Bridgeforth v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 95-1195 (JHG).

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Citation933 F. Supp. 7
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 95-1195 (JHG).
PartiesTanisha BRIDGEFORTH, et al., Plaintiffs, v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date10 July 1996

933 F. Supp. 7

Tanisha BRIDGEFORTH, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 95-1195 (JHG).

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

July 10, 1996.


933 F. Supp. 8

Francisco Lopez, Jr., Bogin & Eig, P.C., Washington, DC, for plaintiffs.

Beatrice E. Hendricks, District of Columbia, Corporation Counsel, for defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOYCE HENS GREEN, District Judge.

Presently pending is plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs. For the reasons stated below, plaintiffs are awarded $13,648.57 in attorneys' fees and expenses.

I. BACKGROUND

The present case stems from the resolution of an earlier action, Cooper v. District of Columbia, C.A. No. 95-0538. In Cooper, the District of Columbia Department of Human Services' Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration notified parents that it intended to discontinue funding for the United Cerebral Palsy Therapeutic Nursery Program ("UCP-TNP") after March 31, 1995. Plaintiffs in Cooper, represented by the same counsel as in the present case, were ten program participants and their parents. On March 24, 1995, following a settlement by the parties which, inter alia, continued funding for the UCP-TNP through June 9, 1995, the Court issued a Consent Order. Among other issues, the Order addressed the matter of Extended School Year ("ESY") placements, which would continue an eligible child's educational services beyond the standard school year. The Consent Order directed the defendants to provide parents with notice of ESY placements no later than May 9, 1995 for students whose Individualized Education Program ("IEP") indicated a need for such services. In addition, the Cooper Consent Order required the District to determine each student's program needs and issue, prior to the end of the school term on June 9, 1995, appropriate notices concerning future educational plans, including ESY placement if appropriate.

After the District of Columbia allegedly failed to provide timely notices of ESY placements, in violation of the Consent Order, plaintiffs Tanisha Bridgeforth ("Bridgeforth") and seventeen other minor students requested individual due process hearings to obtain ESY services.1 Hearings for sixteen of the students were scheduled for the same day, June 6, 1995. Plaintiffs objected to holding sixteen hearings on the same day, contending that this schedule made meaningful individual determinations impossible. Plaintiff Bridgeforth, however, did receive an individual due process hearing on June 6, 1995, and the hearing officer determined that she should receive ESY services. The other children did not obtain due process hearings prior to the commencement of the Bridgeforth litigation.

On June 22, 1995, Bridgeforth and seventeen other students filed a complaint and a request for a Temporary Restraining Order ("TRO"), alleging violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. Plaintiffs sought an injunction requiring the District to provide ESY services for the plaintiffs at UCP-TNP. On June 23, 1995, Judge Friedman, in his

933 F. Supp. 9
capacity as motions judge, issued a TRO only with respect to Bridgeforth, because the other plaintiffs had not yet completed the administrative process. Judge Friedman determined that the motion for a TRO as to the remaining children should await resolution by this Court after a hearing on June 27, 1995.2

Following intensive and concentrated discussions between counsel and the Court on the morning the hearing was to take place, the parties resolved their dispute. The District of Columbia agreed to provide and fund summer services for all plaintiffs from July 5, 1995 through August 25, 1995. In light of the parties' resolution of their claims, no determinations were made by the Court concerning the eligibility of the plaintiffs other than Bridgeforth for ESY services or concerning the matter of the District's alleged violations of the Cooper Consent Order.

Thereafter, the plaintiffs filed the instant Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs. Plaintiffs seek a total of $18,621.07 in attorneys' fees and expenses. Defendants object to plaintiffs' fee request and contend that plaintiffs are only entitled to fees and costs in the amount of $8,408.12. In general, defendants argue that plaintiffs are not entitled to fees and expenses for those plaintiffs who did not exhaust their administrative remedies, and they contend that other fees and expenses are not sufficiently documented to justify an award.

II. DISCUSSION

The IDEA authorizes the Court to award reasonable attorneys' fees to a prevailing party. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(4)(B). A fee award must reflect the rates prevailing in the community for the kind and quality of services furnished, id. at § 1415(e)(4)(C), and must be in line with rates of attorneys with comparable skill, experience, and reputation. § 1415(e)(4)(F). The Court must reduce a fee award if the time spent is excessive considering the nature of the proceeding. § 1415(e)(4)(F)(iii).

Unquestionably, plaintiffs and their counsel are entitled to fees for their efforts in this case. However, the amount of attorneys' fees and costs available to plaintiffs depends in large part on whether the attorneys' fees provision of IDEA authorizes a fee award for plaintiffs who prevail at the settlement level but who did not first exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit.

The IDEA establishes a clear and mandatory system of procedural protections, including impartial due process hearings and judicial review, to facilitate cooperation by parents and local education agencies in securing appropriate educational plans for disabled children. Hendrick Hudson Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 102 S.Ct. 3034, 73 L.Ed.2d 690 (1982); Powers v. Indiana Dept. of Educ., 61 F.3d 552, 553 (7th Cir.1995). Congress clearly intended for the procedural safeguards to ensure that decisions were made by the most appropriate parties, i.e., parents and school officials. Hendrick Hudson, 458 U.S. at 205-06, 102 S.Ct. at 3050-51. Thus, conformance with the protective procedures set forth in the statute is of paramount importance. Id. Parents may, however, bypass the administrative process if they can show that exhaustion would be futile or inadequate. Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 327, 108 S.Ct. 592, 606, 98 L.Ed.2d 686 (1988). The burden of proving an exception to the exhaustion requirement rests upon the party asserting the exception. Id.; see also Koster v. Frederick County Bd. of Educ., 921 F.Supp. 1453, 1455 (D.Md. 1996).

In this case, it is clear that 17 of the 18 plaintiffs did not exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing suit in court. In their complaint, the plaintiffs briefly mention that "exhaustion of administrative...

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    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • September 19, 2005
    ...must gain a "material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties" and gain judgment on the merits. Bridgeforth v. Dist. of Columbia, 933 F.Supp. 7, 10 (D.D.C.1996). Parents "aggrieved by" a Hearing Officer's findings and decision may bring a civil action in either state or federal ......
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    ...is one who gains a "material alteration of the relationship of the parties" and gains judgment on the merits. Bridgeforth v. Dist. of Columbia, 933 F.Supp. 7, 10 (D.D.C.1996). Having successfully sought a ruling directing defendants to reevaluate Jervon, an effort defendants opposed, plaint......
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    ...one must gain a "material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties" and gain judgment on the merits. Bridgeforth v. Dist. of Columbia, 933 F.Supp. 7, 10 (D.D.C.1996). Parents "aggrieved by" a Hearing Officer's findings and decision may bring a civil action in either state or fede......
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    ...must gain a “material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties” and gain a judgment on the merits. Bridgeforth v. Dist. of Columbia, 933 F.Supp. 7, 10 (D.D.C.1996). Parents “aggrieved by” a hearing officer's findings and decision may bring a civil action in either state or federa......
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