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Allen v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 15, 2017

KEITH ALLEN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant. Case Fees Due (After R&R) Fees Paid (Since R&R) Costs Due (After R&R) Costs Paid (Since R&R) Interest Ordered as of 10/1/2015 (R&R) Ps Interest Calculated as of 10/1/2015 Interest Accrued 10/1/2015 -525/2017 Interest Paid Outstanding Fees/Costs in Dispute Outstanding Interest in Dispute Totals $604, 023.50 $312, 015.75 $2, 843.72 $1, 664.72 $1, 334, 398.58 $1, 447, 214.65 $191, 151.00 $113, 423.29 $293, 186.75 $1, 519, 865.00 Case Date of Judgment Date of Accrual Remaining Balance Due on Judgment Interest Rate Interest Due Post-Judgment Payments Total Due (After Post-Judgment Payments) Interest Paid (To Date) Remaining Due Case Remaining Fees Due Remaining Costs Due Remaining Interest Due Total $219, 913 $779 $1, 442, 840.32

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Royce C. Lamberth United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This opinion concerns eleven consolidated cases[1] brought many years ago against the District of Columbia for violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq. (“IDEA”). As prevailing parties, plaintiffs filed motions seeking enforcement of court orders awarding them attorneys' fees pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(1). On August 17, 2015, this Court found that the “District must pay plaintiffs $4, 000-less any amount already paid-plus interest, for each action in the consolidated cases, excepting Gaskins, No. 00-592.” Aug. 18, 2015 Order at 1, ECF No. 71. It referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Harvey for a Report and Recommendation on the total amount owed by the District in each action. Id. at 2.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court will accept and adopt in part, modify in part, and reject in part Judge Harvey's Report and Recommendation. It finds that the District owes no additional fees or costs in Abraham v. DC, No. 01-cv-27, AC (Clark) v. DC, No. 06-cv-439, Allen v. DC, No. 00-cv-591, Isaac v. DC, No. 00-cv-122, Jones v. DC, No. 00-cv-593, McDowell v. DC, No. 00-cv-594, Thomas v. DC, No. 03-cv-1791, and Wingfield v. DC, No. 00-cv-121. However, the District still owes $199, 913 in fees and $779 in costs in Adams v. DC, No. 03-cv-2139, and an additional $20, 000 in fees in Bradley v. DC, No. 99-cv-3188. The District additionally owes interest in every case.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual and Procedural History

         The plaintiffs in the consolidated cases at issue (three of which are multi-plaintiff cases- Abraham, AC (Clark), and Adams) brought claims against the District of Columbia pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq. The IDEA provides that courts may award attorneys' fees and cost to prevailing parties. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(I). In 1999, Congress capped the fees payable by the District in such cases. See Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriation Act of 1999, Pub. L. No. 105-277, § 130, 112 Stat. 2681 (1998). In 2003, Congress set a flat cap of $4, 000 on attorneys' fees for IDEA actions. See Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2003, Pub. L. No. 108-7, § 144, 117 Stat. 11 (2003). In 2009, Congress passed the final rider relating to IDEA attorneys' fees, stating:

Notwithstanding section 615(i)(3)(B) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)), none of the funds contained in this Act or in any other Act making appropriations for the government of the District of Columbia for fiscal year 2009 or any succeeding fiscal year may be made available-
(1) to pay the fees of an attorney who represents a party in or defends an IDEA proceeding which was initiated prior to the date of the enactment of this Act in an amount in excess of $4, 000 for that proceeding.

         Omnibus Appropriations Act, Pub. L. No. 111-8, § 814, 123 Stat. 524 (2009). The 2009 rider did not provide a fee cap for future cases.

