United States District Court, District of Columbia
DEBORAH A. ROBINSON, United States Magistrate Judge.
Lashan Daniels commenced this action pursuant to the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et
seq., seeking judicial review of a hearing officer's
determination with respect to M.C., her minor child.
Complaint (ECF No. 1) ¶ 1. Plaintiff alleges that M.C.
is a student eligible for special education services, and
that District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”)
denied M.C. a free appropriate public education
(“FAPE”). Id. ¶¶ 11-15. This
matter was referred to the undersigned for full case
management, and the parties filed cross-motions for summary
judgment in accordance with the undersigned's scheduling
order. Referral (ECF No. 3); Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment (ECF No. 18); Defendant's Cross Motion
for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 20). The undersigned
recommended that Plaintiff's motion be granted in part,
and that DCPS's motion be denied. Report &
Recommendation (“R&R”) (ECF No. 24) at 15.
The Court (Chutkan, J.) adopted the undersigned's Report
and Recommendation on September 29, 2015. Order (ECF No. 28).
now seeks to recover $92, 688.92 in attorneys' fees and
costs incurred in connection with the litigation.
Plaintiff's Motion for Fees and Costs (“Pl.'s
Mot.”) (ECF No. 30) at 1. With the consent of the
parties, this case was reassigned to the undersigned for all
purposes. Notice of Consent (ECF No. 33) at 1. Upon
consideration of the motion; the memoranda in support thereof
and in opposition thereto; the reply memorandum; the exhibits
offered by the parties; and the entire record herein, the
undersigned will grant Plaintiff's motion in part.
OF THE PARTIES
asserts that she is entitled to an award of reasonable
attorneys' fees because she is a “prevailing”
party based on the hearing officer's determination that
DCPS failed to provide a BIP and the court's decision
that DCPS denied M.C. a FAPE. See Memorandum in
Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Fees and Costs
(“Pl.'s Mem.”) (ECF No. 30) at 4. DCPS
counters that Plaintiff is a “partially”
prevailing party, thus the fees must be denied or
significantly reduced, because Plaintiff's motion for
summary judgment was granted only in part. Defendant's
Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Fees and Costs
(“Opp'n”) (ECF No. 31) at 4. Plaintiff, in
her reply, argues that she is entitled to a full recovery of
attorneys' fees and costs because she prevailed on all
claims that were ripe. See Plaintiff's Reply to
Opposition to Motion for Fees and Costs (“Reply”)
(ECF No. 32) at 1-4.
argues that the requested fees are reasonable in terms of
both the requested rates and the claimed hours. Pl.'s
Mem. at 5, 6. In support, Plaintiff argues that the
“updated” Laffey Matrix should be used
to establish the prevailing market rates in the community
because IDEA litigation is “complex.”
Id. at 6-7. DCPS argues that IDEA cases are not
considered complex federal litigation, citing cases where the
court granted 75% of the Laffey Matrix rates for
prevailing plaintiffs. Opp'n at 5-9. In reply, Plaintiff
argues that DCPS failed to produce sufficient evidence to
rebut the presumption of reasonableness. See Reply
actions for attorney's fees that are brought pursuant to
the IDEA, “the court, in its discretion, may award
reasonable attorneys' fees as part of the costs” to
the prevailing party. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i). In
evaluating such a request, the court must first determine
“whether the party seeking attorney's fees is the
prevailing party, ” and if so, must then evaluate
whether the requested fees are reasonable. Wood v.
District of Columbia, 72 F.Supp.3d 13, 18 (D.D.C. 2014)
(citing Staton v. District of Columbia, No. 13-773,
2014 WL 2700894, at *3 (D.D.C. June 11, 2014), adopted
by 2014 WL 2959017 (D.D.C. July 2, 2014); Douglas v.
District of Columbia, 67 F.Supp.3d 36, 40 (D.D.C.
Circuit has recently observed, “[t]he IDEA provides no
further guidance for determining an appropriate fee
award.” Eley v. District of Columbia, 793 F.3d
97, 100 (D.C. Cir. 2015). Thus, the common mechanism for the
determination of a reasonable award is generally “the
number of hours reasonably expended” multiplied by a
reasonable hourly rate. Wood, 72 F.Supp.3d at 18
(citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433
qualify as a prevailing party, the party must obtain at least
“some relief” from the court. Buckhannon Bd.
