United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Mehta United States District Judge.
Judie McNeil and her son, J.M., now an adult and
co-plaintiff, seek to collect $198, 653.43 in attorneys'
fees and other costs associated with a successful action
under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.,
against Defendant District of Columbia. Defendant does
not contest Plaintiffs' status as a prevailing party
under the IDEA, but does assert that the proposed hourly
rates for Plaintiffs' counsel are not supported by
adequate evidence and therefore are unreasonable. Moreover,
Defendant asserts that attorneys' fees incurred before
May 2013 are too attenuated to be compensated and that
Plaintiffs cannot recover costs expended for experts.
Defendant asks the court to award no more than $110, 311.54.
considering the parties' submissions and the relevant
law, the court grants in part and denies in part
Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorney Fees. The court awards
attorneys' fees and costs to Plaintiffs calculated at an
hourly rate of 75% of the United States Attorney's Office
Matrix, in the total amount of $140, 238.97.
court described the factual and procedural background of this
case in its previous opinion, which resolved the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment and remanded for further
administrative proceedings. See generally McNeil v.
District of Columbia, 217 F.Supp.3d 107 (D.D.C. 2016).
Thus, the court need not repeat those details here. On
remand, the Hearing Officer made several additional factual
findings and determinations in Plaintiffs' favor and held
that J.M. was entitled to compensatory education. Pl.'s
Mot. for Fees & Costs, ECF No. 30 [hereinafter Pl.'s
Mot.], at 3; Def.'s Mem. in Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot.
for Fees & Costs, ECF No. 31 [hereinafter Def.'s
Opp'n], at 3; see also Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1,
ECF No. 30-1, at 10-11. Thus, Plaintiffs succeeded in
securing the relief they sought for J.M. See
generally Compl., ECF No. 1, at 3.
IDEA provides “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).
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)(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 v.
District of Columbia, 793 F.3d 97, 99 (D.C. Cir. 2015)
(alteration in original) (emphasis omitted) (quoting 20
U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(F)(ii)).
the IDEA “provides no further guidance for determining
an appropriate fee award, ” id. at 100, the
D.C. Circuit applies a “two-part framework” to
determine whether an award of attorneys' fees is
“reasonable” under the statute's fee-shifting
provision, see Reed v. District of Columbia, 843
F.3d 517, 520 (D.C. Cir. 2016). This framework takes into
account “(1) the ‘number of hours reasonably
expended in litigation'; and (2) the ‘reasonable
hourly rate' for the services provided.”
Reed, 843 F.3d at 520 (quoting Eley, 793
F.3d at 100).
burden of establishing entitlement to a fee award under the
IDEA rests with the fee applicant. See Id. 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. See
Id. at 520-21; cf. Covington v. District of
Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995)
(explaining burden-shifting in the context of a fees petition
under 42 U.S.C. § 1988). 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 contrary evidence tending to
show that a lower rate would be appropriate.” Flood
v. District of Columbia, 172 F.Supp.3d 197, 203 (D.D.C.
2016) (quoting Covington, 57 F.3d at 1109-10).
IDEA also allows “[p]arties who prevail at the
administrative level [to] recover fees-on-fees . . . for time
reasonably devoted to obtaining attorney's fees.”
McNeil v. District of Columbia, 233 F.Supp.3d 150,
153 (D.D.C. 2017) (alterations in original) (quoting
Kaseman v. District of Columbia, 444 F.3d 637, 640
(D.C. Cir. 2006)); see also Jones v. District of
Columbia, 153 F.Supp.3d 114, 118 (D.D.C. 2015)
(“The availability of reasonable attorneys' fees
applies to fees incurred in IDEA litigation both before
administrative agencies and in federal court, as well as to
fees incurred to vindicate a plaintiff's right to
fees.”). In a previous decision, this court outlined
the relevant legal standards governing motions for
attorneys' fees brought pursuant to the IDEA's
fee-shifting provision, see James v. District of
Columbia, 302 F.Supp.3d 213, 216-218 (D.D.C. 2018), and
the court adopts and applies those standards here.
Reasonableness of Rates
seek an award of fees for the services of two lawyers:
Douglas Tyrka and Alana Hecht. See Pl.'s Mot.,
Ex. 2, ECF No. 30-2 [hereinafter Billing Itemization];
Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 3, ECF No. 30-3 [hereinafter Hecht
Decl.]; Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 4, ECF No. 30-4 [hereinafter
Tyrka Decl.]. Hecht is a solo practitioner and represented
Plaintiffs in the administrative proceedings underlying this
case. Hecht Decl. ¶ 2. Tyrka is the sole owner of the
law firm Tyrka & Associates, LLC, and functions primarily
as a solo practitioner. Tyrka Decl. ¶¶ 2, 42. From
his billing records, it appears that Tyrka represented
Plaintiffs only in the federal court litigation. See
Billing Itemization at 37- 39. Plaintiffs seek an hourly rate
of $483 for Hecht and $536 for Tyrka. See Billing
Itemization. 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 for 2017-2018 (“the USAO
Matrix”). See Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 12, ECF No.
30-12 [hereinafter USAO Matrix]; Def.'s Opp'n, Ex. 6,
ECF No. 31-6, at 3. The USAO Matrix is a schedule of hourly
billing rates for attorneys and paralegals/law clerks
maintained by the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney's
Office for the District of Columbia. See USAO Matrix
at 1 n.1. The rates in the USAO Matrix “were calculated
from average hourly rates reported in 2011 survey data for
the D.C. metropolitan area, which rates were adjusted for
inflation with the Producer Price Index-Office of Lawyers
(PPI-OL) index.” Id. at 1 n.2. Defendant
argues that Plaintiffs have provided “insufficient
evidence that the hourly rate in the USAO Matrix is the
‘prevailing market rate' for attorneys practicing
IDEA law in the District.” Def.'s Opp'n at 2.
court has comprehensively discussed the question of the
prevailing market rate in IDEA litigation in this
jurisdiction in two prior decisions. See generally
James, 302 F.Supp.3d at 219-26; Lee v. District of
Columbia, 298 F.Supp.3d 4, 12-15 (D.D.C. 2018). Those
cases address the exact same evidence and arguments offered
in support of Plaintiffs' fees petition in this case.
Plaintiffs here present the same affidavits, the same survey
of rates charged by IDEA attorneys in the District of
Columbia, the same USAO Matrix, and cite the same
authorities-all in an effort to show that the USAO Matrix
rates reflect the prevailing hourly rate for IDEA litigation.
Compare Pl.'s Mot. at 6-12, and
Pl.'s Mot., Exs. 4-16, ECF Nos. 30-4-30-16, with
James, 302 F.Supp.3d at 219-26. Additionally, the
parties proffer the exact same evidence as the court
considered in James on the related question of
whether 75% of the ...