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McAllister v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 16, 2016

JOSEPHINE MCALLISTER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

Re Document No. 44

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

I. INTRODUCTION

The Plaintiffs are the parents of children protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. This case is an aggregate of twenty-three separate matters. Plaintiffs initiated this action to recover attorney’s fees and costs incurred while litigating claims under the IDEA. On March 6, 2014, this Court granted in part and denied in part the Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment and awarded $159, 133.74 in legal fees for the successful prosecution of Plaintiffs’ administrative claims. McAllister v. District of Columbia, 21 F.Supp.3d 94 (D.D.C. 2014), ECF No. 32. Thereafter, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Reconsideration, and on June 27, 2014, this Court granted in part and denied in part Plaintiffs’ Motion for Reconsideration and awarded Plaintiffs $171, 103.70. McAllister v. District of Columbia, 53 F.Supp.3d 55 (D.D.C. 2014), ECF No. 42. Now before the Court is Plaintiffs’ 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. The motion seeks fees in the amount of $41, 480.25. Upon Consideration of Plaintiffs’ motion and the parties’ briefs, the Court concludes that it must grant in part and deny in part Plaintiffs’ motion for fees on fees.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

All twenty-three of the underlying cases involved administrative due process complaints against the District of Columbia Public Schools system (“DCPS”) on behalf of students pursuant to the IDEA. See Pls.’ Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 21. In each administrative case, the Plaintiff in question obtained relief. See id. Ex. 1. All twenty-three cases were settled by the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education Office of Review and Compliance Student Hearing Office between November 18, 2008 and September 23, 2010. See generally id. In the instant action, Plaintiffs filed suit collectively seeking attorney’s fees and costs incurred in the 23 administrative cases. Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment followed on May 14, 2013. See Pls.’ Mot. Summ. J.

Douglas Tyrka, Esq., has represented the Plaintiffs throughout the administrative proceedings and civil litigation before this Court. His invoice of $386, 139.52 in costs and fees pertaining to the administrative cases was based on hourly rates that mirrored the enhanced Laffey matrix, and at summary judgment Plaintiffs thus sought fees based on those hourly rates. See Pls.’ Mem. Supp. Mot. Fees at 3, ECF No. 44. The Laffey matrix 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 Eley v. District of Columbia, 793 F.3d 97, 100-01 (D.C. Cir. 2015); see also, e.g., USAO Laffey Matrix-2003-2014, available at http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-dc/legacy/2013/09/09/Laffey_Matrix%202014.pdf (last visited Feb. 14, 2016). The enhanced Laffey Matrix-also referred to the LSI Laffey Matrix-“adjusts for the increases in costs for legal services only.” Eley, 793 F.3d at 101-02; see also Pls.’ Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 4 (reproducing the enhanced Laffey Matrix).

On June 25, 2013, Defendant, the District of Columbia, filed a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment and Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment. Def.’s Opp’n Pls.’ Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 22. In its opposition to Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, Defendant argued that Plaintiffs failed to achieve prevailing party status for purposes of an award of attorney’s fees, and it disputed the reasonableness of Plaintiffs’ requested hourly rates. See Id. at 23. On March 6, 2014, this Court granted in part and denied in part the Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, awarding a sum based on an hourly rate consisting of 75% of the applicable Laffey rate and reduced that overall sum by one-half. See McAllister, 21 F.Supp.3d at 104, 110. The Court first concluded that Plaintiffs had offered “insufficient information to conclude that the enhanced Laffey rates are the market rate” for IDEA litigation and thus declined to award enhanced Laffey rates. Id. at 108. The Court then determined that: Plaintiffs had not offered sufficient evidence to establish that the complexity of the involved IDEA litigation entitled them to a fee award based on the full Laffey hourly rate; and that a one-half reduction of the overall sum was merited given the limited success achieved by the underlying administrative litigation. Id. at 110, 104. Thus, the Court explained that Mr. Tyrka would receive $307.50 per hour for work performed between 2008 and 2009, $307.50 per hour for work performed between 2009 and 2010, $315.00 per hour for work performed between 2010 and 2011, $326.25 per hour for work performed between 2011 and 2012, and $333.75 per hour for work performed between 2012 and 2013. Id. at 110. Thereafter, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Reconsideration. Pls.’ Mot. Recons., ECF No. 34. On June 27, 2014, this Court granted in part and denied in part Plaintiffs’ Motion for Reconsideration and awarded Plaintiffs $171, 103.70, which corrected certain mathematical errors contained in the original opinion. McAllister, 53 F.Supp.3d at 61.

