United States District Court, District of Columbia
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Bridgette Palmer and her daughter Khadija seek $375, 042.27
in attorneys' fees and costs after prevailing in a
years-long effort for “stay-put” relief under the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq.
Defendant District of Columbia disputes several aspects of
their motion: (1) the number of hours billed; (2) the hourly
rates at which they were billed; (3) the use of current
rates; and (4) the award of expert witness fees under D.C.
Court will grant the Palmers' motion in part.
Specifically, it will award fees for all hours billed except
for fifteen hours on remand; it will do so at 75% of the
rates requested; it will apply current rates rather than
historical ones; and it will award the Palmers expert witness
costs under D.C. law, as well as other costs-undisputed by
the District-under the IDEA. The total award comes to $277,
IDEA guarantees developmentally disabled children a free
appropriate public Education (“FAPE”). 20 U.S.C.
§ 1412(a)(1)(A). To effectuate this guarantee, the IDEA
requires local school systems to develop an individualized
education program (“IEP”) for each disabled
student. Id. § 1412(a)(4).
Palmer is autistic. Shortly after she began high school in
October 2012, Khadija was placed in a specialized program for
high-functioning autistic students at Cardozo High School
within the District of Columbia Public School System
(“DCPS”). See Compl. ¶ 11. In
October 2014, DCPS eliminated Khadija's program and
transferred her to a larger program that differed from her
previous placement in several ways: larger class sizes;
instruction by multiple teachers in multiple classrooms; a
mix of students with a variety of different disabilities; and
greater interaction with non-disabled peers. Id.
parents objected to the change, leading to an administrative
hearing in May 2015. A hearing officer concluded that the
change in placement and DCPS's previous failure to
include in Khadija's IEP information about appropriate
classroom settings had denied her a FAPE. Id.
¶¶ 23-30. The hearing officer ordered DCPS to craft
a new IEP for Khadija but denied the Palmers' request for
an order requiring DCPS to fund Khadija's placement in a
private-school program resembling the Cardozo program in
which she had been previously enrolled.
2015, DCPS convened a “summer IEP team” that
included no one who had interacted with Khadija during the
school year. Id. ¶¶ 32-33. At that IEP
meeting, it disclosed that Khadija would be placed in a
similar setting to her post-October 2014 placement-with a
larger class size than her pre-October 2014 placement,
multiple teachers, and more interaction with non-disabled
students. Id. ¶¶ 34-39.
August 2015, the Palmers filed suit in this Court, contesting
the administrative hearing officer's denial of
private-school placement, as well as DCPS's new IEP for
purported failure to comply with the hearing officer's
decision. They sought injunctive relief in the form of a
“stay-put” order that would entitle Khadija,
while IDEA proceedings pended, to a placement in a public- or
private-school program with the same elements as her
pre-October 2014 placement at Cardozo. See 20 U.S.C.
§ 1415(j) (“[D]uring the pendency of any
proceedings conducted pursuant to [the IDEA] . . . the child
shall remain in the then-current educational placement of the
Court, adopting the recommendation of a magistrate judge,
denied stay-put relief in September 2015, K.P. v.
District of Columbia, No. 15-1365, 2015 WL 5542991
(D.D.C. Sept. 18, 2015), prompting the Palmers to file an
appeal on October 16, 2015. Nearly four months later, on
February 10, 2016, the D.C. Circuit stayed the case pending
resolution of another matter. After it lifted the stay, the
Circuit heard oral arguments in the case on December 9, 2016
and reversed this Court's denial of stay-put relief on
March 31, 2017. K.P. v. District of Columbia, 690
Fed.Appx. 10 (D.C. Cir. 2017). All told, nearly 18 months had
passed between the Palmers' appeal and its resolution.
time the case returned to this Court on remand in April 2017,
Khadija was nearing her high school graduation and had been
accepted for admission to Trinity Washington University. DCPS
explained that a stay-put order-i.e., moving Khadija
to a program that resembled her pre-October 2014
placement-would jeopardize her ability to graduate on time
and attend college. At a post-remand hearing, it became clear
that this outcome was not in Khadija's best interests and
went against her wishes. Consequently, while the Court
granted the stay-put injunctive relief, see April
11, 2017 Order, ECF No. 33, it stayed the injunction to allow
Khadija to graduate, see April 18, 2017 Order, ECF
No. 38. Instead, it allowed the Palmers to amend their
complaint to seek compensatory education that would remedy
the harm caused by her inability to attend an appropriate
program between October 2014 and her spring 2017 graduation.
In December 2017, an administrative hearing officer granted
Khadija that relief, ordering the District of Columbia to
fund 170 hours of tutoring and 20 hours of mentoring services
for her. See Mot. for Briefing Schedule, ECF No. 59,
Palmers seek fees for the work of lawyers Alana Hecht,
Charles Moran, Stevie Nabors, and Charles Sibert, as well as
paralegal Joseph Golinker. Ms. Hecht's services focused
on the Palmers' initial administrative action, while the
others' work focused largely on subsequent proceedings in
this Court and the D.C. Circuit. See Pls.' Mot.
for Attorneys' Fees (“Pls.' Mot.”) Ex. 4,
ECF No. 61-6 (“Hecht Statement of Account”);
Pls.' Mot. Ex. 5, ECF No. 61-7 (“Moran DDC
Statement of Account”); Pls.' Mot. Ex. ...