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Salmeron v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 16, 2016

CATALINA SALMERON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REGGIE B. WALTON United States District Judge

         The plaintiffs[1] bring this action against the District of Columbia (“the defendant” or “the District”) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”).[2] Currently pending before the Court are the Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment (“Pls.’ Mot.”), and the defendant’s Opposition to Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment and Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (“Def.’s Mem.”). Upon careful consideration of the parties’ submissions and the entire record in this case, the Court concludes that it must grant in part and deny in part the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and grant in part and deny in part the defendant’s cross-motion for summary judgment.[3]

         I. BACKGROUND

         The plaintiffs initiated this action to recover “legal fees and costs incurred in successful litigation under the [IDEA], ” Am. Compl. ¶ 1. The plaintiffs each allege that they “prevailed in IDEA [administrative] litigation, receiving final relief ordered in [several] “[h]earing [o]fficer’s Determination[s]).” Id. ¶ 10. At the seven underlying IDEA administrative proceedings (“proceedings” or “due process hearings”), the plaintiffs were represented by Kiran Hassan, who states that she is “the sole owner of Hassan Law Firm, LLC, the law firm that served as counsel for the [p]laintiffs in the administrative proceedings in this matter.” Pls.’ Mot., Exhibit (“Ex.”) 3 (Verified Statement of Kiran Hassan (“Hassan Statement”)) ¶ 2. Juan Fernandez, who, according to Hassan, “received his [J]uris [D]octorate [degree] from Catholic University in 1999 . . . [and] has been specializing in IDEA litigation . . . since 2001, ” id. ¶ 12, also participated in the due process hearings subject to this litigation, see, e.g., Pls.’ Mot., Ex.1 (Determinations) at 54 (describing Fernandez as an “[e]ducational [a]dvocate”).

         On October 16, 2015, the plaintiffs filed their motion for summary judgment. In their motion, the plaintiffs ask the Court to award them “attorneys’ fees . . . incurred in the underlying administrative litigation in the amount of $528, 256.00.” Pls.’ Mot. at 1. The plaintiffs assert that their evidence, including a “detailed itemization of tasks performed [and the] hours expended [on them], ” Pls.’ Mem. at 4, demonstrates that “the [number of] hours claimed are reasonable, ” id. at 5. Further, the plaintiffs assert that the Court must determine their hourly fees in accordance with “an updated version of the Laffey [M]atrix.” Id. at 11. According to the plaintiffs, the updated Laffey Matrix is the appropriate benchmark of a reasonable hourly rate because, supposedly, they “presented the declarations of lawyers attesting to their ability to negotiate and earn these rates on the open market.” Id. at 12. Additionally, the plaintiffs assert that the Court “should award current hourly rates, ” id. at 13, and explain that, “[b]y ‘current, ’ [they] . . . refer to 2013 rates, ” id. n.5, i.e., the rates in effect when they commenced this action.

         The plaintiffs also ask the Court to “order a fee petition from the [p]laintiffs at the conclusion of this litigation, ” id. at 13, asserting that plaintiffs who successfully litigate a case for attorney’s fees and costs under the IDEA may also recover “additional fees for time reasonably devoted to obtaining attorney’s fees, ” id. (citing Kaseman v. District of Columbia, 444 F.3d 637, 640 (2006)). Finally, the plaintiffs request the Court to “order that the District pay an additional $4, 000.00 for each delay of a month or part thereof in payment [of attorney’s fees], ” id. at 14 (citation omitted), alleging that the District has a “long history of ignoring the timelines of orders for payment of IDEA attorneys’ fees, ” id. (citations omitted).

         On November 13, 2015, the defendant filed its cross-motion for summary judgment. The defendant argues that the plaintiffs have failed to “offer . . . relevant evidence supporting the prevailing rate in the community for the type of work done by their attorneys in this case, ” Def.’s Mem. at 2, and that the plaintiffs’ “requested enhanced Laffey rates are not warranted, ” id. at 3 (citation omitted). Instead, the defendant asserts that “[t]hree-fourths of the [lower] [United States Attorneys’ Office] Laffey rate is the maximum appropriate rate for this case.” Id. at 6. As support for this position, the defendant states that “[s]everal judges in this Court have held the Laffey [M]atrix to be inapplicable and have instead compensated attorney[’s] fees at a rate equal to three-quarters . . . of Laffey or less.” Id. at 8 & n.3 (citing cases). “Given the number of cases in which a rate less than Laffey has been awarded to [p]laintiffs’ counsel in IDEA actions, ” the defendant opines, “it is clear that the [C]ourt need not award Laffey rates as a matter of course in order to convince competent counsel to take IDEA cases.” Id. at 9. The defendant disputes the plaintiffs’ claim that the updated Laffey Matrix is the appropriate benchmark of a reasonable hourly rate, asserting that the plaintiffs “have given no indication of a market rate, other than their own self-serving affidavits.” Id. at 10.

