United States District Court, District of Columbia
C. LAMBERTH .UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
action marks yet another chapter in a long line of
attorneys' fees cases over the prevailing market rate in
the District of Columbia for litigation under the Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Specifically, this
Court is again asked to determine, based on the evidence put
forth, whether Mr. Harris is entitled to 100% or 75% recovery
of the so-called USAO Laffey Matrix. Ultimately, for
the reasons set forth below, this Court
ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation of
Magistrate Judge Harvey [ECF No. 15]. The Court will
GRANT IN PART and DENY IN
PART plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No.
8]; GRANT IN PART and DENY IN
PART defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary
Judgment [ECF No. 10]; and award plaintiff a total of $66,
379.35 in fees and costs.
in the way of background is all that is required here. Prior
litigation between the parties under the IDEA took place both
before an Administrative Hearing Officer and briefly in
district court before Judge Moss. Complaint, ECF No. 1.
Defendant Friendship Public Charter School
("Friendship") filed an administrative due process
complaint against plaintiff James Hams, seeking placement of
plaintiffs child J.H. in a more restrictive special school
setting. R&R 2, ECF No. 15. The Hearing Officer denied
Friendship's request and Friendship sought review of the
Hearing Officer's decision in district court.
Friendship PCS v. Harris, No. 16-cv-2228 (RDM). The
parties settled that dispute but "agree[d] that the
attorney fees requested by [Mr. Harris] for the underlying
Due Process Hearing remain in dispute and [Mr. Harris] will
file a Petition for Attorney fees should the parties be
unable to reach an agreement on the amount of attorney
fees." Friendship PCS v. Harris, No. 16-cv-2228
(RDM), ECF No. 15 at 2.
the parties failed to reach an agreement, Mr. Hams filed the
present action seeking a finding that he was a prevailing
party in the underlying IDEA due process proceedings, $97,
226.40 in fees and costs incurred in connection with the
administrative case, and an award of reasonable fees-on-fees
for the present fee litigation. Complaint, ECF No. 1 at 4-5.
This Court referred the matter to a magistrate judge for a
report and recommendation, Order, ECF No. 6, and the case was
randomly assigned to Magistrate Judge Harvey. The parties
then filed cross-motions for summary judgment. See
Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 8; Cross-Motion for
Summary Judgment, ECF No. 10.
Judge Harvey held a hearing on the cross-motions and
ultimately issued his Report and Recommendation on the
matter. See R&R, ECF No. 15. Magistrate Judge
Harvey found that Mr. Hams was a prevailing party in the
underlying due process proceedings and therefore entitled to
an award of fees under the IDEA'S fee-shifting provision.
Id. at 7-11. He found that the reasonable hourly
rates for Mr. Harris's attorneys are the equivalent of
75% of the applicable USAO Matrix rates in effect at the time
the work was performed, id. at 20, and ruled on
Friendship's various challenges to entries on plaintiffs
invoice. Id. at 21-28. Lastly, he determined that
Mr. Hams abandoned his claim to reimbursement of costs other
than attorneys' fees. Id. at 29. In total.
Magistrate Judge Harvey recommended an award of $66, 379.35
in fees. The only objection to Magistrate Judge Harvey's
Report and Recommendation comes from Mr. Harris and to the
finding that Mr. Harris is entitled to an award of 75% of the
applicable USAO Matrix rates. The remainder of the opinion
resolves that objection.
magistrate judge issues a report and recommendation, any
party may file written objections within fourteen days. LCvR
72.2(b). Importantly, "[t]he objections shall
specifically designate the order or part thereof to which
objection is made, and the basis for the objection."
Id., If a timely objection is made, then this Court is
required to "make a de novo determination of those
portions of the report or specified proposed finding or
recommendations to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1). In other words, the Court's analysis
with respect to such issues is "equivalent to a decision
in the first instance on the merits" of the
cross-motions for summary judgment. Rooths v. District of
Columbia, 802 F.Supp.2d 56, 60. In contrast, 28 U.S.C.
§ 636, which confers power and jurisdiction to
magistrate judges, does not "require any review at all,
by either the district court or the court of appeals, of any
issue that is not the subject of an objection."
Thomas v. Am, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985).
IDEA allows a court to award "reasonable attorneys'
fees ... to a prevailing party who is the parent of a child
with a disability." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B). To
determine whether fees are reasonable, courts must consider
"(1) the 'numbers of hours reasonably expended in
litigation'; and (2) the 'reasonable hourly rate'
for the services provided." Reed v. District of
Columbia, 843 F.3d 517, 520 (D.C. 2016) (quoting
Eley v. District of Columbia, 793 F.3d 97, 100 (D.C.
Cir. 2015)). Mr. Hams objects only to Magistrate Judge
Harvey's determination of the hourly rate for the legal
work performed by his attorneys and asks for $88, 505.80, as
opposed to the $66, 379.35 recommended. The Court thus adopts
in full Magistrate Judge Harvey's determinations that Mr.
Hams is a prevailing party and his determinations as to the
number of hours reasonably expended. Mr. Harris makes two
principal arguments that the rate assigned by Magistrate
Judge Harvey is too low: (1) that he has carried his
evidentiary burden to show that he is entitled to a higher
rate because litigation under the IDEA is "complex
federal litigation;" and (2) that Magistrate Judge
Harvey impermissibly reduced the rate under the language in
the statute. The Court addresses both in turn.
Mr. Harris fails to show the IDEA is" complex
Determining whether an attorney's "hourly rate is
reasonable turns on three sub-elements: (1) 'the
attomey['s] billing practices,' (2) 'the
attorney['s] skill, experience, and reputation' and
(3) 'the prevailing market rates in the relevant
community.'" Eley, 793 F.3d at 100
(alteration in original) (quoting Covington v. District
of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995)). Here,
Friendship makes no objection to Mr. Harris's
attorneys' billing practices and does not contest their
skills, experience, or education. The fight in this case,
then, is over the prevailing market rate for attorneys of
their experience performing IDEA litigation.
Reed, the D.C. Circuit outlined the "two
separate, but inter-related, approaches to providing evidence
of prevailing market rate." 843 F.3d at 521. For one,
fee applicants may try "to establish the prevailing
market rate by providing evidence of the fees charged, and
received, by IDEA litigators." Id.
Alternatively, prevailing parties can show that IDEA
litigation is "complex federal litigation" to ...