United States District Court, District of Columbia
P. Mehta United States District Judge
Juanishia Lee, acting on behalf of her minor child, J.K.,
seeks an award of attorneys' fees and costs under the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(“IDEA”) for her counsel's successful
representation of J.K. during administrative proceedings and
in the instant litigation. Plaintiff contends that she is
entitled to $103, 097.75 in fees and costs. Defendant
District of Columbia does not contest Plaintiff's status
as a prevailing party under the IDEA or the number of hours
spent by her counsel to represent J.K., but does assert that
the proposed hourly rates for Plaintiff's counsel are not
supported by adequate evidence and therefore are
unreasonable. Defendant asks the court to award Plaintiff no
more than $77, 415.44 in fees and costs.
considering the parties' submissions and the relevant
law, the court grants in part and denies in part
Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees. The court awards
attorneys' fees and costs to Plaintiff, calculated at an
hourly rate of 75% of the USAO Matrix, in the amount of $77,
IDEA requires the District [of Columbia] 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)). A free appropriate public education
(“FAPE”) requires that each child with a
disability receive “special education and related
services that” are “provided at public
expense” and “in conformity with the
[child's] individualized education program.” 20
U.S.C. § 1401(9). If the District of Columbia fails to
provide a FAPE, the child's parents can file a due
process complaint with the District Office of the State
Superintendent of Education and receive an administrative
hearing. See Id. § 1415; Eley, 793
F.3d at 99. “And if the administrative-complaint route
fails, the parents can sue the District [of Columbia] in
district court.” Eley, 793 F.3d at 99 (citing
20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)-(3)).
case, Plaintiff's minor child, J.K., became eligible for
special services education under the IDEA as a result of
severe injuries resulting from a shooting in June 2014.
See Def.'s Cross-Mot. for Summ. J. &
Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 12, at 4.
On June 5, 2015, Plaintiff filed an administrative due
process complaint with the State Superintendent of
Education's Office of Dispute Resolution, claiming that
the District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”)
had failed to provide J.K. a FAPE as required by the IDEA.
See Pl.'s Mot. for Attorney Fees, ECF No. 22
[hereinafter Pl.'s Mot.], at 3; Admin. R., Part I, ECF No.
9, Ex. 1, ECF No. 9-1 [hereinafter ECF No. 9-1], at
See generally 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). The
Hearing Officer agreed, finding that DCPS had failed to
develop an Individualized Education Plan, and provide an
appropriate placement, for J.K. Pl.'s Mot. at 3; see
also ECF No. 9-1 at 20-21. Accordingly, the Hearing
Officer concluded that DCPS had denied J.K. a FAPE for the
2014-2015 school year. See Lee v. District of
Columbia, No. 15-cv-1802, 2017 WL 44288, at *1 (D.D.C.
Jan. 3, 2017) (citing ECF No. 9-1 at 18-21).
these findings, the Hearing Officer declined to award J.K.
any compensatory education. The Hearing Officer so held
because Plaintiff “did not offer any evidence at the
due process hearing of ‘the type and quantum of
compensatory education' needed to place [J.K.] ‘in
the same position he would have occupied but for the 
violations of the IDEA.'” Id. at *1
(alterations in original) (quoting ECF No. 9-1 at 24-25).
Plaintiff appealed the Hearing Officer's denial of
compensatory education by filing the instant action.
See Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 1-2.
briefing cross-motions for summary judgment, the parties
agreed that the matter should be remanded to the Hearing
Officer to fashion an appropriate award of compensatory
education, but they disagreed as to how the Hearing Officer
should proceed on remand. See Lee, 2017 WL 44288, at
*1. Plaintiff argued that the burden to craft an appropriate
award fell on the Hearing Officer, while Defendant maintained
that Plaintiff was required to come forward with sufficient
evidence to support an award. See Id. The court
found that “a hearing officer cannot deny a
compensatory education award simply because she is left
wanting more evidence.” Id. Instead, the
Hearing Officer has two options under such circumstances: (1)
“[s]he can provide the parties additional time to
supplement the record, ” or (2) “she can order
additional assessments as needed.” See Id. at
*2. Ultimately, the court granted Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment, denied Defendant's Cross-Motion for
Summary Judgment, and remanded the matter to the Hearing
Officer to develop an appropriate compensatory education
award. See id.; Order, ECF No. 18. Following the
court's order, Plaintiff and DCPS reached a settlement
that resolved all issues except the attorneys' fees
sought by Plaintiff. See Joint Proposed Briefing
Schedule, ECF No. 21. The parties' fees dispute is now
before the court.
protect the right to a FAPE, “Congress enacted a
fee-shifting provision entitling a prevailing party . . . to
reasonable attorneys' fees.” Price v. District
of Columbia, 792 F.3d 112, 113 (D.C. Cir. 2015)
(internal quotation marks omitted). Under the IDEA, a
“court, in its discretion, may award reasonable
attorneys' fees as part of the costs . . . to a
prevailing party who is the parent of a child with a
disability.” 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i). 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.