         The defendant raises a more specific challenge to the reasonableness of Hassan’s requested hourly rate, contending that it “is not reasonable because” she “billed . . . at a rate higher than her experience level.” Id. at 13. To bolster this contention, the defendant states that, although “Hassan graduated from law school in 2001, and has been specializing in special education matters since 2012, ” id., “she did not start practicing law until May 2004, ” id. (citation omitted).

         The defendant also advances several additional arguments. First, the defendant notes that “Courts in this District often reduce awards of attorney[’s] fees under the IDEA based on partial success, ” id. at 15 (citing cases), and asserts that the plaintiffs’ fees “should be reduced by at least 50%, ” id. at 19, because the plaintiffs “did not receive all of the requested relief” at the due process hearings, see id. at 16; see also id. at 15-19. Second, the defendant states that the plaintiffs “should not [be able to] bill the District for services rendered by an educational advocate or consultant, ” id. at 19 (citing Arlington Cent. Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Murphy, 548 U.S. 291, 300 (2006)), and asserts that “Juan Fernandez . . . served as [an] educational advocate[] in each of the hearings comprising this action, ” id. at 20, concluding that “[a]ll fees by [him] should be deducted from [the] [p]laintiffs’ invoice, ” id. Third, the defendant disputes that the plaintiffs “are entitled to payment at the firm’s current rates, ” id., contending that “case law dictates that [a]n appropriate award of attorney’s fees against the government must be based on billing rates at the time that work was performed, ” id. (citations omitted). Finally, the defendant characterizes the plaintiffs’ assertion that it has a “long history of delaying payments” as “baseless and without merit, ” id. at 21, asserting that the plaintiffs have offered “scant evidence demonstrating that the District either has previously been or is now likely to be recalcitrant in paying the fees ordered by the Court, ” id. (citation omitted).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Before granting a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, a court must find that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A fact is material if it ‘might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ’ and a dispute about a material fact is genuine ‘if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.’” Steele v. Schafer, 535 F.3d 689, 692 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

         When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (citation omitted). “Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are . . . not . . . [decisions for] a judge . . . [to make when] ruling on a motion for summary judgment . . . .” Id. The movant has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and that the non-moving party “fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party . . . bear[s] the burden of proof.” See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         In responding to a summary judgment motion, the non-moving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (citations omitted). Accordingly, the nonmoving party must not rely on “mere allegations or denials . . . but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there [are] genuine [disputes of material fact].” See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (second alteration in original) (citation omitted). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmoving party’s] position [is therefore] insufficient” to withstand a motion for summary judgment.” Id. at 252.

         III. ANALYSIS

         The plaintiffs seek reimbursement for legal work performed by Hassan and Fernandez for themselves personally and for their children. See generally Pls.’ Reply Br., Ex. 3 (Invoice). In the interest of clarity, the Court will first consider the reasonableness of Hassan’s request for attorney’s fees.

         A. Attorney Hassan

         1. Basic Test

         “The IDEA requires the District to provide disabled children with a ‘free appropriate public education.’” Eley v. District of Columbia, 793 F.3d 97, 99 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A)). “If the District fails to do so, the child’s parents can file an administrative complaint with the District Office of the State Superintendent of Education . . . .” Id. (citing § 1415(b)(6)). And “[u]nder the [IDEA], a court may award attorneys’ fees to the ‘prevailing party, ’ whether it be the plaintiff or the defendant.” District of Columbia v. Ijeanbuonwu, 642 F.3d 1191, 1192 (D.C. Cir. 2011). “An IDEA fee award ‘shall be based on rates prevailing in the community in which the action or proceeding arose for the kind and quality of services furnished.’” Id. (quoting § 1415(i)(3)(C)). “Thus, if the court finds that ‘the amount of the attorneys’ fees otherwise authorized to be awarded unreasonably exceeds the hourly rate prevailing in the community for similar services by attorneys of reasonably comparable skill, reputation, and experience, ’ it ‘shall reduce . . . the amount of the attorneys’ fees awarded.’” Id. (alteration in original) (quoting § 1415(i)(3)(F)(ii)).

