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Elizabeth S., et al v. School District of Philadelphia

June 28, 2012

ELIZABETH S., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tucker, J.

June ___, 2012

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record on Count I of Plaintiffs' Complaint for Claims Arising Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (Doc. 5); Defendant's Response in Opposition thereto (Doc. 6); Plaintiffs' Motion for an Award of Counsel Fees and Costs (Doc. 7); and Defendant's Response in Opposition thereto (Doc. 9). For the reasons set forth herein, the Court will deny Plaintiffs' Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record as moot and grant in part Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys Fees.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs are Shawn J., a student in an elementary school in the School District of Philadelphia ("School District") and his mother, Elizabeth S. Shawn J. experienced behavioral and academic problems in school. On August 25, 2010, Elizabeth S. filed an administrative due process complaint under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Section 504"), 29 U.S.C. § 794 et seq., based upon (1) the School District's physical exclusion of Shawn J. from school due to his disability, and 2) the School District's failure to provide Shawn J. with a free and appropriate public education ("FAPE"). Plaintiffs' counsel during the hearing were Attorneys David J. Berney ("Attorney Berney") and Lee Wentz ("Attorney Wentz"). The administrative hearing officer found in favor of Plaintiffs on December 21, 2010. Plaintiffs then filed a Complaint before this Court, asserting claims pursuant to the IDEA, Section 504, and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq. Plaintiffs also filed the Motions for an Award of Counsel Fees and Costs and Judgment on the Administrative Record now at issue. The Court's analysis of Plaintiffs' Motion for Counsel Fees and Costs below also disposes of the Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The IDEA provides the Court with discretion 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). "'[P]laintiffs may be considered 'prevailing parties' for attorney[s'] fees purposes if they succeed on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing the suit.'" Neena S. v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., No. 05-5404, 2009 WL 2245066, at *3 (E.D. Pa. July 27, 2009) (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)).

"The party seeking attorney's fees has the burden to prove that its request for attorney's fees is reasonable." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990). The fee petitioner must provide evidence "supporting the hours worked and rates claimed." Id. The calculation of the appropriate amount of attorney's fees begins with the lodestar, which is the product of "the appropriate billing rate for the parties attorneys" multiplied by "the number of hours those attorneys reasonably expended on the action." Interfaith Comty. Org. v. Honeywell Intern., Inc., 426 F.3d 694, 703 (3d Cir. 2005). The reasonable hourly rate is calculated according to "the rates prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation." Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183 (citing Student Pub. Interest Research Group v. AT & T Bell Labs., 842 F.2d 1436, 1442 n.3 (3d Cir. 1988)).

After the Court determines the reasonable hourly rate, it must examine the hours requested and exclude those which were not reasonably expended. Id. "Hours are not reasonably expended if they are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." Rodes, 892 F.2d at 1183. The Court may also reduce the hours requested by "the number of hours 'spent litigating claims on which the party did not succeed and that were 'distinct in all respects from' claims on which the party did succeed." Id. (quoting Instituitionalized Juveniles v. Sec'y of Pub. Welfare, 758 F.2d 897, 909 n.21 (3d Cir. 1985)). The Court may also deduct hours when they are inadequately documented. Id. (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. 424 at 433). Finally, once the lodestar has been calculated, the court may adjust it downward in light of the results obtained. Id. (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434-37).

III. DISCUSSION

Neither Plaintiff Elizabeth S.'s status as a prevailing party nor the reasonable hourly rates of Attorneys Berney and Wentz are in dispute. As such, the Court will proceed to calculate the lodestar using a $350 and $270 hourly rate for Attorneys Berney and Wentz respectively.

A. Plaintiffs' counsel were sufficiently specific in recording their time entries.

Defendant first argues that Plaintiffs should not receive attorney fees for time entries in the fee petition which are not sufficiently specific. "[S]pecificity [in the fee petition] should only be required to the extent necessary for the district court 'to determine if the hours claimed are unreasonable for the work performed.'" Washington v. Phila. Cnty. Court of Common Pleas, 89 F.3d 1031, 1037 (3d Cir. 1996) (quoting Rode, 892 F.2d at 1190). A petition should include "some fairly definite information as to the hours devoted to various general activities, e.g., pretrial discovery, settlement negotiations, and the hours spent by various classes of attorneys, e.g., senior partners, junior partners, associates." Id. (quoting Rodes, 892 F.2d at 1190). The petition, however, need not contain "the exact number of minutes spent nor the precise activity to which each hour was devoted nor the specific attainments of each attorney." Id. at 1038 (quoting Rodes, 892 F.2d at 1190). The petition need only "provide[] enough information as to what hours were devoted to various activities and by whom." Id.

Defendant argues that time entries such as "t/c with client," "letter to client," or "email to expert," do not contain sufficient detail. However, the Court considers these entries sufficient to indicate the hours devoted to various activities and by whom. While some of Plaintiffs' entries may be more specific than others, the Court finds that Plaintiffs' petition is sufficiently specific to permit a determination of whether the ...


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