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D.L. v. St. Louis City public School District

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

March 26, 2019

D.L., Plaintiff,
v.
ST. LOUIS CITY PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RODNEY W. SIPPEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff in this disability education case seeks attorneys' fees and non-taxable expenses pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3). Plaintiff is the prevailing party, but only with respect to a portion of the relief sought. As a result, I will reduce Plaintiff's attorneys' fees proportionally to the amount of relief obtained, awarding Plaintiff $34, 523.43 in attorneys' fees and $773.87 in taxable costs.

         BACKGROUND

         Minor Plaintiff D.L. brings this case appealing a ruling from the Missouri Administrative Hearing Council (AHC) pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In my order granting judgment on the administrative record, [No. 342], I concluded that D.L.'s November 2016 Individualized Education Plan (IEP) was not reasonably calculated to provide him with a free and appropriate public educate (FAPE), but only with respect to the period of time where the chosen school placement had no history of, nor preparation for, autism-related educational supports. (ECF No. 42). I ordered the defendant St. Louis School District to reimburse D.L. for costs incurred in his separate private school placement during that period of time. (Id.). D.L.'s parents also sought an educational diagnosis of autism, (ECF No. 33 at 27), and an order that D.L. be allowed to “stay put” in his private school placement, (ECF No. 48 at 2). D.L.'s parents reasserted their request for relief in a motion for reimbursement, (ECF No. 49), and a motion for amended relief, (ECF No. 48). I denied their motion for amended relief, (ECF No. 60), and granted their motion for reimbursement, but only with respect to the relief previously granted.

         Plaintiff now moves for attorneys' fees, (ECF No. 43), and taxable costs, (ECF No. 45). Plaintiff also moves to supplement his original motion for attorneys' fees to include fees incurred litigating his motion for amended relief and motion for reimbursement.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The IDEA allows courts to award “reasonable attorneys' fees as part of the costs” to a “prevailing party.” 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3) (emphasis added). “[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 suit.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, (1983). “In awarding attorney fees, ‘the most critical factor is the degree of success obtained.' ” Wheeler v. Mo. Highway & Transp. Comm'n, 348 F.3d 744, 754 (8th Cir. 2003) (quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at 436). I must consider the “significance of the overall relief” I have awarded to the plaintiff. Hensley at 437. If the plaintiff “has obtained excellent results, his attorney should recover a fully compensatory fee.” Id. at 435. If the plaintiff has instead achieved “partial or limited success, [full recovery] may be an excessive amount.” Id. at 436.

         “There is no precise rule or formula for making these determinations.” Id. at 436. I may “identify specific hours that should be eliminated, or . . . simply reduce the award to account for the limited success.” Id. at 436-37. Granted, I must make clear that I have “considered the relationship between the amount of the fee awarded and the results obtained.” Id. at 437. “[T]he fee applicant bears the burden of . . . documenting the appropriate hours expended and hourly rates.” Id.

         ANALYSIS

         I.The Parties' Arguments

         In his first motion for attorneys' fees, Plaintiff seeks $103.875.00 in attorneys' fees and $773.87 in reimbursable litigation expenses through July 23, 2018. In his second motion, Plaintiff seeks to supplement an additional $13, 500.00 in attorneys' fees, for a total of $117, 375.00, for work completed from July 23 to October 15, 2018. The additional requested attorneys' fees were billed for work on an unsuccessful motion for amended relief and a motion for reimbursement that unsuccessfully relitigated aspects of Plaintiffs original motion for judgment on the administrative record.

         The Defendant St. Louis City Public School District (“the District”) argues that Plaintiff has received only a limited portion of his requested relief. “[T]he District believes that Plaintiff was, at best, 20% successful” and that any attorneys' fee award should be reduced to 20% of the fees billed by Plaintiffs counsel. (ECF No. 64 at 5). The District also identifies specific entries which were unnecessary to the relief obtained, or unsuccessful, and should not be included in any attorneys' fee award. Specifically, the District seeks reductions for

• 11.9 hours explicitly dedicated to arguing for an educational diagnosis of autism, (ECF No. 44-1 at ...

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