         The District of Columbia Circuit (“the Circuit”) employs a three-part test to determine the amount of an appropriate fee award. “First, the court must determine the ‘number of hours reasonably expended in litigation.’” Eley, 793 F.3d at 100 (quoting Save Our Cumberland Mountains, Inc. v. Hodel, 857 F.2d 1516, 1517 (D.C. Cir. 1988)). “Second, it must set the ‘reasonable hourly rate.’” Id. (quoting Cumberland Mountains, 857 F.2d at 1517). “Finally, it must determine whether use of a multiplier is warranted.” Id. “The ‘fee applicant bears the burden of establishing entitlement to an award, documenting the appropriate hours, and justifying the reasonableness of the rates’ and the opposing party remains ‘free to rebut a fee claim.’” Id. (quoting Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107-08 (D.C. Cir. 1995)).

         Because “the IDEA prohibits [the] application of any ‘bonus or multiplier, ’” id. (quoting § 1415(i)(3)(C)), the Court proceeds to analyze the reasonableness of the plaintiffs’ requested (1) hourly rates and (2) number of hours expended in the administrative litigation.

         2. The Reasonableness of the Plaintiffs’ Requested Hourly Rates

         a. Whether to Apply the LSI or USAO Laffey Matrix

         To demonstrate that the requested hourly rates are reasonable, “a fee applicant must ‘produce satisfactory evidence-in addition to the attorney’s own affidavits-that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation.’” Id. (quoting Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11 (1984)). This Circuit allows fee applicants to “submit attorneys’ fee matrices as one type of evidence that [provides] a useful starting point in calculating the prevailing market rate.” Id. (citation omitted). “The most commonly used fee matrix [in this Circuit] is the Laffey Matrix . . ., ” id. (citing Laffey v. N.W. Airlines, Inc., 572 F.Supp. 354, 371 (D.D.C. 1983)), which “established . . . [a fee] schedule for lawyers who practice ‘complex federal litigation, ’” id.

         “Competing updated Laffey Matrices have [been] developed . . . .” Id. at 101. “The first Laffey Matrix is maintained and updated by the District United States Attorney’s Office (USAO Laffey Matrix).” Id. “The USAO Laffey Matrix starts with ‘[t]he hourly rates approved in Laffey . . . for work done principally in 1981-82’ as its baseline.” Id. (alterations in original) (citation omitted). Then, “[i]t adjusts these rates to account for inflation by using the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) of the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.” Id. (citation omitted). By contrast, “a competing Laffey Matrix (LSI Laffey Matrix) . . . uses the Legal Services Index of the Bureau of Labor Statistics to adjust for inflation.” Id. “[T]he LSI Laffey Matrix adjusts for the increases in costs for legal services only.” Id. at 101-02. The LSI Laffey Matrix was “[d]eveloped by Michael Kavanaugh, an economist from Hawaii.” Id. at 101.

         The Circuit has yet to definitively decide whether “IDEA litigation is . . . sufficiently ‘complex’ to use either version of the Laffey Matrix (and if so, which version of the Laffey Matrix is more appropriate).” Id. at 105. However, in Eley, the Circuit vacated a district court’s decision to use the LSI Laffey Matrix in determining a fee award under the IDEA. Id. In reaching this decision, the Circuit stated that the plaintiff “had the burden to produce satisfactory evidence-in addition to [her] attorney’s own affidavits-that [her] requested rates [were] in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation.” Id. at 104 (some alterations in original) (citation omitted). And, the Circuit reasoned that the following “evidentiary submission” failed to meet this standard: “the LSI Laffey Matrix, Kavanaugh’s declaration explaining the LSI Laffey Matrix[, ] and [the plaintiff’s] lawyer’s verified statement averring that [the lawyer] charged his paying clients the rates in the LSI Laffey Matrix.” Id. In the Circuit’s judgment, these submissions included no “evidence that [the plaintiff’s] requested rates [were] in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services[.]” Id. (citations omitted). The Circuit further noted that the plaintiff “directed the district court to only four cases that had employed the LSI Laffey matrix- none of which was an IDEA case.” Id. Therefore, the Circuit concluded that the district court “abused its discretion” by “relieving [the plaintiff] of her burden.” Id. at 105. Consequently, the Circuit vacated and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. Id.[4]