         From 2001 through 2009, judgments (some of which were consent) were entered against the District for attorneys' fees and costs in each of the consolidated cases. Those judgments ranged from $40, 635.50 (Allen) to $2, 500, 000.00 (Abraham). After plaintiffs brought motions to enforce the outstanding judgments and collect their fees, this Court found that, according to the law summarized above, “the District is prohibited at this time from paying more than $4, 000 per action in this case for cases initiated prior to March 11, 2009, which includes all of the consolidated cases.” See Aug. 18, 2015 Mem. Op. at 9, ECF No. 70. Plaintiffs were therefore “entitled by statute to collect $4, 000 per action in each case prior to 2009, less what has already been paid.” Id. at 10. “[T]he term ‘action' in the fee cap provisions ‘encompasses both administrative proceedings and subsequent fee requests brought in the court by prevailing parties, '” so “the District is not required to pay up to the fee cap a second time where administrative actions are subsequently brought to federal court.” Id. at 11. In every case except Bradley and Wingfield, some payment had been made either pre- or post-judgment, or both. Thus, plaintiffs were entitled to $4, 000 per action-as evidenced by Hearing Officer Decisions (HODs)-minus whatever had been paid.

         This Court also found that “[p]ost-judgment interest is appropriate when a district court enters a judgment awarding reasonable attorneys' fees under IDEA, ” and that “[p]laintiffs are entitled to post-judgment interest calculated at the statutory rate on each award under 28 U.S.C. § 1961(a).” Id. at 14-15. Section 1961 dictates that “interest shall be calculated from the date of the entry of the judgment, at a rate equal to the weekly average 1-year constant maturity Treasury yield, as published by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, for the calendar week preceding [] the date of the judgment” and that “[i]nterest shall be computed daily to the date of payment . . . and shall be compounded annually.” 28 U.S.C. § 1961(a)-(b). Interest is compounded on the date of the judgment. See, e.g., Jefferson v. Milvets Sys. Tech., Inc., 986 F.Supp. 6, 11-12 (D.D.C. 1997). The Court thus ordered that “[t]he District must pay plaintiffs $4, 000-less any amount already paid-plus interest, for each action in each of the consolidated cases.” Aug. 18, 2015 Order at 1.

         After finding that the parties failed to provide the necessary information to determine the exact amount owed to plaintiffs in each case, the Court referred this matter to Magistrate Judge Harvey for a report and recommendation on the total amount owed on each claim and the amount of interest due from the date of judgment until October 1, 2015. Id. at 15. Because of the interplay amongst Judge Harvey's Report and Recommendation and each party's objections thereto, the Court will summarize Judge Harvey's final calculations and then will turn to the specific issues that are now before this Court: 1) Judge Harvey's treatment of evidence/reliance on the District's payment documentation and plaintiffs' objections thereto; 2) whether and how much to credit payments made in the Adams case; 3) whether plaintiffs have waived objections regarding the number of HODs in the Bradley case; and 4) the interest due in each case.[2]

         B. Judge Harvey's Calculations

         Over the course of many months, Judge Harvey heard the evidence submitted by the parties as well as their respective arguments. On September 28, 2016, he issued a Report and Recommendation discussing this evidence and the arguments, and responding to the parties' objections. Along with his Report and Recommendation, Judge Harvey calculated the fees due in each case (up to $4, 000 per administrative action at issue as evidence by an HOD) as well as the costs incurred. He summarized his findings in extensive “Amounts Due” charts in the Appendix to the Report and Recommendation that include 1) the number of HODs; 2) the fee cap (HODs x $4, 000); 3) costs incurred to date; 4) fees paid to date; 5) costs paid to date; 6) the source data on HODs and payments; 7) the remaining fees due up to the $4, 000 fee cap; and 8) the remaining costs due. According to this chart, [3] the following fees and costs are still due in each case:

