Before this Court at present is the Report and Recommendation that the assigned Magistrate Judge, Alan Kay, has filed regarding the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment. (See ECF No. 20, attached hereto as Appendix A.) The Report and Recommendation reflects Magistrate Judge Kay’s opinion that the Court should grant in part and deny on part each party’s motion. (Id. at 17.) Specifically, Magistrate Judge Kay finds that counsel billed a reasonable number of hours overall (id. at 11), but recommends that this Court discount counsel’s fees for the administrative proceeding by 35% to reflect Plaintiff’s status as a partially prevailing party (id. at 10-11), and that counsel’s reimbursable hourly rate should be set at “75% of the 2014-2015 Laffey Matrix rates with regard to counsel’s work on the administrative proceeding and [] at 50% of those Laffey Matrix rates with regard to the 4.8 hours counsel billed for [] preparation of the fee petition and review of the billing records” (id. at 15).[1]

The Report and Recommendation also advises the parties that either party may file written objections to the Report and Recommendation, which must include the portions of the findings and recommendations to which each objection is made and the basis for each such objection. (Id. at 18.) The Report and Recommendation further advises the parties that failure to file timely objections may result in waiver of further review of the matters addressed in the Report and Recommendation. (Id.) Under this Court’s local rules, any party who objects to a Report and Recommendation must file a written objection with the Clerk of the Court within 14 days of the party’s receipt of the Report and Recommendation. LCvR 72.3(b). As of this date-over a month after the Report and Recommendation was issued-no objections have been filed.

This Court has reviewed Magistrate Judge Kay’s report and agrees with its careful and thorough analysis and conclusions. Thus, the Court will ADOPT the Report and Recommendation in its entirety. Accordingly, the Court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment and GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Defendant’s Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, and will award Plaintiff attorneys’ fees in the amount of $28, 683.30 and costs in the amount of $787.00.

A separate Order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.

Appendix A

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

ALAN KAY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

This case was referred to the undersigned, on January 30, 2015, for full case management which includes a Report and Recommendation on any dispositive motion. (1/30/15 Minute Order.) Pending before the undersigned is Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”) [11] and Memorandum in Support thereof (“Memorandum”) [11-1]; Defendant’s Cross-Motion [13] and Opposition to Motion [14] (collectively “Cross-Motion”); Plaintiff’s Reply to the Opposition (“Pl.’s Reply”)[16]; and Defendant’s Reply (“Def.’s Reply”) [19]. Plaintiff Trenita Collins (“Plaintiff”) requests from Defendant District of Columbia (“Defendant” or “the District”) a total of $59, 361.00 in attorneys’ fees and costs[1] incurred in connection with an administrative proceeding brought pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. §1400, et seq. (Memorandum at 2, 7.)[2] Defendant challenges Plaintiff’s prevailing party status and the hourly rate applied to Plaintiff’s claims for attorney’s fees. (Cross-Motion at 4-10.) Defendant further contests the hourly rate applied to Plaintiff’s claim for “fees-on-fees.” (Cross-Motion at 10.)

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Trenita Collins is the mother of D.C. (hereinafter referred to as “D.C.” or “the student”), a minor child who is a student with a disability. (Memorandum at 2.) Defendant District of Columbia is a municipal corporation that operates the District of Columbia Public Schools System (“DCPS”). (Complaint [1] ¶4.)[3] The District receives federal funds pursuant to the IDEA and it is obliged to comply with the IDEA, which guarantees all children with disabilities a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”), 20 U.S.C. §1400(d)(1)(A); 20 U.S.C. §1411. In general, FAPE “is available to all children with disabilities residing in the State between the ages of 3 and 21[.]” 20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(1)(A).

In the instant case, the student, D.C., attended Education Campus from kindergarten through the middle of his 6th grade year, which was School Year (“SY”) 2012-2013. (Motion, Exh. 2 [Hearing Officer Determination] (“HOD”) [11-5] at 4.) On September 30, 2009, the student’s IEP Team at Education Campus convened to evaluate the student to determine whether he was a student with a disability under the IDEA. (Id.) The student was classified as a student with autism spectrum disorder and specifically identified with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (“PDD-NOS”). (Id.) On September 20, 2012, the IEP Team convened again and determined that the student required 5 hours per week of specialized instruction outside the general education setting and 15 hours per week inside the general education setting; 180 minutes per month of occupational therapy outside general education; 240 minutes per month of speech and language pathology outside general education; 120 minutes per month of behavior support services inside general education, and the student did not require a dedicated aide. (HOD at 4.)