§ 1415(i)(3)(C). If the court finds, however,
“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.'”
Eley, 793 F.3d at 99 (emphasis and alterations in
original) (quoting 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(F)(ii)).
burden of establishing entitlement to a fee award under the
IDEA rests with the fee applicant. See Reed v. District
of Columbia, 843 F.3d 517, 520 (D.C. Cir. 2016). The
applicant must establish that she qualifies as a prevailing
party, document the appropriate hours spent by counsel, and
justify the reasonableness of the rate requested. Cf.
Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107
(D.C. Cir. 1995) (explaining burden-shifting in context of a
fees petition under 42 U.S.C. § 1988); Reed,
843 F.3d at 520-21. Once the applicant has shown that the
claimed rate and hours are reasonable, the resulting sum is
presumed to be a reasonable fee. See Covington, 57
F.3d at 1109. At that point, the defendant can challenge the
request for attorneys' fees, but it must do so with
specific countervailing evidence. See Id. at
noted above, Defendant does not challenge Plaintiff's
status as a prevailing party or the hours spent by
Plaintiff's lawyers to represent her son. See
Def.'s Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Attorney Fees, ECF
No. 24 [hereinafter Def.'s Opp'n]. Accordingly, the
court's discussion focuses only on the parties'
dispute as to the reasonableness of Plaintiff's requested
in this case seeks an award of fees for the services of three
lawyers: Carolyn Houck, Charles Moran, and Stevie Nabors.
Pl.'s Mot. at 5. Houck is a solo practitioner in St.
Michaels, Maryland, and Moran and Nabors are with the law
firm of Moran & Associates located in Washington, D.C.
Pl.'s. Mot., Ex. 4, Decl. of Charles A. Moran, ECF No.
22-6 [hereinafter Moran Decl.]; Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 5, Decl.
of Carolyn Houck, ECF No. 22-7 [hereinafter Houck Decl.],
¶ 2; Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 6, Decl. of Stevie Nabors, ECF
No. 22-8 [hereinafter Nabors Decl.]. From the lawyers'
billing records, it appears that Houck primarily represented
J.K. in the administrative proceedings and that Moran and
Nabors represented J.K. only in the federal court litigation.
See Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 2, ECF No. 22-4 [hereinafter
Houck Billing Invoice]; Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 3, ECF No. 22-5
[hereinafter Moran Billing Invoice]. Plaintiff seeks an
hourly rate of $504 for Houck, $568 for Moran, and $315 for
Nabors. See Id. These rates align with the rates for
lawyers of comparable years of experience as reflected in the
United States Attorney's Office (“USAO”)
Attorney's Fees Matrix [hereinafter “the USAO
Matrix”]. See Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 7, ECF No.
22-9 [hereinafter USAO Matrix].
makes two basic objections to the fees sought by Plaintiff,
although the two merge into one. First, Defendant argues that
“the proposed hourly rates for Plaintiff's attorney
are unreasonable and Plaintiff offers an insufficient factual
basis to support these rates.” Def.'s Opp'n at
Defendant proposes that Plaintiff's attorneys' hourly
rates should not exceed 75% of the USAO Matrix rates.
Id. at 10. Second, Defendant asserts that
“Plaintiff's invoice has a number of [travel]
entries which are not reimbursable under the IDEA.”
Id. at 3. But that contention actually is no more
than a plea that the court apply the 75% hourly rate to the
allowable fees for counsel's travel time. Id. at
12-13. So, the court considers the two issues in tandem.
reasonable, an IDEA fee award must be based on “rates
prevailing in the community in which the action or proceeding
arose for the kind and quality of services furnished.”
See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(C). “Whether
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 (quoting Covington, 57 F.3d at 1107). With
respect to the last, and perhaps most important, element-the
prevailing market rate in the relevant community-the
applicant must “produce satisfactory evidence-in
addition to [her] attorney's own affidavits-that
[her] requested rates are in line with those prevailing in
the community for similar ...