United States District Court, District of Columbia
BERMAN JACKSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Tamecka Merrick and her adult son, Ronald Washington, brought
this action against defendant, the District of Columbia,
seeking to collect attorneys' fees incurred while
bringing a successful administrative action under the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq.
Now pending before the Court is plaintiffs' motion for
attorneys' fees and costs. Pls.' Mot. for
Att'ys' Fees [Dkt. # 7] ("Pls.' Mot.");
Pls.' Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of Pls.' Mot.
[Dkt. # 7] ("Pls.' Mem") at 2.
are seeking $37, 682.80 in attorneys' fees and $73.50 in
costs related to the underlying administrative action, Compl.
[Dkt. # 1] ¶ 21; Statement of Account, Ex. 12 to
Pls.' Mem. [Dkt. # 7-12] ("Statement of Account
I") at 12, in addition to $21, 013.40 in attorneys'
fees and $492.40 in costs for pursing this action in federal
court. See Pls.' Mem. at 13; Statement of
Account, Ex. 1 to Pls.' Suppl. Filing. [Dkt. # 11-1]
("Statement of Account II") at 5.
following reasons, the motion will be granted in part. The
Court will award $36, 583.20 in attorneys' fees and
$73.50 in costs for pursuing the underlying administrative
proceeding, and $12, 000.00 in attorneys' fees and
$492.40 in costs for litigating the fee petition in this
Washington is a deaf adult student who requires instruction
to be provided in American Sign Language ("ASL").
Hearing Officer Determination, Ex. 1 to Pls.' Mem. [Dkt.
# 7-1] ("HOD") at 2; see also Id. ¶
2. He also suffers from impulsive and anger-based behavioral
outbursts. Id. ¶ 6. He has attended more than a
dozen public, non-public, and residential placements in the
last seven years. Id. ¶ 4; Pls.' Mem. at
end of November 2016, Mr. Washington was released from a D.C.
Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services
("DYRS") school and was placed in a foster home in
Maryland. HOD at 1-2; see also Id. ¶ 1. Prior
to his release, Stevie Nabors, Mr. Washington's
court-appointed special education advocate, emailed the
District of Columbia Public Schools' Director of Special
Education and requested an Individualized Education Program
("IEP") meeting for Mr. Washington. Pls.' Mem.
at 3; see also Ex. 2 to Pls.' Mem. [Dkt. # 7-2].
Mr. Nabors had a conference call with several employees at
District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS"), but
DCPS did not adopt the program he proposed, and it did not
offer to convene an IEP meeting. Pls.' Mem. at 3.
DCPS' refusal to provide services or convene an IEP
meeting, Ms. Merrick filed an administrative due process
complaint on her son's behalf. Compl. ¶ 9. She
alleged that DCPS denied her son a free appropriate public
education ("FAPE") when it failed to provide him
with special education services such as ASL tutoring.
Id. ¶ 11; Pls.' Mem. at 3; HOD at 2-3.
Further, she requested the following forms of relief: (1) an
order compelling DCPS to provide Mr. Washington with special
education services by an ALS certified instructor through
DCPS' Home and Hospital Instruction Program
("HHIP"); (2) a compensatory education award in the
form of 150 hours of instruction in ASL; and (3) an
independent evaluation to determine appropriate compensatory
education for Mr. Washington. HOD at 3; 12-14.
Hearing Officer concluded that DCPS did indeed deny Mr.
Washington a FAPE when it failed to implement his IEP after
he was placed in a foster home in late November 2016. HOD at
12. And on April 6, 2017, the Hearing Officer ordered that
Mr. Washington receive 120 hours of individual tutoring in
ASL either through DCPS or through an independent tutor
funded by DCPS at market rates. HOD at 15; Compl.
¶¶ 11-12; Pls.' Mem. at 4.
October 16, 2017, plaintiffs filed a complaint in this Court
seeking to collect fees and costs incurred as part of the
administrative hearing. See generally Compl.
Plaintiffs filed a motion for attorneys' fees on January
12, 2018, see Pls.' Mot., and the motion is
the IDEA, the Court has the discretion to "award
reasonable attorneys' fees as part of the costs ... to a
prevailing party" in an administrative proceeding
"who is the parent of a child with a disability."
20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(I). If a court determines
that the plaintiff seeking attorneys' fees is a
prevailing party, it must determine whether the requested
attorneys' fees are reasonable. Reed v. District of
Columbia, 843 F.3d 517, 520 (D.C. Cir. 2016). Courts
typically determine the reasonableness of attorneys' fees
based on the "number of hours reasonably expended on the
litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate."
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983).
plaintiff bears the burden of establishing both the
reasonableness of the hourly rate and the reasonableness of
the number of hours spent on a particular task. Eley v.
District of Columbia, 793 F.3d 97, 100 (D.C. Cir. 2015),
citing Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d
1101, 1107- 08 (D.C. Cir. 1995); see also In re
North, 59 F.3d 184, 189 (D.C. Cir. 1995). To show the
reasonableness of the hourly rates, a plaintiff must submit
evidence related to: (1) "the attorneys' billing
practices"; (2) "the attorneys' skill,
experience, and reputation"; and (3) "the
prevailing market rates in the relevant community."