Case

Remaining Fees Due

Remaining Costs Due

Abraham v. DC, 01-27

$250, 077.25

$0

AC (Clark) v. DC, 06-439

$24, 743

$324

Adams v. DC, 03-2139

$199, 913

$779

Allen v. DC, 00-591

$0

$0

Bradley v. DC, 99-3188

$4, 000

$104.22

Isaac v. DC, 00-122

$2, 403.50

$289

Jones v. DC, 00-593

$0

$0

McDowell v. DC, 00-594

$13, 500

$294.50

Thomas v. DC, 03-1791

$13, 292

$408

Wingfield v. DC, 00-121

$4, 000

$245

TOTAL

$511, 928.75

$2, 443.72

         With respect to interest due on each judgment for attorneys' fees, Judge Harvey calculated the interest based on the full judgments in each case-consent or otherwise-not on the fees available under the $4, 000 statutory caps. Judge Harvey also considered partial payments that had been made in each of the cases, with the exceptions of Bradley and Wingfield, where no payments had been made. Some payments were made pre-judgment, which were acknowledged in the applicable consent decrees and/or were conceded to by plaintiffs (i.e., Abraham, AC (Clark), Adams, and Thomas). Where payments were made pre-judgment, Judge Harvey calculated interest based on the remaining balance of the judgment (i.e., the judgment amount minus the pre-judgment payments). So, for example, in Abraham, the total judgment was for $2, 500, 000, but $497, 922.75 had been made in pre-judgment payments. Thus, Judge Harvey calculated interested based on the remaining balance of $2, 002, 077.25 ($2, 500, 000 - $497, 922.75).

         Judge Harvey also found that other payments had been made, [4] which the District claims to have made post-judgment. The District, however, failed to offer evidence of the dates of payment. Judge Harvey therefore listed those payments as made post-judgment, but because he could not “accurately date the payments that Defendant made, [he] . . . calculate[d] interest based on the original principal and then subtract[ed] the amount of the payment from that figure.” R&R Appendix n.8, ECF No. 96-1. Thus, for example, in Allen, judgment was entered for $40, 635.50, and payment was made for $11, 973.50. Judge Harvey calculated interest based on the $40, 635.50, then, from that interest figure, subtracted out $11, 973.50 to get the remaining balance due.

         The interest due on each judgment is summarized in the “Judgments Chart” of the Appendix to the Report and Recommendation. The Chart includes: 1) the date of judgment; 2) the type of judgment; 3) the amount of judgment; 4) pre-judgment payments; 4) post-judgment payments; 5) the remaining balance due on the judgment; 6) the interest rate used; and 7) the amount of remaining judgment plus interest remaining as of 10/1/2015. Judge Harvey calculated interest according to 28 U.S.C. § 1961. According to this chart, the following amounts of interest are due in each case:

Case

Remaining Interest Due (as of 10/1/2015)

Abraham v. DC, 01-27

$794, 496.76

AC (Clark) v. DC, 06-439

$4, 463.88

Adams v. DC, 03-2139

$402, 942.82

Allen v. DC, 00-591

$15, 784.65

Bradley v. DC, 99-3188

$21, 039.54[5]

Isaac v. DC, 00-122

$13, 263.73

Jones v. DC, 00-593

$31, 430.59

McDowell v. DC, 00-594

$34, 531.54

Thomas v. DC, 03-1791

$3, 644.34

Wingfield v. DC, 00-121

$12, 802.13

TOTAL

$1, 334, 399.98

         C. Evidence of Payment

         Judge Harvey's Report and Recommendation also describes in detail many of the difficulties that have been present in these cases with regard to determining the proper fee award, such as lack of available evidence, gaps in available evidence, questions about reliability of the evidence, and poor or unhelpful recordkeeping systems. Nonetheless, using what was available to him, Judge Harvey enunciated the following overarching principles. First, he found that plaintiffs had the burden of establishing their entitlement to an award of fees and the appropriate amounts of the judgments they sought to enforce, that the District had the burden of proving payment of the judgments, and that where the District made a prima facie case of payment, the burden shifted back to plaintiffs to prove that payment did not occur. R&R at 6-8, ECF No. 96. The parties could use “all competent and relevant evidence” to prove that a payment had or had not been made. Id. at 6-7. With respect to interest, Judge Harvey found that the statutory text requires the interest to run from the date of judgment, not from the date that the 2009 fee cap was enacted. Id. at 8. Finally, Judge Harvey determined that it was appropriate to apply “the fee payment cap of $4, 000 not per civil action filed, but per administrative action at issue as evidenced by an HOD.” Id. at 9.

