United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Ashley Muskelly filed an administrative action against the
District of Columbia Public Schools, alleging that her son
T.E. had been denied a free and appropriate public education
(FA P E) in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act. Before her claim was adjudicated, the parties
settled. Muskelly then brought this action demanding $70,
729.40 in attorney fees. Concluding that she is entitled to
most, but not all, of the award she seeks, the Court will
grant in part and deny in part her Motion for fees.
sketch of the background is all that is required here. The
purpose of IDEA is “to ensure that all children with
disabilities have available to them a [ FA P E] that
emphasizes special education and related services designed to
meet their unique needs.” 20 U.S.C. §
1400(d)(1)(A). On October 16, 2017, Muskelly filed an
administrative due-process complaint against DCPS, alleging
that T.E. had received an inappropriate individualized
education program and been denied a FA P E. See ECF
1 (Complaint), ¶ 8. The parties subsequently reached a
settlement before the claim proceeded to administrative
adjudication, let alone court. They so informed a hearing
officer on December 20, 2017, and the settlement was
incorporated into a Hearing Officer Determination one week
later. Id., ¶¶ 9-10.
seeking fees here, Plaintiff believes herself entitled to
$70, 729.40. Id., ¶ 16. The District agrees she
should collect some fees but suggests the award should be
about $15, 000 less. See ECF No. 8 (Defendant's
Opposition) at 17-18.
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 any fees at all. 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 Plaintiff is a
prevailing party entitled to some attorney fees and
costs.” Opp. at 5. The only issue therefore is whether
the amount of the award Plaintiff requests 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). Next,
the Court sets “the reasonable hourly rate.”
Id. (quoting Eley, 793 F.3d at 100). The
Court last applies “multipliers as
‘warranted.'” Id.; see also
George Hyman Const. Co. v. Brooks, 963 F.2d 1532,
1535-36 (D.C. Cir. 1992).
challenges Muskelly's request for fees under only the
second step of the D.C. Circuit's framework. In other
words, it does not contest the reasonableness of the number
of hours expended by Muskelly's attorneys, and neither
party contends that a multiplier is warranted at the third
step. The Court will therefore address just the second step -
viz., the appropriate rate. Afterwards, it will
examine the only other remaining dispute: whether Plaintiff
is entitled to the approximately $4, 800 in expert fees she
the case in so many of these challenges, the parties dispute
what constitutes a reasonable hourly rate by which the Court
should calculate fee awards for IDEA matters in the District.
The statute states that “[f]ees awarded under this
paragraph shall be based on rates prevailing in the community
in which the action or proceeding arose for the kind and
quality of services furnished.” 20 U.S.C.
§1415(i)(3)(C). “Fee applicants in IDEA cases have
relied on two separate, but inter-related, approaches to
providing evidence of prevailing market rate.” Reed
v. District of Columbia, 843 F.3d 517, 521 (D.C. Cir.
2016). They can demonstrate that IDEA litigation qualifies as
“complex federal litigation, ” or they can
“provid[e] evidence of the fees charged, and received,
by IDEA litigators.” Id.; see also Flood
v. District of Columbia, 172 F.Supp.3d 197, 210 (D.D.C.
2016). As Plaintiff pursues both approaches here, the Court
will address each in turn.
Complex Federal Litigation
first contends that IDEA litigation is complex federal
litigation to which the rates enumerated in the USAO
Attorney's Fees Matrix presumptively apply. See
ECF No. 7 (Motion) at 4 (citing Reed, 843 F.3d at
526). She offers two declarations - one from Michael T.
Kirkpatrick and one from Gary E. Mason - in support.
See ECF Nos. 7-5 (Declaration of Michael T.
Kirkpatrick), 7-6 (Declaration of Gary E. Mason). The
District rejoins that IDEA litigation is not within the
category of complex federal litigation as determined by an
overwhelming number of decisions in this district.
See Opp. at 7-9 & n.2. As an initial matter, the
Court notes that neither party argues that the current Matrix
- following its overhaul in 2015 - reflects rates beyond
those for complex federal litigation and so might cover a
broader category of cases. The Court, consequently, will
limit its analysis to the question of whether IDEA litigation
qualifies as complex federal litigation. If so, it will award
USAO Matrix fees.
cases, the Court believes, do not so qualify. This conclusion
accords with the weight of authority in this district.
See, e.g., Lee v. District of Columbia, 298
F.Supp.3d 4, 13 (D.D.C. 2018); Dobbins v. District of
Columbia, 2017 WL 7510879, at *6 (D.D.C. Oct. 24, 2017)
(“Accordingly, following the lead of other courts in
this jurisdiction . . . the undersigned finds that Plaintiff
has failed to demonstrate that IDEA litigation in general is
sufficiently complex to justify the presumptive application
of [Matrix] rates.”); Snead v. District of
Columbia, 139 F.Supp.3d 375, 379 (D.D.C. 2015)
(collecting cases and noting that courts in this jurisdiction
have interpreted Circuit law “as strongly suggesting
that IDEA matters are infrequently comparable to complex
federal litigation, and therefore, full [Matrix] rates should
not be awarded in such cases”); Rooths v. District
of Columbia, 802 F.Supp.2d 56, 62-63 (D.D.C. 2011)
(finding that IDEA case did “not much resemble the sort
of complicated cases in which a ...