Eley v. Dist. of Columbia, Civil Action No. 11–309BAHAK

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Citation999 F.Supp.2d 137
Decision Date20 November 2013
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 11–309BAHAK
PartiesWilma Eley, Plaintiff, v. District of Columbia, Defendant.

999 F.Supp.2d 137

Wilma Eley, Plaintiff
District of Columbia, Defendant.

Civil Action No. 11–309BAHAK

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

November 20, 2013

999 F.Supp.2d 142

Douglas Tyrka, Tyrka & Associates, LLC, McLean, VA, for Plaintiff.

Laura George, Office of Attorney General, Washington, DC, for Defendant.


BERYL A. HOWELL, United States District Judge

Pending before the Court is the plaintiff Wilma Eley's Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs, ECF No. 26, under the attorneys' fees provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(I). This motion was referred to a Magistrate Judge who issued a Report and Recommendation (“R & R”), ECF No. 34, to which both the plaintiff and the defendant District of Columbia objected. See Pl.'s Objs. Rep. & Rec. of Mag. Judge Re. Attys. Fees (“Pl.'s Objs.”), ECF No. 35; Def.'s Objs. Mag.'s Aug. 29, 2013 Rep. & Rec. (“Def.'s Objs.”), ECF No. 36. While the R & R recommended an award of $39,055.03 in attorney's fees, the plaintiff claims that she is entitled to an award of $62,225.00, Pl.'s Mot. for Fees & Costs (“Pl.'s Mot.”) at 1, ECF No. 26, and the defendant argues that the award should be “reduced by 90%” to $2,900.62. Def.'s Objs. at 21. For the reasons set forth below, the plaintiff's objections are sustained, the defendant's objections are overruled, and the plaintiff's motion is granted.

999 F.Supp.2d 143


The factual history of this case is set forth in greater detail in the Report and Recommendation regarding the underlying merits determination that was adopted by this Court. See Eley v. District of Columbia, No. 11–309, 2012 WL 3656471, at * 1–3 (D.D.C. Aug. 24, 2012). Only the relevant facts and procedural history are summarized here.

A. The Underlying Merits Action

Prior to the 2010–2011 school year, the defendant “had not identified a location at which the student's IEP would be implemented.” Admin. Record (“AR”) at 7 ¶ 5, ECF No. 9–1.1 In the absence of such a placement at the beginning of the 2010–2011 school year, the plaintiff enrolled the child as a “non-attending” student at his local public school and subsequently enrolled him at a private school in the District of Columbia. Eley, 2012 WL 3656471, at *2. After school had begun in the Fall of 2010, the plaintiff filed an administrative due process complaint against the defendant, on September 13, 2010, “alleging that [the defendant] was twenty-three days late in preparing [the child's] new [Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) ].” Id. The defendant eventually produced a placement for the child in another private school and issued a “prior written notice” on October 7, 2010. Id. at *3 ; AR at 12 ¶ 16.

The Hearing Officer assigned to the case found that “the Plaintiff failed to establish that DCPS substantively violated the IDEA and, even if she had proved it, her unilateral removal of [her child] was unreasonable.” Eley, 2012 WL 3656471, at *3. The plaintiff timely filed this federal suit “requesting that the Court: 1) find that [District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”) ] violated the IDEA and denied [the plaintiff's child] a free, appropriate public education (“FAPE”); 2) grant her reimbursement for [the child's] tuition at [the private school]; [and] 3) order prospective placement for [the child] at [the private school].” R & R at 2.2

This Court found that the defendant violated the IDEA by denying the plaintiff's child a FAPE, and that the plaintiff's actions in unilaterally placing her child in a private school were “not unreasonable.” Eley, 2012 WL 3656471, at *8–10. The case was remanded to a Hearing Officer “for the purpose of determining whether the $2,850 sought by the plaintiff as reimbursement [for private school tuition] is appropriate and reasonable.” Id. at * 10. The only relief the plaintiff sought that was not granted by this Court was her request for “prospective placement” of the child at the private school for 2012–2013 school year since such placement “should not be addressed for the 2012–13 school year by this Court but by the [multi-disciplinary team]/IEP team.”Id. at * 11. In view of the tardy actions by DCPS, which prompted the litigation in the first place, the Court cautioned that such a determination should “be done as soon as possible.” Id. Consequently, the Court granted summary judgment to the plaintiff in part and denied it in part while denying summary judgment completely to the defendant. Id. at * 1. On remand, the Hearing Officer ordered the defendant to “pay the

999 F.Supp.2d 144

Plaintiff the full $2,850 she sought.” R & R at 3.

