United States District Court, District of Columbia
G. Sullivan, United States District Judge
before the Court is plaintiff Jorie Wimbish's motion for
attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to the attorneys'
fees provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et
seq. Ms. Wimbish seeks to recover attorneys' fees
and costs arising from her successful obtainment of a
“stay-put” order from this Court. That stay-put
order mandates that the District of Columbia fund the
entirety of the costs arising from Ms. Wimbish's minor
daughter, J.W., attending the Stuart Hall School during the
pendency of an underlying IDEA case between Ms. Wimbish and
the District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”).
consideration of the motion, the response and reply thereto,
the parties' supplemental briefs, the entire record, and
for the reasons stated below, Ms. Wimbish's motion is
GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The Court finds that the
“reasonable hourly rates” proposed by Ms. Wimbish
are appropriate, but will not, at this juncture, order
reimbursement for her attorneys' preparation of the
instant motion for attorneys' fees; Ms. Wimbish has
indicated that she plans to file a supplemental motion
related to “fees-on-fees” litigation.
Accordingly, the Court ultimately awards Ms. Wimbish $50,
factual background of this case is set out in Wimbish v.
District of Columbia, 153 F.Supp.3d 4 (D.D.C. 2015) and
will not be rehashed in full again here. In most relevant
part, prior to the 2014-2015 school year, Ms. Wimbish
enrolled J.W.-- who had been deemed eligible for special
education services under the IDEA--at Stuart Hall School, a
private boarding school in Staunton, Virginia. 153 F.Supp.3d
at 7. On January 5, 2015, Ms. Wimbish filed an IDEA
administrative due process complaint with the Office of
Dispute Resolution of DCPS alleging that DCPS had failed to
develop an appropriate individualized education program
(“IEP”) for J.W. for the 2014-2015 school year
and had failed to propose an adequate school placement.
Id. The complaint sought reimbursement from DCPS for
J.W.'s cost of attendance at Stuart Hall. Id.
March 29, 2015 decision, an administrative Hearing Officer
concluded that DCPS had denied J.W. a free appropriate public
education (“FAPE”) for the 2014-2015 school year
and ordered DCPS to fund 50% of Stuart Hall expenses for that
school year. Id. at 8. The Hearing Officer relied on
alternative bases to conclude that J.W. had been denied a
FAPE. First, if J.W.'s most recent IEP--one that the
parties had developed at a June 2014 meeting and one that Ms.
Wimbish believed was not a mere draft but rather was a final,
operative IEP, id. at 7--was operative, it was
improper because it provided J.W. with an inappropriately
restrictive program. Id. at 8. Alternatively, if the
June 2014 IEP was just a “draft” IEP, as DCPS had
argued, then J.W. had improperly not been provided an IEP for
the 2014-2015 school year. Id. at 8. The Hearing
Officer also found that Ms. Wimbish's enrollment of J.W.
at Stuart Hall was proper, but only mandated that DCPS cover
50% of the Stuart Hall expenses because, following the June
2014 IEP meeting, Ms. Wimbish had refused to meet with DCPS
to rewrite or revise the IEP that had been prepared at the
June 2014 meeting. Id. at 8.
the 2014-2015 school year ended, DCPS contacted Ms. Wimbish
to schedule a meeting to prepare J.W.'s IEP for the
2015-2016 school year. Id. But at their August 18,
2015 meeting, DCPS informed Ms. Wimbish that J.W. was no
longer eligible for special education services. Id.
Accordingly, DCPS explained that the meeting would not result
in an updated IEP but rather would be aimed at developing a
plan for accommodations under § 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Id. at 8-9. Surprised by
this turn of events, Ms. Wimbish asked that the meeting be
adjourned, but DCPS continued the meeting in her and her
counsel's absence and developed a § 504 plan for
J.W. Id. at 9.
August 20, 2015, Ms. Wimbish filed an administrative due
process complaint challenging J.W.'s removal from special
education services. Id. at 9. Upon learning that
DCPS did not intend to fund any portion of J.W.'s
placement at Stuart Hall during the pendency of this IDEA
case, Ms. Wimbish filed a motion for a stay-put injunction in
this Court on September 1, 2015. Id. The IDEA's
“stay-put provision” requires a local educational
agency to maintain a child in his or her “current
educational placement” during the pendency of IDEA
administrative and judicial proceedings. Id. at 9-10
(citing 34 C.F.R. § 300.518(a)). This Court granted Ms.
