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Joaquin v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 2, 2016

BARBARA JOAQUIN, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Royce C. Lamberth United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This case is before the Court on plaintiffs motion for attorney fees, ECF No. 23. The case was referred to a magistrate judge and on March 9, 2016, Magistrate Judge Alan Kay issued a Report and Recommendation, ECF No. 26. This Court accepts and adopts in part, modifies in part, and rejects in part Magistrate Judge Kay's analysis and recommendations. For the reasons stated below, plaintiffs motion for attorney's fees is granted in part and denied in part.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The factual background of this case is set out in Magistrate Judge Kay's Report and Recommendation. See R. & R. 2-4, ECF No. 26. In sum, after a due process hearing, the Hearing Officer determined that District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") denied plaintiffs child, J.J., a free appropriate public education pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. Id. at 4. This Court also granted plaintiffs motion for summary judgment and ordered DCPS to deliver to plaintiff a full copy of J.J.'s communication log and student history records. Id. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion for attorney's fees and costs incurred during the administrative proceeding and summary judgment proceeding. Id.

         There are generally three different systems used to determine attorneys' fees in these cases, all of which are based on the "Laffey Matrix" derived from Laffey v Northwest Airlines, Inc., 572 F.Supp. 354, 374 (D.D.C. 1983) affd in part, rev'd in part on other grounds, 746 F.2d 4 (D.C. Cir. 1984). Id. at 5. First, the USAO Laffey Matrix is calculated by the U.S. Attorney's Office for D.C. and uses the original 1980-81 rates from Laffey, then accounts for inflation by using the Consumer Price Index. Id. Second, the LSI Laffey Matrix-sometimes called the LSUSalazar Matrix-uses the Laffey matrix updated with the 1989 rates, then accounts for inflation by using the Bureau of Labor Statics's legal services index. Id. The LSI Laffey rates are higher than the USAO Laffey rates. Third, several courts within this District have used the USAO Laffey rates as a starting point, but have awarded fees in IDEA litigation at 75% of those rates. See, e.g., Snead v. District of Columbia, 139 F.Supp.3d 375, 381 (D.D.C. 2015).

         Magistrate Judge Kay, after finding that plaintiff was the prevailing party, concluded that IDEA litigation is not sufficiently complex to warrant full Laffey rates. R. & R. 14. Magistrate Judge Kay found that "[b]ecause the Plaintiff has not argued that this case was particularly complex, [he saw] no reason to depart from the majority of recent IDEA cases in this Court that have found that 75% of the USAO Laffey matrix to be a reasonable hourly rate." Id. at 15. He recommended that this Court award 75% of the USAO Laffey rate as a reasonable hourly rate. Id. Magistrate Judge Kay further recommended using the current 2015-16 USAO Laffey rates as opposed to the "historic" Laffey rates that applied at the time the work was completed. Id. at 15-16. Finally, Magistrate Judge Kay recommended deducting 4.7 hours from the total hours billed for non-reimbursable work, and recommended discounting rates for 6 hours of travel time, 12.45 hours of fees-on-fees litigation, and discounting copying costs. Id. at 18-22. Magistrate Judge Kay recommended not reducing or discounting hours billed for allegedly unrelated work and unsuccessful motions, and for hours allegedly double-billed. Id. Thus, Magistrate Judge Kay recommended that plaintiff be awarded $35, 616.40. Id. at 24.

         III. ANALYSIS

         This Court accepts and adopts in full Part II.A of Magistrate Judge Kay's Report and Recommendation-Prevailing Party Status. This Court accepts and adopts Part II.B.2 of Magistrate Judge Kay's Report and Recommendation-The Number of Hours Reasonably Expended on the Litigation-only modifying the numerical calculations in accordance with the Court's decision below. Finally, the Court rejects Part II.B.1.a of Magistrate Judge Kay's Report and Recommendation-The Prevailing Market Rate for IDEA Litigation-but accepts and adopts Part II.B.1.b-Whether to Apply Current or Historic Rates.

         In sum, this Court concludes that plaintiff is the prevailing part and that the 2015-2016 USAO Laffey Matrix should be used to determine the appropriate fee award, but that some of the hours billed will be deducted and that the fee rate for others will be reduced.

         A. Prevailing Party Status

         The Court accepts and adopts in full Part II.A of Magistrate Judge Kay's Report and Recommendation, which concludes that plaintiff is the prevailing party here.

         B. Establishing a Reasonable Fee

         1. Legal Framework

         The IDEA provides that courts may award reasonable attorney's fees to prevailing parties. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i). The fees must be "based on rates prevailing in the community in which the action or proceeding arose for the kind and quality of services furnished." Id. § 1415(i)(3)(C). A three part analysis guides the assessment of whether a requested fee award is reasonable: "First, the court must determine the 'number of hours reasonably expended in litigation.' Second, it must set the 'reasonable hourly rate.' Finally, it must determine whether use of a multiplier is warranted." Eley v. District of Columbia, 793 F.3d 97, 100 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (internal citations omitted). To determine a reasonable hourly rate, the court considers "(1) the attorney['s] billing practices, (2) the attorneyf's] skill, ...


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