& Care Home, Inc. v. W.Va. Dep't of Health &
Human Res., 532 U.S. 598, 603 (2001); see also
Alegria v. District of Columbia, 391 F.3d 262, 264 (D.C.
Cir. 2004) (applying the prevailing party analysis in the
IDEA context). In determining whether the party moving for
fees is a prevailing party, courts apply a three-prong test:
“(1) there must be a ‘court-ordered change in the
legal relationship' of the parties; (2) the judgment must
be in favor of the party seeking the fees; and (3) the
judicial pronouncement must be accompanied by judicial
relief.” District of Columbia v. Straus, 590
F.3d 898, 901 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
a party prevailed on his or her claims, the extent of the
party's success is “a crucial factor in determining
the amount of an award of attorney's fees.”
Hensley, 461 U.S. at 438. A reduced fee award is
appropriate if the relief is “limited” in
comparison to the scope of the litigation as a whole.
Id. However, there is no precise rule or formula for
making these determinations. Id. at 436-37. In so
doing, the court may “attempt to identify specific
hours that should be eliminated” or “reduce the
award to account for the limited success.” Id.
party requesting fees “bears the burden of establishing
the reasonableness of the hourly rate sought, ” and
“must submit 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.” Wood, 72 F.Supp.3d
at 18-19 (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing In re
North, 59 F.3d 184, 189 (D.C. Cir. 1995)).
jurisdiction, the Laffey Matrix serves as the
commonly accepted benchmark for the determination of
prevailing market rates for attorneys' fees in complex
federal court litigation. See Eley, 793 F.3d at 100.
“The prevailing market rate provides merely a starting
point for determining the reasonableness of a billing rate .
. . . The fee applicant should also submit evidence,
including affidavits, regarding her counsel's general
billing practices, skill, experience and reputation.”
Wood, 72 F.Supp.3d at 21 (quoting Baker v. D.C.
Pub. Sch., 815 F.Supp.2d 102, 114 (D.D.C. 2011))
(citations omitted) (internal quotation marks and alterations
judges of this Court have adopted varying approaches to the
determination of the prevailing market rate for
attorneys' fees in IDEA cases. Wood, 72
F.Supp.3d at 19. “While some judges of this court have
applied full Laffey rates in IDEA cases, others have
applied a rate equal to three-fourths of the Laffey
Matrix rate . . . where the underlying administrative
proceedings did not involve particularly complex
matters.” Id. (quoting Haywood v. District
of Columbia, No. 12-1722, 2013 WL 5211437, at *6 (D.D.C.
Aug. 23, 2013)) (citations omitted); see also Gardill v.
District of Columbia, 930 F.Supp.2d 35, 42 (D.D.C. 2013)
(citations omitted) (“Some courts find that the
Laffey rate is presumptively reasonable . . . .
Other courts treat the Laffey Matrix as providing
the highest rates that will be presumed to be
reasonable when a court reviews a petition for statutory
attorneys' fees . . . [and] impose lower rates where the
defendant shows that the proceedings for which compensation
is sought were straightforward or otherwise not demanding of
counsel's skills and experience.”) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
recently, this court has cautioned that IDEA cases
“take a variety of litigation paths” and cannot
be dismissed as “categorically routine or
simple.” Sweatt v. District of Columbia, 82
F.Supp.3d 454, 459 (D.D.C. 2015) (quoting Thomas,
908 F.Supp.2d at 243). Some judges in this District “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.”
Id. (citations and internal quotation marks
omitted). Moreover, “[s]ince an attorney's total
fee award is determined by multiplying the number of hours
expended by the hourly rate, reducing the Laffey
rates to reflect the brevity of the case improperly accounts
for the length of the proceedings twice.” Id.
Thus, “[t]he complexity of the case is accounted for by
the number of hours expended and should not be accounted for
by a blunt reduction of rates before applying the rates to
the number of hours expended.” Id.
the Circuit thus far has declined to decide “whether
IDEA litigation is in fact sufficiently ‘complex'
to use [some version of the Laffey Matrix][,
]” it has criticized the mechanical application of the
proposition “that IDEA cases, as a subset of civil
rights litigation, fail to qualify as ‘complex federal
litigation.'” Eley, 793 F.3d at 105. In a
concurring opinion, a member of the Eley panel wrote
that “I would simply add that in my view, the United
States Attorney's Office Laffey matrix is
appropriate for IDEA cases.” Id. at 105
(Kavanaugh, J., concurring).