Covington, 57 F.3d at 1107. To show the
reasonableness of hours spent on a task, a plaintiff must
submit a "sufficiently detailed [invoice] to permit the
District Court to make an independent determination whether
or not the hours claimed are justified." Nat'l
Ass'n of Concerned Veterans v. Sec'y of Def, 675
F.2d 1319, 1327 (D.C. Cir. 1982).
the moving party has met this burden, the number of hours and
rate are presumed reasonable, and the non-moving party must
rebut the moving party's showing with "equally
specific countervailing evidence." Covington,
57 F.3d at 1109-10, quoting Nat'l Ass'n of
Concerned Veterans, 675 F.2d at 1326.
does not dispute that plaintiffs were the prevailing parties
in the underlying administrative action within the meaning of
the IDEA and that they are therefore entitled to some amount
of attorneys' fees. See Def's Opp. at 2. The
only question before the Court is whether the attorneys'
fees sought by plaintiffs are reasonable.
The hours expended by plaintiffs' counsel were
ask for $37, 682.80 for 96.5 hours of work performed to
litigate the underlying administrative proceeding. Defendant
does not take issue with the documentation provided in
support of this request, or with any specific hours
billed. However, it argues that a" 15%
reduction is appropriate because much of the relief sought
was not obtained." Def.'s Opp. at 19. At a minimum,
defendant asks the Court to "reduce the invoice by the
hours devoted exclusively to the placement sought but not
obtained," and it points to an entry for 1.5 hours of
work that related exclusively to the HHIP placement request.
Id.; see Statement of Account I at 1 ("Legal
research: requirements for Home/Hospital Instruction Program
("HHIP") and whether RW would qualify.").
have the burden of demonstrating that the number of hours
expended on particular tasks by their attorneys were
reasonable. Nat'l Ass'n of Concerned
Veterans, 675 F.2d at 1327. Attorneys must
"maintain contemporaneous, complete and standardized
time records which accurately reflect the work done by each
attorney." Id. "Where the documentation of
hours is inadequate, the district court may reduce the award
accordingly." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433.
also have the discretion to reduce attorneys' fees awards
to account for partial or limited success on the merits by
either eliminating specific hours or reducing the award as a
whole. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 436-37. For purposes of
reducing the award amount based on the lack of success, a
court should consider whether "the plaintiff achieve[d]
a level of success that makes the hours reasonably expended a
satisfactory basis for making a fee award." Id.
at 434. This is a results-oriented inquiry: "it is the
degree of the plaintiffs success that is the
critical factor to the determination of the size of a
reasonable fee." AS. v. District of Columbia,
842 F.Supp.2d 40, 47 (D.D.C. 2012), citing Tex. State
Teachers Ass'n v. Garland Indep. Sch. Dist., 489
U.S. 782, 786(1989).
the student's parent brought an administrative complaint
in order to litigate one issue: whether Mr. Washington was
denied a FAPE when DCPS failed to implement his IEP when he
moved into a foster home. The complaint sought three forms of
relief for the alleged violation of the IDEA: (1) an order
compelling DCPS to provide Mr. Washington with a certified
ASL tutor through the Home and Hospital Instruction Program;
(2) 150 hours of compensatory education; and (3) an
independent education evaluation. HOD at 3; 12-14.
reasons set out in the Hearing Officer's decision, the
relief awarded was 120 hours of compensatory education in AS.
See HOD at 15. But the Court does not find it to be
appropriate to reduce the attorneys' fees award by
fifteen percent. "A reduced fee award is appropriate if
the relief... is limited in comparison to the scope of the
litigation as a whole." Hensley, 461 U.S. at
440; see, e.g., Young v. District of Columbia, 139
F.Supp.3d 15, 23-24 (D.D.C. 2015) (reducing the fee award by
twenty-five percent because the plaintiff only prevailed on
one of the three issues presented, and the hearing officer
denied all relief sought except for compensatory education).
That is not the case here. Ultimately, Ms. Merrick was
successful on the fundamental issue that was litigated before
the administrative board, and Mr. Washington received the
primary form of relief requested: continued instruction by a
qualified ASL tutor to make up for the hours of education he
had been denied. See HOD at 15. Generally, an
attorney "should recover a fully compensatory fee"
where "a plaintiff has obtained excellent results."
Hensley, 461 U.S. at 435.
it seems as if the 120 hours of compensatory education was
awarded in place of an independent education evaluation
because awarding both would have been duplicative.
See Def's Opp. at 19 ("The award lacked an
[independent education evaluation], but did provide
compensatory education, which was the purpose behind seeking
an [independent education evaluation]"). And, the
Hearing Officer rejected Ms. Merrick's request for
services through the HHIP because that would have marked a
significant change in the student's educational
placement. HOD at 12. Since his IEP team was scheduled to
meet soon, the Hearing Officer concluded that "it would
not be appropriate ... to dictate [Mr. Washington's]
ongoing placement." Id. at 12-13.
the administrative hearing involved one claim based on one
set of facts and legal theories, and the expenditure of
attorney time would not have changed dramatically if the
hearing officer had awarded the other forms of requested
relief. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 435 ("[T]he
district court should focus on the significance of the
overall relief obtained by the plaintiff in relation to the
hours reasonably expended on the litigation"). However,
the Court does recognize that Mr. Washington was not awarded
special education services through the HHIP, so it will
reduce the total hours expended by the 1.5 hour time entry
identified by defendant. See Statement of Account I
the Court finds that plaintiffs' counsel reasonably
expended 96.5 hours of work, but it will reduce the award by
$483.00, which reflects the 1.5 hours charged by Mr. Nabors
on October 3, 2016 ...