The opinion of the court was delivered by: 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 DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES
Before the Court is a Motion for Attorneys' Fees filed by Capistrano Unified School District ("District"). (Dkt. 49). After reviewing the moving papers and other filings the Court GRANTS District's Motion.*fn1
Plaintiffs C.W. ("Student") and K.S. ("Mother") (collectively, "Plaintiffs" or "Mother") sued District under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") to appeal an administrative decision ("Decision") issued by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") that found in favor of District. Plaintiff also brought three other claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
The facts of this case are already well known to the parties after years of litigation and summarized by this Court in its August 3, 2012, Order ("Order") (Dkt. 46). Additional facts and procedural history regarding the due process hearing that Mother appealed and the multiple orders issued by this Court regarding Mother's three other claims are excellently summarized by District in its Motion and not disputed by Mother. See Am. Mot. (Dkt. 49) at 1-7.Given that the parties are intimately familiar with this case after extensive litigation and multiple orders issued by this Court, this Court does not recount the facts here.
In the August 3, 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. 46) at 13.
In the present Motion, District seeks $94,602.34 in attorneys' fees and $2,058.21 in costs incurred in litigating the due process hearing and defending itself on appeal, "money that might have been better spent improving educational opportunities for [plaintiff student] and other disabled students." See Clyde K. v. Puyallup Sch. Dist., No. 3, 35 F.3d 1396, 1402 n.10 (9th Cir. 1994) (lamenting the more than $100,000 in attorneys' fees incurred by school district due to litigious parents of disabled child); Aguirre v. Los Angeles Unif. Sch. Dist., 461 F.3d 1114, 1120 (9th Cir. 2006) ("All children suffer when the schools' coffers are diminished on account of expensive, needless litigation.").
This Court first reviews the two prongs of the statute under which District moves. This Court then concludes that District is entitled to fees and costs under either prong. Finally, the Court concludes that District's fees and costs are reasonable.
a.Law regarding frivolous and improper purpose prongs
A school district that is a "prevailing party"*fn2 in an action or proceeding 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
(III) . . . 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).*fn3
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, *21 (5th Cir. 2010).
District seeks fees under the "frivolousness" prong, 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(II), and "improper purpose" prong, id. at § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(III). See Am. Mot. (Dkt. 49) at 1. The Court addresses each prong in turn.
The Court first concludes that District is entitled to fees under the frivolousness prong because, among other things, Mother sought a remedy for a harm actually caused by Mother, the remedy sought was well beyond any measure of relief Student could possibly obtain, Mother adopted legal theories contrary to the plain language of the statute under which she sued, contrary to controlling Ninth Circuit authority, and contrary to the record, and Mother's legal theories would undermine the policy behind the IDEA's fee-shifting statutes.
The Court next concludes that District also seeks fees under the "improper purpose" prong because Mother's offer to ransom her child's IDEA appeal in exchange for money to which her non-attorney advocate was not entitled shows that the purpose of this appeal was not to vindicate the rights of her disabled child. Rather, Mother's purpose was to harass, unnecessarily delay, and needlessly increase the litigation costs incurred by District until it acquiesced to paying her non-attorney advocate.
Finally, the Court rejects Mother's arguments to the contrary as untimely and irrelevant.
i.Mother's four Causes of Action were frivolous, unreasonable, and without foundation
The Court first addresses the two alternative legal theories that were the basis of Mother's appeal of the ALJ's Decision ("Fourth Cause of Action"). The Court then turns to Mother's other three claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("First Cause of Action"), 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Second Cause of Action"), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act ("Third Cause of Action").
1.Fourth Cause of Action appealing Decision based on Mother's theory that one of the reports in a triennial ...