On January 7, 2013, the student transferred to middle school and was placed in a program for students with high functioning autism. (HOD at 5.) On January 31, 2013, the student received a psychological assessment whereby the school psychologist noted “cognitive slippage” that was possibly attributable to other disabilities. (HOD at 5-6.) The psychologist “did not have any evidence of these [other] disability categories due to the lack of medical assessments” and he accordingly stated that the student “aged out of the PDD-NOS classification and that the student is s student with an Intellectual Disability (“ID”) under the IDEA.” (HOD at 6.) On April 9, 2013, the student’s IEP Team determined that the student had an ID and that he continued to require the aforementioned services inside and outside general education, in the amounts indicated above. (HOD at 6.)

On February 6, 2014, the IEP Team at the middle school convened and determined that the student had an ID under the IDEA and placed the student in a full time placement due to his disability category. (HOD at 7.)[4] The Team determined that the student required 25 hours per week of specialized instruction outside general education; 180 minutes per month of occupational therapy outside general education; 240 minutes per month of speech and language pathology outside general education and 120 minutes per month of behavior support services inside general education but no dedicated aide. (HOD at 7.) The Hearing Officer found that “[t]he team did not consider any harmful effect of placing the student in a more restrictive setting [and] [n]o transition plan was developed for the student[;] [h]owever, the student remained in his general education classes until the end of the 2013-2014 school year.” (HOD at 7.)

In March 2014, the student received a comprehensive psychological assessment. (HOD at 7.) On June 19, 2014, the IEP team at the middle school convened to review the student’s March 2014 comprehensive psychological assessment and the Plaintiff was informed that the high functioning autism program was moving from the middle school at the end of SY 2013-2014 and that a new program for students with ID would take its place. (HOD at 9.) According to the Hearing Officer, the student made progress on his IEP goals during SY 2013-2014 while he was in general education classes on a full time basis. (Id.) At the beginning of SY 2014-2015, the student was placed in a separate special education class for IDEA students with ID, in middle school. (Id.)

On August 8, 2014, Plaintiff filed a due process complaint (Motion, Exh. 1 [Administrative Due Process Complaint Notice] [11-4]), alleging the following denials of FAPE: 1. Failure to adequately evaluate the student; 2. Failure to develop appropriate IEPs in April 2013 and February 2014; 3. Failure to provide appropriate placement for SY 2014-2015; 4. Failure to provide prior written notice to the parent; and 5. Failure to implement IEPs (provide related services). (Due Process Complaint at 3; HOD at 3.) The Hearing Officer held a hearing on September 11, 2014, that was continued on October 8, 2014. (HOD at 1.) Plaintiff presented three witnesses and the District presented five witnesses; Plaintiff’s 24 exhibits and the District’s 18 exhibits were all admitted into evidence. (HOD at 2-3.)

The Hearing Officer concluded that the District did not deny the student a FAPE by failing to evaluate the student (HOD at 10-11); failing to provide an appropriate IEP on April 9, 2013 (HOD at 11-13); or by failing to provide Plaintiff with a prior written notice (HOD at 15-16). With regard to the Plaintiff’s challenge to the February 6, 2014 IEP, the Hearing Officer noted that the student was not denied a FAPE based on the District’s change in the student’s disability category, development of related service goals that were not based on current assessments, or failure to provide a one-on-one aide but the student was denied a FAPE by being placed in a full-time class. (HOD at 11-13.) The Hearing Officer explained that when the IEP Team revised the student’s IEP from 15 hours per week in the general education setting and 5 hours per week in the special education setting to 25 hours per week in the special education setting, it was a significant change in programming that was not warranted because the student was making progress in the general education setting. (HOD at 14.) The Hearing Officer commented that “[i]n this case, the February 6, 2014 IEP team did not consider any harmful effects of placing the student in a full time setting. . . [and] by placing the student in a class of students with ID, the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.