United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
J.M., et al.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY INTERMEDIATE UNIT
the court is the motion of plaintiffs J.M. and C.M. for
attorneys' fees and costs 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.
filed an administrative due process complaint against
defendant Montgomery County Intermediate Unit
(“MCIU”) on September 21, 2016. In that
complaint, plaintiffs alleged violations of the IDEA and
Section 504. Plaintiffs asserted:
This complaint concerns a past rather than continuing denial
of [a Free Appropriate Public Education “FAPE”].
In particular, Parents seek compensatory education for
MCIU's failure to provide [C.M.] with appropriate
services including a placement in a developmental preschool,
from when he was referred to Early Intervention in August
2014 until December 2015, and for failure to provide related
services at the level required for [C.M.] to make meaningful
administrative complaint also alleged that MCIU had wrongly
classified C.M. as emotionally disturbed from the time of his
initial evaluation through May 26, 2016, when MCIU agreed to
change C.M.'s classification to autistic. In their prayer
for relief, plaintiffs sought: (1) compensatory education;
(2) any other equitable remedies deemed proper and just; and
(3) attorneys' fees and costs.
an administrative hearing officer conducted a hearing
spanning three full days which included ten witnesses and
sixty exhibits. At the conclusion of the hearing, the parties
submitted proposed findings of fact and closing memoranda of
law. In their closing memorandum, plaintiffs again requested
“compensatory education for [MCIU's] failure to
place [C.M.] in a developmental preschool beginning on
January 5, 2015 through November 29, 2015 (i.e.,
from implementation of [C.M.'s] initial IEP up to the
date when [MCIU] placed him at a developmental preschool, the
Gulf School).” Plaintiffs calculated that C.M. was
entitled to approximately 900 hours of compensatory
hearing officer issued his decision on January 11, 2017. He
concluded that MCIU violated C.M.'s procedural rights
under the IDEA by improperly classifying him as a student
with emotional disturbance. The hearing officer further found
that MCIU substantively denied C.M. a FAPE from January 5,
2015 through June 9, 2016, the day C.M. left
MCIU. This conclusion was based on a finding
that C.M. failed to make meaningful progress throughout the
entirety of his time with MCIU. As a remedy, the hearing
officer awarded five hours of compensatory education for each
day MCIU was in session from January 5, 2015 through June 9,
2016, which amounted to a total of 1350 hours.
appealed the decision to this court, as permitted under the
IDEA. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A). On October
12, 2017, we issued a memorandum opinion and order granting
in part and denying in part the motion of MCIU for judgment
on the administrative record. Montgomery Cty.
Intermediate Unit No. 23 v. C.M., No. CV 17-1523, 2017
WL 4548022, at *9 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 12, 2017).
we affirmed the hearing officer's finding that the
initial evaluation and classification of C.M. violated the
IDEA. Id. at *6. We further affirmed the hearing
officer's finding of a denial of FAPE from January 5,
2015 through November 19, 2015. Id. at *6-8.
However, we reversed the hearing officer's decision to
the extent he found that C.M. had been denied a FAPE while
enrolled in the developmental preschool from November 20,
2015 through June 9, 2016. Id. at *7-8. We reasoned
that the hearing officer's decision on this point was
contradicted by his own findings of fact, which recognized
that the developmental preschool was an appropriate placement
for C.M. Id. at *8. We further found that C.M. had,
in fact, made progress while enrolled in the developmental
preschool. Id. We thus reduced the award of
compensatory education to five hours per day for each day
MCIU was in session from January 5, 2015 through November 19,
2015. Id. at *8-9. In the accompanying order, we
directed the parties to confer on the calculation of the
final award and the manner in which the compensatory
education would be provided. The parties ultimately agreed to
a total award of 820 hours of compensatory education and
thereafter stipulated to dismissal of the action with
prejudice on December 21, 2017.
with MCIU's appeal, plaintiffs filed this separate action
for attorneys' fees and costs. Plaintiffs seek $97, 895
in attorneys' fees, $400 in costs, and $3, 200 in expert
fees. We held the fee action in suspense pending the outcome
of the MCIU's substantive appeal. Once that decision was
issued, we removed the case from suspense and the parties
have now fully briefed the issue.
the IDEA, a court may 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)(i)(I). A parent
qualifies as a prevailing party if he or she
“‘succeed[s] on any significant issue in
litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties
sought in bringing suit.'” John T. ex rel. Paul
T. v. Delaware Cty. Intermediate Unit, 318 F.3d 545, 555
(3d Cir. 2003) (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461
U.S. 424, 433 (1983)).
determine a reasonable award of attorneys' fees, the
court must first calculate the lodestar, which is the number
of hours reasonably expended multiplied by a reasonable
hourly rate for legal services. Holmes v. Millcreek Twp.
Sch. Dist., 205 F.3d 583, 595 (3d Cir. 2000). A
reasonable hourly rate is determined according to the
prevailing market rates in the community for lawyers of
reasonably comparable skill, reputation, and experience.
Id. The prevailing party bears the burden of
establishing that the ...