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Patrick Hirsch v. Compton Unified School

May 3, 2013

PATRICK HIRSCH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMPTON UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, A PUBLIC ENTITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Ronald S.W. Lew Senior, U.S. District Court Judge

ORDER Re: Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees [26] Currently before the Court is Plaintiff Patrick Hirsch's ("Plaintiff") Motion for Attorney's Fees [26]. The Court, having reviewed all papers submitted pertaining to this Motion, NOW FINDS AND RULES AS FOLLOWS:

The Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees.

I. BACKGROUND

This Action stems from a Complaint filed against Defendant Compton Unified School District ("Defendant" or "School District") by Plaintiff Patrick Hirsch ("Plaintiff"), the court-appointed holder of educational rights for a disabled grade school student ("Student") [1]. In April 2010, attorney Rosa K. Hirji was appointed by the Juvenile Court to represent Student with regard to his educational matters. Ms. Hirji's subsequent investigation into whether California public schools were fulfilling their IDEA obligations to Student led her to institute an administrative proceeding on Student's behalf in June 2011. To help with Student's case, Ms. Hirji added Heather S. Zakson as associate counsel in September 2011. The case proceeded to hearing, and in November 2011 the presiding administrative law judge held that Student prevailed on seven of the thirteen sub-issues presented, and Defendant prevailed on the remaining six.

Pursuant to IDEA's fee-shifting statute, in February 2012 Plaintiff instituted an Action against Defendant in this Court, for the sole purpose of recovering Ms. Hirji's and Ms. Zakson's attorneys' fees incurred in the underlying administrative proceeding. Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on the issue of attorney's fees on January 8, 2013 ("Merits Fees Motion") [16], which the Court granted on February 6, 2013 [23], awarding Plaintiff $51,850 in attorney's fees. On February 20, 2013, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion for Attorney's Fees for recovery of fees incurred in bringing this suit in the first place [26].

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i), a district court may, in its discretion, award reasonable attorney's fees to the parent of a child with a disability who is the prevailing party in an IDEA action or proceeding. While it is well established that this provision applies to reasonable fees that stem from an IDEA action or proceeding itself (see P.N. v. Seattle Sch. Dist., 474 F.3d 1165, 1169 (9th Cir. 2007)), various district courts have also relied on this statute in awarding "fees on fees" to a prevailing party - that is, fees incurred as a result of pursuing attorney's fees for the underlying IDEA litigation (see Wright v. D.C., 883 F. Supp. 2d 132, 134 (D.D.C. 2012) (citing Kaseman v. D.C, 444 F.3d 637, 640 (D.C. Cir. 2006)); Garvin v. Gov't of D.C., No. CIV.A 11-0383 RBW, 2012 WL 6608388 at *2 (D.D.C. Dec. 19, 2012); Dzugas-Smith v. Southold Union Free Sch. Dist., No. 07-CV-3760 JS, 2010 WL 3852003 at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2010)(citing A.R. ex rel. R.V. v. N.Y.C. Dept. Of Educ., 407 F.3d 65, 83 (2d Cir. 2005)).

Although Section 1415(i)(3)(B)(i) does not explicitly provide for an award of fees on fees, and the Ninth Circuit has yet to address the issue of awarding fees on fees in IDEA cases, there is a general consensus among district courts that it is appropriate to award fees on fees to prevailing parties in IDEA actions. See Deal ex rel. Deal v. Hamilton Cnty. Dept. of Educ., 1:01 CV-295, 2006 WL 2854463 (E.D. Tenn. Aug. 1, 2006); Noyes v. Grossmont Union High Sch. Dist., 331 F. Supp. 2d 1233, 1251 (S.D. Cal. 2004), rev'd on other grounds Evans v. Grossmont Union High Sch. Dist., 197 Fed. Appx. 648 (9th Cir. 2006); Gross ex rel. Gross v. Perrysburg Exempted Village Sch. Dist., 306 F. Supp. 2d 726, 742-743 (N.D. Ohio 2004); S.W. ex rel. N.W. v. Board of Educ., 257 F. Supp. 2d 600, 609 (D.S.N.Y. 2003). This approach seems to be in line with the purpose of IDEA's fee-shifting statute, which is to assist plaintiffs of limited means in bringing meritorious suits by giving attorneys financial incentive to take such cases. See Keene v. Zelman, 337 Fed. Appx. 553, 557 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Cleveland v. Ibrahim, 121 Fed. Appx. 88, 90 (6th Cir. 2005)); Gross, 306 F. Supp. 2d at 743. Thus, the Court finds that awarding fees on fees to Plaintiff is appropriate, as long as "special circumstances [do not] render such an award unjust." Seattle Sch. Dist., No. 1 v. B.S., 82 F.3d 1493, 1502 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Abu-Sahyun v. Palo Alto Unified Sch. Dist., 843 F.2d 1250, 1252 (9th Cir. 1988)).

In awarding fees on fees to a prevailing party, the Court is guided by the considerations identified in Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433-34 (1983). See Thompson v. Gomez, 45 F.3d 1365, 1367 (9th Cir. 1995). In Hensley, the Supreme Court approved the lodestar method for calculating attorney's fees: multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate for the attorney's services. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. "If the [fee] applicant satisfies its burden of showing that the claimed rate and number of hours are reasonable, the resulting product is presumed to be the reasonable fee . . . ." Jordan v. Multnomah Cnty., 815 F.2d 1258, 1263 (9th Cir. 1987).

In determining a reasonable hourly rate, the district court must "be guided by the rate prevailing in the community for similar work performed by attorneys of comparable skill, experience, and reputation." Chalmers v. City of L.A., 796 F.2d 1205, 1210-11 (9th Cir. 1986), reh'g denied, amended on other grounds, 808 F.2d 1373 (9th Cir. 1987). "The fee applicant has the burden of producing satisfactory evidence, in addition to the affidavits of its counsel, that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services of lawyers of reasonably comparable skill and reputation." Jordan, 815 F.2d at 1263 (citing Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 (1984)).

In determining a reasonable number of hours, the district court must "make a good faith effort to exclude . . . hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434. "The party seeking the award should provide documentary evidence to the court concerning the number of hours spent . . . ." McCown v. City of Fontana, 565 F.3d 1097, 1102 (9th Cir. 2008). See also Chalmers, 796 F.2d at 1210.

However, a lodestar calculation is only "the starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. A court may reduce the requested amount of fees where the court finds that an attorney unreasonably protracted final resolution of the controversy, the amount of fees unreasonably exceeds the hourly rate prevailing in the community, or the time spent and legal services furnished were excessive. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(F). Moreover, in awarding fees on fees, the Court has discretion to apply an arithmetical approach in adjusting the lodestar calculation in order to account for the prevailing party's degree of success in litigating the underlying merits fees. Schwarz v. Sec. of Health & Human Serv., 73 F.3d 895, 909 (9th Cir. 1995).

III. ANALYSIS

A. Defendant's Evidentiary ...


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