         In this District, “there has not been a unified approach to the proper rates for attorneys’ fees in IDEA cases[.]” Young v. District of Columbia, 893 F.Supp.2d 125, 130 (D.D.C. 2012). Some judges “discount[] the [USAO] Laffey Matrix rates by 25%, ” id. (citing Rooths v. District of Columbia, 802 F.Supp.2d 56, 63 (2011)), based on the notion that IDEA cases usually are not “of sufficient complexity to justify a different rate, ” McNeil v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No.: 14-1981 (RC), 2015 WL 9484460, at *6 (D.D.C. Dec. 29, 2015). “Other courts in this District, however, ha[ve] rejected the suggestion that IDEA administrative litigation is categorically less complex than other forms of litigation, and reaffirm[ed] that IDEA cases are sufficiently complex to allow application of the Laffey Matrix.” Young, 893 F.Supp.2d at 131 (citing cases).

         This Court has endorsed a hybrid version of these two approaches. “[T]he undersigned generally rejects an award of the full [USAO] Laffey Matrix rate in non-complex IDEA cases litigated solely at the administrative level, finding that [t]he [USAO Laffey] Matrix is not ipso facto determinative of the proper hourly rate . . . . ” Salmeron v. District of Columbia, 77 F.Supp.3d 201, 210-11 (D.D.C. 2015) (Walton, J.) (some alterations in original) (citation omitted), vacated on other grounds, 113 F.Supp.3d 263 (D.D.C. 2015) (Walton, J.). “Instead, it is the general position of the undersigned to use the [USAO] Laffey Matrix rate as the appropriate measure of the prevailing market rate in IDEA cases and then evaluate on a case-specific basis what amount of attorneys’ fees should be awarded.” Id. at 211 (citation omitted).

         In a recent decision, this Court awarded the plaintiff’s attorney 92% of the USAO Laffey rate. Hammond v. District of Columbia, ___F.3d ___, 2016 WL 1704116, at *8 (D.D.C. Apr. 28, 2016) (Walton, J.). In Hammond, the Court relied on several factors in reaching this position, including: (1) the attorney’s verified statement that she matched her hourly rates to those in the USAO Laffey Matrix and had several paying clients who had paid those rates, id. at *7; (2) the decisions of other judges in this District awarding attorneys “100% of the Laffey Matrix, ” id. (citation omitted); (3) the affidavits of two other attorneys stating that they “practice[d] special education law, litigate[d] IDEA cases against the District of Columbia, and charge[d] the USAO Laffey rate when they represent[ed] both paying and non-paying clients, ” id.; and (4) the complexity of the case, which included participating in a 10-hour, two-day administrative hearing, the submission of “fifty-six exhibits, ” the presentation of “six witnesses” during the hearing, and the issuance of a “[nineteen]-page determination” by the hearing officer resolving “as many as eleven discrete issues, ” id.

         In another case, this Court awarded the plaintiff approximately 90% of the USAO Laffey rate “after a lengthy and contested hearing.” Garvin v. District of Columbia, 851 F.Supp.2d 101, 106 (D.D.C. 2012) (Walton, J.). In Garvin, the Court cited the following facts to justify this award:

Plaintiff A.G.’s administrative hearing involved [eleven] exhibits totaling over [seventy] pages. The exhibits included reports from two psychological evaluations, report cards, behavior intervention plans, etc. D.C. Public Schools offered [two] exhibits totaling approximately [seventeen] pages. D.C. Public Schools filed a detailed Answer. A prehearing conference was held and the hearing officer issued a [four] page pre-hearing order. Plaintiffs listed [fifteen] witnesses and D.C. Public Schools disclosed [fourteen] witnesses to testify at the hearing. These witnesses included a speech/language pathologist, psychologist, teachers, therapists, [three] DCPS supervisors, IEP coordinator and the DCPS director of special education. Whether they ultimately testified at the hearing or not, undersigned counsel needed to be prepared to respond to each and every witness listed by D.C. Public Schools. The hearing lasted virtually a full day. Each party filed lengthy written closing arguments. The hearing officer subsequently issued a [twelve] page single spaced decision awarding [the] petitioner the relief being sought.

