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Title: G.M. et al. v. Saddleback Valley School District

November 26, 2012

TITLE: G.M. ET AL.
v.
SADDLEBACK VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David O. Carter, Judge

CIVIL MINUTES -- GENERAL

PRESENT: THE HONORABLE DAVID O. CARTER, JUDGE

Julie Barrera N/A Courtroom Clerk Court Reporter

ATTORNEYS PRESENT FOR PLAINTIFF: ATTORNEYS PRESENT FOR DEFENDANT:

None Present None Present

PROCEEDINGS: (IN CHAMBERS): ORDER GRANTING IN PART

DISTRICT'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES BUT REDUCING TOTAL FEES

Before the Court is a Motion for Attorneys' Fees filed by Saddleback Valley Unified School District ("District"). (Dkt. 29). After reviewing the moving papers and other filings the Court GRANTS IN PART District's Motion, but REDUCES the number of hours for which District may seek fees.*fn1

I. Background

The facts of this case are already well known by the parties after roughly two years of litigation and summarized by this Court in its August 1, 2012, Order ("Order") (Dkt.

27). In short, Plaintiffs R.M. ("Student") and G.M. ("Mother") filed suit pursuant to the Individual with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), appealing an administrative decision ("Decision") issued by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") that found in favor of District on all of the issues raised by Plaintiffs. In the August 1, 2012, Order, this Court affirmed the ALJ's Decision, denied Plaintiffs' appeal, denied all of Plaintiffs' requests for relief, and stated that the Court was willing to entertain a motion for attorneys' fees from District. Order (Dkt. 27) at 16-17.

In addition to the facts summarized in the August 1, 2012, Order, this Court includes a few additional facts to provide context for this Motion.

On April 10, 2010, Mother, via her then-advocate Jillian Bonnington, filed a Request for Due Process ("First Action") with the Office of Administrative Hearings ("OAH"), alleging that the District failed to meet its obligations to provide Student with a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") during the 2009/2010 school year. Owen Decl. (Dkt. 31) ¶ 3, Ex. A.

In the First Action, Student twice failed to appear or provide notice of her failure to appear at administrative hearings.*fn2

Mother then commenced the present action ("Present Action") by filing substantially the same complaint as in the First Action. Mother litigated the Present Action through counsel.

II. Discussion

In the present Motion, District seeks $57,813.50 in discounted attorneys' fees incurred while defending itself in the Present Action and on appeal, money which could otherwise have been used for public education and to provide special education services to students. The Court first concludes that District is entitled to fees because Mother's filing of and her attorney's continued litigation of the Present Action was frivolous, unreasonable, and lacked foundation and was done for the improper purpose of harassment and needlessly increasing costs. Next, the Court concludes that District's fees are reasonable after a slight reduction.

a. Law regarding frivolous and improper purpose prongs A school district that is a "prevailing party"*fn3 in an action brought under 20 U.S.C. § 1415 may recover attorneys' fees either:

(II) . . . against the attorney of a parent who files a complaint or subsequent cause of action that is frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, or against the attorney of a parent who continued to litigate after the litigation clearly became frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation; or

(II) . . . against the attorney of a parent, or against the parent, if the parent's complaint or subsequent cause of action was presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass, to cause unnecessary delay, or to needlessly increase the costs of litigation.

20 U.S.C. §§ 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(II)-(III); 34 C.F.R. § 300.517(a).*fn4

The purpose of a fee award under these Sections is to deter frivolous cases and unreasonably demanding or litigious parents and their attorneys. See El Paso Independent Sch. Dist. v. Berry, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 23153 (5th Cir. 2010) (holding that FAPE claim was frivolous where the attorney stonewalled the ...


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