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Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association v. California Department of Education

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 8, 2017

MORGAN HILL CONCERNED PARENTS ASSOCIATION, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          ALLISON CLAIRE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on plaintiffs' Re-Noticed Motion for a Mandatory Fee and Costs Award Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a)(5)(A) and E.D. Cal. R. (“Local Rule”) 230. This motion was referred to the undersigned by Local Rule 302(c)(1).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Relevant Procedural History

         Plaintiffs, two associations of parents of children with disabilities, allege that the California Department of Education (“CDE”) is violating the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400, et seq., through its systemic failure to provide a “free appropriate public education” (“FAPE”) to children with disabilities in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). During the pendency of this litigation, the Court has addressed multiple discovery disputes between the parties. On August 17, 2016, following one such discovery dispute, an order was issued in which plaintiffs were awarded attorneys' fees at what the Court determined to be the correct Sacramento rates: $350 per hour for attorneys and $75 per hour for paralegals. ECF No. 229 at 23-24.

         On November 23, 2016, plaintiffs filed a subsequent motion to compel and for sanctions, seeking fees based on San Francisco rates (ECF No. 273). Defendants filed a cross-motion for a protective order and for sanctions (ECF No. 272). The undersigned denied defendants' motions. ECF No. 287 at 20. Plaintiffs' motion to compel was granted, but their request for sanctions was denied without prejudice in light of the undersigned's finding that Sacramento rates are the appropriate fee measurement. Id. Plaintiffs were given 30 days to renew their motion for fees using Sacramento rates. Id. Plaintiffs sought reconsideration from District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller. ECF No. 288. Judge Mueller denied the motion. ECF No. 300.

         B. The Claims

         Plaintiffs now renew their request for fees at what they allege to be Sacramento rates. ECF No. 304. There are three issues presented: (1) the appropriate rate for attorney and paralegal fee reimbursement; (2) the billed hours appropriate for compensation as a result of plaintiffs' success on their motion to compel, and (3) plaintiffs' recoverable costs.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The parties do not dispute that the appropriate method for computing fees in this case is the lodestar approach, in which the Court multiplies the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate. Cunningham v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 879 F.2d 481, 484 (9th Cir. 1988). Each of these factors is discussed below, followed by a discussion of recoverable costs.

         A. Reasonable Hourly Rates

         The appropriate rate for reimbursement of fees in Sacramento is the Court's previously stated rate of $350 per hour for attorneys, and $75 per hour for paralegals. ECF No. 229 at 23-24; see also, Orr v. California Highway Patrol, 2015 WL 9305021 at * 4, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 170862 at *13 (E.D. Cal. 2015) (Shubb, J.); Lin v. Dignity Health, 2014 WL 5698448 at *3, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155980 at *7-8 (E.D. Cal. 2014) (Mueller, J.). It has already been established in this case that the reasonable hourly rate is determined by the Sacramento community. ECF No. 229 at 23-24. “To inform and assist the court in the exercise of its discretion [in determining reasonable community rates], the burden is on the fee applicant to produce satisfactory evidence-in addition to the attorney's own affidavits-that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation.” Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n. 11 (1984).

         Plaintiffs argue that an upward adjustment to the typical Sacramento rates is necessary due to the limited number of attorneys doing similar work in Sacramento. Their argument is unpersuasive because they interpret far too narrowly the pool of attorneys and paralegals available for comparison. Plaintiffs assert that the appropriate Sacramento rate for attorneys in the specialized area of statewide, systemic IDEA litigation is $725 per hour for attorneys and $182 per hour for paralegals. ECF No. 304-1 at 5. Plaintiffs reach these numbers by taking the average of what they allege to be the only two attorneys/organizations in Sacramento that litigate IDEA cases. Id. at 6. The undersigned finds this method inadequate.

         The first of the attorneys proposed by plaintiffs as a fee guidepost, Mr. Richard Ruderman, avers that he practices disability law in Sacramento, and that his current rates are $550 per hour for attorneys and $150 per hour for paralegals. ECF No. 304-6 at 2. While the undersigned agrees that Mr. Ruderman's fees may be relevant as a guidepost for the legal community in Sacramento, plaintiffs fail to explain why the Court should be guided by Mr. Ruderman's 2017 rates, when plaintiffs' motion to compel was brought in 2016. ECF No. 273. The undersigned accepts defendants' position that a more reasonable comparison would be Mr. Ruderman's 2016 rate of $400 per hour. ECF No. 305-1 at 8.[1] The undersigned further agrees with defendants that the $400 rate is high as applied to plaintiffs' counsel, given that Mr. Ruderman has litigated ...


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