Id. at 106-07.

         By contrast, this Court held in another case that only 75% of the USAO Laffey rate was proper. See Jay v. District of Columbia, 75 F.Supp.3d 214, 221-22 (D.D.C. 2014) (Walton, J.). There, the Court reasoned that the case was “relatively straightforward.” Id. at 222. As support its reasoning, the Court noted that: (1) “the case was resolved prior to extensive participation in the due processes hearing, primarily through negotiations, and memorialized in a four-page Consent Order, ” id. at 222; (2) “although the plaintiff’s physical and developmental impairments posed a level of complexity, . . . the case did not present any novel legal issue, and it did not require extensive legal briefing or discovery, ” id. at 221; and (3) “the plaintiff presented only one witness at the hearing before the hearing was aborted so the parties could discuss settlement, ” id. at 222.[5]

         For the following reasons, the Court finds that the plaintiffs have failed to show that Hassan is entitled to the enhanced LSI Laffey rates. The plaintiffs’ evidentiary submissions in this case are similar to what the Circuit in Eley held were insufficient to justify using the enhanced Laffey rates, the plaintiffs having submitted as support for such an award, “the LSI Laffey Matrix, Kavanaugh’s declaration explaining the LSI Laffey Matrix[, ] and [the plaintiffs’] lawyer’s verified statement averring that [she] charged [her] paying clients the rates in the LSI Laffey Matrix.” Compare 793 F.3d at 104, with Pls.’ Mot., Ex. 4 (LSI Laffey Matrix), and Kavanaugh Decl., and Pls.’ Mot., Ex. 6 (Verified Statement of Douglas Tyrka (“Tyrka Statement”)) ¶ 13.[6] Furthermore, like in Eley, the plaintiffs have not directed the Court to any IDEA cases “that ha[ve] employed the LSI Laffey Matrix[].” 793 F.3d at 104. Indeed, “since Eley, . . . courts in this jurisdiction have interpreted the decision as strongly suggesting that IDEA matters are infrequently comparable to complex federal litigation, and therefore, full [USAO] Laffey rates should not be awarded in such cases, ” Jackson-Johnson v. District of Columbia, No. 13-cv-00528 (TSC)(AK), 2016 WL 1267153, at *3 & n.3 (D.D.C. Mar. 31, 2016) (collecting cases), let alone full LSI Laffey rates, see Salazar ex rel. Salazar v. District of Columbia, 809 F.3d 58, 64 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (“[I]n the particular context of IDEA claims, there is a submarket in which attorneys’ hourly fees are generally lower than the rates in either of the Laffey Matrices.” (citing Eley, 793 F.3d at 105)). Accordingly, the Court declines to apply the LSI Laffey Matrix but, instead, will adhere to its longstanding practice of using the USAO Laffey Matrix as a guide and evaluating “on a case-specific basis what amount of attorneys’ fees should be awarded.” Salmeron, 77 F.Supp.3d at 211 (citation omitted).