         Because of the evidentiary difficulties mentioned above-such as the fact that “neither Plaintiffs' counsel nor DCPS keeps IDEA attorney's fees records in a manner that would enable the undersigned to easily make the calculations at issue, ” R&R at 5-Judge Harvey relied in large part on the District's payment documentation, including documents showing the District's intent to make certain payments. Id. at 17-18. Plaintiffs objected to using these documents as evidence of payments made because plaintiffs' records reflected a lower payment or no payment at all. Id. Judge Harvey found, however, that “based on the burden-shifting framework described above, Defendant's payment documentation constituted prima facie evidence of payment.” Id. at 18. Acknowledging that the documents were drafted by the District and used to its benefit, Judge Harvey found that they bore the following indicia of reliability:

[The District's] documentation represents the most comprehensive contemporaneous analysis of the amounts owed and paid for each plaintiff in these cases. Plaintiffs have admitted as much before the undersigned in that they have relied upon the very same documents in determining in some cases what amounts are owed and what amounts have been paid. It is also worth noting that although Plaintiffs objected to the undersigned's reliance on Defendant's records in certain instances, those records were consistent with Plaintiffs' records for the vast run of claims.

Id. at 18 (internal citations omitted). Furthermore, “while Plaintiffs maintain that they cannot vouch for the accuracy of Defendant's documentation, they offer nothing to supplant it other than their representations as to what they have been paid.” Id. Judge Harvey also rejected plaintiffs' argument that these records could not constitute evidence of payment because “these documents were generated based on a prepayment process used by the District to receive IDEA attorney's fee invoices, review them, and then pay them to the extent allowed by law, ” and “[t]he system was directed at actually paying invoices contemporaneous to when they were received and was not created for the purpose of litigation.” Id. at 19-20. Finally, Judge Harvey noted that “although Defendant's records had their faults and gaps, the undersigned concludes that Plaintiffs' payment recordkeeping is unreliable by comparison, thereby undermining Plaintiffs' ability to challenge Defendant's records with their own, ” and that “[a]ll Plaintiffs offered at the hearing was their bare representation that their own records reflect a different amount than Defendant's records.” Id. at 20. As this was not sufficient to overcome the District's prima facie showing of payment, Judge Harvey relied on the District's records. Id. at 20-21.

         Plaintiffs object to Judge Harvey's reliance on the District's records. They argue that those documents are inaccurate and do not represent prima facie proof of payment. Pls.' Objections at 3-5, ECF No. 98. According to plaintiffs, the District's proof of intent to pay does not constitute proof of actual payment. Id. at 5. In addition, plaintiffs argue that they have provided any records they have (such as proof of invoice and evidence that additional HODs were not included in the District's documentation), and that it is impossible to prove that they have not been paid beyond a “bare representation.” Id. at 6-8. They also argue that Judge Harvey erred by finding that he was unable to use plaintiffs' invoices as they were submitted to the District informally. Id. at 12-14. They ask that “[g]iven [p]laintiffs' numerous concessions to their detriment, their inability to prove a lack of payment, the inaccuracy of [d]efendant's records, and [p]laintiffs' counsel's honesty and fair-mindedness in these proceedings, . . . that in those instances where [counsel] has only been able to make a ‘bare representation' [that he has not been paid], credit be given for such.” Id. at 9.

         Plaintiffs specifically dispute that certain fees have been paid in Abraham v. DC, No. 01-27. In Abraham, a consent judgment for $2, 500, 000 in fees and costs was entered on June 17, 2005. Judge Harvey found that 187 HODs were at issue in this case so, pursuant to the $4, 000 statutory fee cap, $748, 000 was due in fees. He then found that $497, 922.75 had been paid to date, and therefore that the remaining fees due totaled $250, 007.25. He specifically found that the following payments had been made with respect to the following individual plaintiffs:

Plaintiff

Payment Made

Downing, C.

$12, 000

Gray, Gr.

$6, 920

Parker, S.

$4, 000

Wood, Aa.

$6, 560

         With respect to plaintiffs Downing and Gray, Judge Harvey found that the District's documentation reflected the above payments and that plaintiffs offered no evidence to contradict the District's prima facie showing. R&R Appendix nn. 6, 8. With respect to plaintiffs Parker and Wood, Judge Harvey found that plaintiffs appeared to have made typographical errors in stating the amounts they had been paid, and that they offered no evidence to contradict the District's prima facie showing of payment. Id. nn. 10, 13.

         Plaintiffs, however, argue that they have only received payments in the following amounts:

Plaintiff

Payment Received

Downing, C.

$8, 300

Gray, Gr.

$5, 620

Parker, S.

$35

Wood, Aa.

$5, 560

         Therefore, plaintiffs represent that they have only received the payments listed above and argue that ...


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