In addition to seeking attorney’s fees for the prosecution of the underlying administrative proceedings, Plaintiffs’ complaint also sought to recover fees incurred while pursuing this fee-collection litigation before the Court. See Pls.’ Mem. Supp. Mot. Fees at 2. On July 25, 2014, Plaintiffs filed the present motion for fees on fees, seeking an additional $41, 480.25, including $41, 040.00 for legal services performed by Mr. Tyrka and $440.25 for the costs incurred in pursuing the matter before this Court. See Pls.’ Mot. Fees Ex. 1 at 2, ECF No. 44-1. Plaintiffs’ requested hourly rate, $640 per hour, again matches the enhanced hourly Laffey rate. See Pls.’ Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 4 (reproducing the enhanced Laffey Matrix); see also The Matrix, Laffey Matrix, http://www.laffeymatrix.com/see.html (last visited Feb. 14, 2016) (updated enhanced Laffey Matrix, reflecting $640/hour rate during the period between June 1, 2013 to May 31, 2014 for an attorney 11 to 19 years out of law school). That rate is based on Mr. Tyrka’s hourly rate as of May 31, 2014, shortly before this motion was filed, rather than the respective rates that were in effect when each of the particular legal services were rendered. See Pls.’ Mem. Supp. Mot. Fees at 4 n.1. They assert that a rate of $640.00 per hour is reasonable for Mr. Tyrka’s work performed while pursuing this fee-collection litigation. Pls.’ Mem. Supp. Mot. Fees at 3.

Defendant opposes the requested fees arguing that Plaintiffs’ requested rate for this uncomplicated fee-collection matter is unreasonable. Defendant further notes that fees on fees awards are discretionary and that this Court’s prior opinion already rejected the argued basis for applying current hourly rates (rather than historic hourly rates) in this case. See Def. s Opp. Pls.’ Mot. Fees at 2-4, ECF No. 50. As a result, Defendant suggests that Mr. Tyrka’s hourly rate should be 50% of the Laffey rate applicable the year his services were rendered. See Id. at 2-3.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard

Under the IDEA, this Court has discretion to “award reasonable attorney’s fees as part of the costs . . . to a prevailing party who is the parent of a child with a disability” in an administrative proceeding. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(I). “Parties who prevail at the administrative level can also recover fees-on-fees, as our general rule is that the court may award additional fees for ‘time reasonably devoted to obtaining attorney’s fees.’” Kaseman v. District of Columbia, 444 F.3d 637, 640 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Envtl. Def. Fund v. EPA, 672 F.2d 42, 62 (D.C. Cir. 1982)). Typically, courts will begin to determine the reasonableness of attorney’s fees by considering “the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.” Jackson v. District of Columbia, 696 F.Supp.2d 97, 101 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)).

The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the reasonableness of any fee requests, including the reasonableness of both the hourly rate and the number of hours spent on any particular task. See In re North (Bush Fee Application), 59 F.3d 184, 189 (D.C. Cir. 1995). A plaintiff may do so by submitting evidence on at least three fronts: “the attorneys’ billing practices; the attorneys’ skill, experience, and reputation; and the prevailing market rates in the relevant community.” Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995). Once the plaintiff has provided such information, a presumption arises that the hours billed are reasonable and the burden shifts to the defendant to rebut the plaintiff's showing. Id. at 1109-10. However, if both parties fail to present satisfactory ...


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