         The plaintiffs counter that they submitted “six verified statements . . . directly fulfilling the evidentiary requirement[] in Eley, ” Pls.’ Reply Br. at 4, which show that the plaintiffs’ “requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services, ” 793 F.3d at 104. This counterargument is unavailing. Eley requires the plaintiffs “to produce satisfactory evidence-in addition to [their] attorney’s own affidavits-that [their] requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation.” Id. (citation omitted). Because Tryka is, as counsel of record, the plaintiffs’ attorney, his verified statement cannot satisfy the requirement of producing evidence in addition to the attorney’s own affidavits. See Pls.’ Mot., Ex. 6 (Tyrka Statement) ¶ 13. Additionally, the plaintiffs submitted verified statements from six other attorneys purporting to prove that the LSI Laffey rates prevail in IDEA litigation at the administrative level. See Pls.’ Reply Br., Ex. 5 (Verified Statement of Nicholas Ostrem (“Ostrem Statement”)); Pls.’ Mot., Ex. 10 (Verified Statement of Maria G. Mendoza (“Mendoza Statement”)); Pls.’ Mot., Ex. 11 (Verified Statement of Alana Hecht (“Hecht Statement”)); Pls.’ Mot., Ex. 7 (Verified Statement of Diana M. Savit (“Savit Statement”)); Pls.’ Mot., Ex. 9 (Verified Statement of Domiento C.R. Hill (“Hill Statement”)); Pls.’ Mot., Ex. 8 (Verified Statement of Charles Moran (“Moran Statement”)). Of these attorneys, however, only Moran states that his firm has “adjusted its rates to match those in the . . . LSI Laffey [M]atrix.” Pls.’ Mot., Ex. 8 (Moran Statement) ¶ 11. But see, e.g., Pls.’ Mot., Ex. 9 (Hill Statement) (stating that he has “restricted [himself] to requesting . . . the ‘75% USAO’ [Laffey] rate”). Moreover, even if all six of these attorneys had stated that they charged their paying clients the LSI Laffey rates, their statements alone would still be insufficient to show that the LSI Laffey rates prevail in this District because the plaintiffs have not adequately shown how many attorneys practice IDEA litigation in this District and bill the LSI Laffey rates. Therefore, the six verified statements may not be representative of the overall market for attorney’s fees in IDEA cases in this District. Similarly, each of the six verified statements “fails to specify how many-numerically or percentage-based-of [the attorneys’] clients actually pay . . . enhanced Laffey [] rates.” Def.’s Reply Br. at 3-4. This omission is significant because if the attorneys do not charge all of their paying IDEA clients (assuming they have any) the LSI Laffey rates, or if they seldom charge such rates in IDEA cases, there is an insufficient basis to infer that the enhanced rates prevail in IDEA litigation. Accordingly, the plaintiffs have failed to justify the use of “the inflated rates contained in [the LSI Laffey] . . . [M]atrix.” Rooths, 802 F.Supp.2d at 61 (citation omitted).

         b. The Applicable USAO Laffey Rates

         Having concluded that the USAO Laffey Matrix is a more appropriate measure of a reasonable attorney’s fee in IDEA cases, the Court must determine the applicable USAO Laffey rates for each of the seven proceedings. Although Hassan states that she graduated from law school in 2001, the defendant contends, and Hassan does not contest, that “she did not start practicing law until 2004.” Def.’s Mem. at 13; see also Tillman v. District of Columbia, 123 F.Supp.3d 49, 58 (D.D.C. 2015) (finding that Hassan “did not start practicing law until May 2004”). Where, as here, “there is a significant gap [in time] between the date [when] an attorney graduated from law school and when he or she actually began practicing law, it is the latter date that should control in setting his or her Laffey rate.” Tillman, 123 F.Supp.3d at 59. Consequently, the Court will use May 2004 as the starting date when calculating Hassan’s experience for purposes of the USAO Laffey Matrix. Therefore, Hassan had eight years of legal experience during the period when she provided legal services in all seven proceedings.

         The next issue for the Court to address is whether to apply the USAO Laffey rates that were in effect in 2013, supra at 3, or the “rates at the time that work was performed, ” supra at 4. The Court previously held in this case that it was “appropriate to award the plaintiffs’ attorney[] an hourly rate . . . [based on] the year when the legal services were rendered, ” Salmeron, 77 F.Supp.3d at 211, and stands by its earlier ruling. Accordingly, the Court must independently determine Hassan’s experience level and the applicable USAO Laffey Matrix rates for each of the seven subject IDEA proceedings. So doing, the Court notes that the USAO Laffey Matrix defines a fiscal year as June 1 of a given year to May 31 of the following year and, for attorneys with eight to ten years of experience, awards $350, $355, and $360 for, respectively, fiscal years 2012, 2013, and 2014.[7]

         The Salmeron Proceeding: Hassan rendered services to Salmeron from February 2013 to June 2013. Pls.’ Reply Br., Ex. 3 (Invoice) at 1-4. From February 2013 to May 2013, the USAO Laffey rate for Hassan’s level of experience, i.e., eight-to-ten years, is $355 and, for June 2013, the applicable rate is $360.

         The Coleman Proceeding: Hassan provided services to plaintiff Coleman from January 2013 to May 2013. Id. at 5-9. The applicable USAO Laffey rate for the entire period is $355.

         The Flythe Proceeding: Hassan rendered services to plaintiff Flythe from May 2013 to September 2013. Id. at 12-15.[8] The applicable USAO Laffey rates are $355 for ...


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