B. The Attorney Fees Report and Recommendation

The plaintiff timely filed her Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs, which was referred to a Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation. See Order Referring Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs to a Magistrate Judge at 1, ECF No. 32. The R & R, filed on August 29, 2013, made the following findings: (1) the plaintiff was a “prevailing party” within the meaning of the IDEA and that a reduction in the plaintiff's attorney's fees “on the basis of limited success” was unwarranted; and (2) “the majority of Plaintiffs' [sic] fees were reasonably incurred.” R & R at 6.

The parties timely objected to the R & R. See LCvR 72.3(b). The plaintiff objects to the recommendations that (1) the plaintiff's counsel's rates be reduced to seventy-five percent of the standard rates provided under what is commonly called the “Laffey matrix;” (2) the plaintiff's counsel's time spent on the attorney's fees litigation be reduced by fifteen percent; and (3) the plaintiff's counsel's time of one-half hour spent in a “Resolution Session” be disallowed. See Pl.'s Objs. generally . The defendant objects to the R & R's findings that (1) the plaintiff prevailed in whole; and (2) the plaintiff is entitled to fees related to the Motion for Attorney Fees, described in the R & R as “Fees for Fees.” See Def.'s Objs. generally . The objections have been fully briefed and are now ripe for consideration.


Motions for attorneys' fees may be referred to a Magistrate Judge for a report and recommendation and any objections thereto are subject to de novo review by the district court. Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d)(2)(D) (stating that a court “may refer a motion for attorney's fees to a magistrate judge under Rule 72(b) as if it were a dispositive pretrial matter”); see also David v. District of Columbia, 252 F.R.D. 56, 58 (D.D.C.2008) (noting “the limited jurisdiction granted by Congress to a magistrate judge in Federal Rules 54(d)(2)(D) and 72(b) to issue a recommendation on a motion for attorneys' fees”). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b) provides that “[t]he district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to,” and “may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3) ; see also LCvR 72.3(c) (“A district judge shall make a de novo determination of those portions of a magistrate judge's findings and recommendations to which objection is made”).

The IDEA provides that “the court, in its discretion, may award reasonable attorneys' fees ... (I) to a prevailing party who is the parent of a child with a disability.” 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i). Courts follow a two-pronged inquiry to determine attorneys' fees under the IDEA by, first, determining if the party seeking fees is a “prevailing party” and, then, determining what fees are “reasonable.” See id. ; see also B.R. ex rel. Rempson v. District of Columbia, 802 F.Supp.2d 153, 162–63 (D.D.C.2011).

With respect to the first prong, the Supreme Court has “long held that the term ‘prevailing party’ in fee statutes is a ‘term of art’ that refers to the prevailing litigant,” reflecting “the fact that statutes that award attorney's fees to a prevailing party are exceptions to the ‘American Rule’ that each litigant bear [his] own attorney's fees.” Astrue v. Ratliff, 560 U.S. 586, 130 S.Ct. 2521, 2525, 177 L.Ed.2d 91 (2010) (internal quotations and citations omitted; brackets in original). The Court

999 F.Supp.2d 145

has made clear that just because a party has “achieved the desired result because the lawsuit brought about a voluntary change in the defendant's conduct,” does not trigger “prevailing party” status. Buckhannon Bd. and Care Home, Inc. v. West Va. Dep't of Health and Human Resources, 532 U.S. 598, 600, 121 S.Ct. 1835, 149 L.Ed.2d 855 (2001) ( “Buckhannon ”). Rather, the “touchstone of the prevailing party inquiry” is “ ‘the material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties in a manner which Congress sought to promote in the fee statute.’ ” Sole v. Wyner, 551 U.S. 74, 82–83, 127 S.Ct. 2188, 167 L.Ed.2d 1069 (2007) (quoting Texas State Teachers Ass'n v. Garland Indep. Sch. Dist., 489 U.S. 782, 792–793, 109 S.Ct. 1486, 103 L.Ed.2d 866 (1989) ). In determining whether a party is the “prevailing party,” the D.C....

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  • Eley v. Dist. of Columbia
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • November 20, 2013
    ...999 F.Supp.2d 137Wilma Eley, Plaintiff,v.District of Columbia, Defendant.Civil Action No. 11–309(BAH)(AK)United States District Court, District of Columbia.November 20, Motion granted. [999 F.Supp.2d 142] Douglas Tyrka, Tyrka & Associates, LLC, McLean, VA, for Plaintiff.Laura George, Office......

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