United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
litigation began over three years ago when Louise Davis - by
herself and on behalf of her daughter, N.D. - filed suit
against the District of Columbia, alleging that it had
violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and
denied N.D. a free and appropriate public education. The
Court ultimately sided with Plaintiffs on some issues, but
not on others. The parties now return for one final matter.
Davis has moved for approximately $65, 000 in attorney fees.
Concluding that Plaintiffs are entitled to some, but not all,
of the award they seek, the Court will grant in part and deny
in part the Motion.
filed this IDEA suit in July 2015. See Davis v. District
of Columbia, 244 F.Supp.3d 27, 37 (D.D.C. 2017). The
background of that dispute, which stretches over many years,
is thoroughly rendered in the Court's previous Opinion.
Id. at 31-37. For now, a brief sketch will do.
purpose of IDEA is “to ensure that all children with
disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public
education that emphasizes special education and related
services designed to meet their unique needs.” 20
U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). Davis alleged that the District
violated the statute by (1) failing to develop an appropriate
Individualized Education Program (IEP) in November 2013; (2)
impermissibly exiting N.D. from special-education services in
May 2014; and (3) neglecting to order additional
occupational-therapy and auditory-processing evaluations.
See ECF No. 1 (Complaint), ¶¶ 36-44,
46-51, 54-57. As relief, Plaintiffs requested that the Court
“conclude that Defendant denied N.D. a free appropriate
public education, reinstate her special education services,
order occupational-therapy and auditory-processing testing,
and award some amount of compensatory education.”
Davis, 244 F.Supp.3d at 37.
March 23, 2017, the Court granted in part and denied in part
each party's motion for summary judgment. The District
prevailed on the first issue because the Court determined
that the reductions in services accompanying the November
2013 IEP modification were appropriate based on N.D.'s
needs. See Davis, 244 F.Supp.3d at 39-42. On the
second issue, results were mixed: Plaintiffs did not obtain
the declaration they sought that N.D. had been
inappropriately exited from special education, but the Court
remanded to the administrative hearing officer with
instructions to clarify and apply the correct legal standard
to determine whether N.D. was properly deemed ineligible.
Id. at 45-47, 51-52. On remand, the hearing officer
found that Plaintiffs “did not meet [their] burden of
persuasion” on N.D.'s eligibility and accordingly
denied relief. See ECF No. 28 (Plaintiffs'
Motion for Attorney Fees), Exh. 7 (Hearing Officer Decision
on Remand) at 16. Finally, on the third issue, Davis
succeeded, and the Court ordered the District “to
conduct . . . or . . . fund” the additional
evaluations. See Davis, 244 F.Supp.3d at 52.
seeking fees here, Plaintiffs believe themselves entitled to
$65, 448.54. See Pl. Mot. at 6. The District agrees
they should collect some fees but suggests the award should
be considerably less: $20, 782.64. See ECF No. 30
(Defendant's Opposition) at 2.
confers on the Court discretion to “award reasonable
attorneys' fees as part of the costs to a prevailing
party who is the parent of a child with a disability”
in an action under the Act. See 20 U.S.C. §
1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(I). In determining what amount, if any, is
appropriate under the statute, the Court makes two inquiries.
First, it decides whether the party seeking fees is
“the prevailing party” and is thus eligible to
receive fees. See Jackson v. District of Columbia,
696 F.Supp.2d 97, 101 (D.D.C. 2010). If so, the next question
is whether the fee sought is reasonable. A
“reasonable” fee is one that is “sufficient
to induce a capable attorney to undertake the representation
of a meritorious civil rights case, ” Perdue v.
Kenny A., 559 U.S. 542, 552 (2010), “but [that
does] not produce windfalls to attorneys.” Blum v.
Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 897 (1984). The plaintiff has the
burden of establishing reasonableness. See In re
North, 59 F.3d 184, 189 (D.C. Cir. 1995).
District “does not dispute that Plaintiffs are
partial prevailing parties . . . and . . . [so] are
entitled to recover some attorney's fees.” Def.
Opp. at 1. The only issue therefore is whether the amount of
the award Plaintiffs request is reasonable. On that issue,
the D.C. Circuit has set forth a “three-part
analysis.” See Eley v. District of Columbia,
793 F.3d 97, 100 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (evaluating fees under
IDEA); Salazar v. District of Columbia, 809 F.3d 58,
61 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (applying framework to § 1983 fee
request). The first step is to “determine the
‘number of hours reasonably expended in
litigation.'” Salazar, 809 F.3d at 61
(quoting Eley, 793 F.3d at 100). As part of that
inquiry, the Court considers whether to adjust the award
based on “the degree of success obtained.”
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 436 (1983).
Next, the Court sets “the reasonable hourly
rate.” Salazar, 809 F.3d at 61 (quoting
Eley, 793 F.3d at 100). The Court lastly applies
“multipliers as ‘warranted.'”
Id.; see also George Hyman Const. Co. v.
Brooks, 963 F.2d 1532, 1535-36 (D.C. Cir. 1992).
challenges Davis's request for fees under the first and
second steps of the D.C. Circuit's framework. In other
words, neither party contends that a multiplier is warranted
at the third step. The Court will therefore address the first
two steps in turn.
Hours Reasonably Expended
District contends principally that Plaintiffs' fee award
should be reduced by 66% because they prevailed on only one
of their three claims. See Def. Opp. at 8-9. Davis
concedes that some reduction is appropriate but maintains
that slashing the amount by two thirds is excessive.
See ECF No. 31 (Plaintiffs' Reply) at 5. Rather,
Plaintiffs urge that a 10-20% trim is all that is warranted.
Id. Analyzing the extent of their success, the Court
arrives somewhere in the middle and concludes a 50% reduction
initial matter, the Court rejects Defendant's mechanical
formulation that success on one of three claims should result
in a 66% cut. This Court “has discretion in determining
the amount of a fee award, ” and “[g]iven the
interrelated nature of the facts and legal theories in this
case, ” it need not “apportion the fee award
mechanically on the basis of [Plaintiffs'] success or
failure on particular issues.” Hensley, 461
U.S. at 437-38. Rather, courts in this district examine the
relative importance of issues on which plaintiffs succeeded
in weighing what reduction, if any, is appropriate. See,
e.g., Platt v. District of Columbia, 168
F.Supp.3d 253, 263-64 (D.D.C. 2016) (cutting award by 15%
where plaintiff prevailed on three of eight issues);
Taylor v. District of Columbia, 187 F.Supp.3d 46,
55-56 (D.D.C. 2016) (reducing fees by 10% ...