Wimbish's motion, as it determined that Stuart Hall is
J.W.'s “current educational placement” and
that the District is obligated to fund 100% of J.W.'s
attendance at Stuart Hall, retroactive to the commencement of
the 2015-2016 school year, during the pendency of all
administrative and judicial proceedings arising from Ms.
Wimbish's August 20, 2015 administrative due process
complaint. Id. at 10-13.
November 16, 2015, a Hearing Officer issued a decision
concerning Ms. Wimbish's August 20, 2015 due process
complaint, and Ms. Wimbish's partial appeal of that
decision, filed in this Court on December 16, 2015, remains
pending following the conclusion of briefing on February 9,
2017. See Id. at 9 n.4. Meanwhile, in
January 2016, Ms. Wimbish filed a motion for attorneys'
fees and costs related to the stay-put portion of this
litigation. See Mot. for Attorneys' Fees, ECF
No. 17. That motion is ripe and ready for the Court's
IDEA provides that a court “in its discretion, may
award reasonable attorneys' fees . . . to a prevailing
party who is the parent of a child with a disability.”
20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i). Although this Court has
yet to rule on Ms. Wimbish's partial appeal of the
Hearing Officer's November 16, 2015 decision, the
District does not dispute that Ms. Wimbish is “a
prevailing party who is the parent of a child with a
disability” as concerns the stay-put portion of this
IDEA litigation. See generally Def.'s Opp. to
Pl.'s Mot. for Attorneys' Fees (“Def.'s
Opp.”), ECF No. 18 (omitting any argument that Ms.
Wimbish is not a “prevailing party”); see
also Douglas v. District of Columbia, 67 F.Supp.3d 36,
41-42 (D.D.C. 2014) (holding that a party that obtained a
stay-put order was a “prevailing party”);
Laster v. District of Columbia, No. 05-1875, 2006 WL
2085394, at *2-3 (D.D.C. July 25, 2006) (same). The dispute
here thus narrows to whether the attorneys' fees that Ms.
Wimbish seeks from the stay-put litigation constitute
“reasonable attorneys' fees.”
“reasonable attorneys' fees” determination
depends on a three-part analysis: “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 and
quotation marks omitted). The District does not challenge the
hours that Ms. Wimbish's attorneys devoted to the
stay-put litigation, see generally Def.'s Opp.,
ECF No. 18, and the IDEA prohibits application of any
multiplier. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(C). Accordingly, the
dispute here narrows further still: All that needs to be
determined is the attorneys' “reasonable hourly
an hourly rate is reasonable turns on three sub-elements: (1)
the attorney[s'] billing practices, (2) the
attorney[s'] skill, experience, and reputation and (3)
the prevailing market rates in the relevant community.”
Eley, 793 F.3d at 100 (internal quotation marks
omitted). All that is in dispute here is the prevailing
market rates in the relevant community. See
generally Def.'s Opp., ECF No. 18; Pl.'s Reply,
ECF No. 19. Ms. Wimbish contends that she is entitled to be
reimbursed at the rates provided for her attorneys under the
Laffey Matrix maintained by the United States
Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia
(“USAO Laffey Matrix”). Pl.'s Mem. in
Supp. of Mot. for Attorneys' Fees and Costs
(“Pl.'s Mem. Supp.”), ECF No. 17-1 at 6-11.
The District, on the other hand, contends that the rates
sought are unreasonably high and proposes 75% of the USAO
Laffey Matrix as the reasonable hourly rates.
Def.'s Opp., ECF No. 18 at 6-11.
Wimbish, the fee applicant here, bears the initial burden of
justifying the reasonableness of the rates that she proposes.
Eley, 793 F.3d at 100. She may meet that burden
“upon either of two showings”: First, she can
“demonstrate that IDEA proceedings qualify as
‘complex federal litigation, ' to which
Laffey rates presumptively apply.” Second,
alternatively, she “may demonstrate that rates
customarily charged by IDEA practitioners in the District are
comparable to those provided under the US[AO] Laffey
Matrix.” Flood v. District of Columbia, 172
F.Supp.3d 197, 210 (D.D.C. 2016); see also Reed v.