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S.W. v. BOARD OF EDUC. OF CITY OF NEW YORK

February 26, 2003

S.W. AND M.M., ON BEHALF OF N.W., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK (DISTRICT TWO), DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shira Scheindlin, District Judge.

OPINION AND ORDER

I. BACKGROUND

On October 2, 1998, plaintiffs S.W. and M.M. requested a due process hearing, on behalf of their son, N.W., to challenge the program*fn1 recommended for N.W. by District Two of the Board of Education of the City of New York ("the Board"). Evidentiary hearings were held on November 12, 1998, December 10, 1998, December 12, 1998, December 15, 1998, and January 25, 1999 and post-hearing briefs were submitted. By decision dated February 18, 1999 and amended March 23, 1999, Hearing Officer Jean Marie Brescia rendered an award in favor of plaintiffs, finding that the Board had failed to provide N.W. with an appropriate educational program. See Hearing Officer's Amended Findings of Fact and Decision ("H.O. Decision"), Case No. 34843, Ex. 1 to Complaint ("Compl."). The Board never appealed from the underlying decision, which became final and nonappealable on or about April 3, 1999.

Plaintiffs now bring this action under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B), to recover the attorneys' fees and costs incurred in connection with the administrative proceedings and in making the instant fee application. Plaintiffs claim that they are entitled to $11,082.68 in attorneys' fees and related costs and expenses for the underlying proceedings*fn2 and $13,129.25 for the instant fee application.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Under the IDEA, like other civil rights statutes, the court may award reasonable attorneys' fees and costs to "the parents of a child with a disability who is the prevailing party." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B). Fee awards "shall be based on rates prevailing in the community in which the action or proceeding arose for the kind and quality of services furnished." Id. § 1415(i)(3)(C). The statute provides for certain reductions, including, for example, where "the time spent and legal services furnished were excessive." Id. § 1415(i)(3)(F)(iii).

"Although the amount of attorneys' fees is largely within the discretion of the district court, the Second Circuit has established a procedure to calculate such awards." Mr. X v. New York State Educ. Dep't, 20 F. Supp.2d 561, 563 (S.D.N.Y. 1998). Under the "lodestar" approach, fees are determined by "multiplying `the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation . . . by a reasonable hourly rate.'" See LeBlanc-Sternberg v. Fletcher, 143 F.3d 748, 764 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983)). The result of this calculation is presumed to be the reasonable fee. See LeBlanc, 143 F.3d at 764 (citing Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 565, 106 S.Ct. 3088, 92 L.Ed.2d 439 (1986)). The party seeking the award has the burden of submitting evidence supporting the hours worked and rates charged. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933. If the documentation is inadequate or it reflects excessive or redundant time, the court may reduce the award accordingly. See id. at 433-34, 103 S.Ct. 1933.

III. DISCUSSION

The Board does not challenge plaintiffs' entitlement to fees for the administrative hearing, but argues that the hourly rates demanded by plaintiffs exceed the prevailing rate for the "kind and quality" of services provided, see Defendant's Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Application for Attorneys' Fees ("Def.Mem.") at 6-16, and that counsel's time should be reduced because of inadequate record-keeping, see id. at 17-20. The Board does, however, challenge plaintiffs' entitlement to compensation for the instant fee application, arguing that plaintiffs' counsel has failed to submit sufficient contemporaneous records to support plaintiffs' claim. See Def. Mere. at 20-23.

I will first address the reasonableness of plaintiffs' attorneys' proposed hourly rates and the number of hours expended. I will next consider whether any reductions to the lodestar amount are warranted. Finally, after determining the fee award, I will address the request for costs. This four-step analysis will be applied both to the fees and costs requested for the underlying administrative proceedings and the fees and costs incurred in bringing this action.

A. The Underlying Proceedings

1. Hourly Rate

"In determining the reasonable hourly rate to be applied, the Court should look to market rates `prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation.'" Marisol A. v. Giuliani, 111 F. Supp.2d 381, 386 (S.D.N.Y. 2000) (quoting Gierlinger v. Gleason, 160 F.3d 858, 882 (2d Cir. 1998)). The relevant community to which the court should look is the district in which the case was brought. See In re Agent Orange Prod. Liab. Litig., 818 F.2d 226, 232 (2d Cir. 1987). In the Southern District of New York, the prevailing rates are those of Manhattan attorneys. See Knoeffler v. Town of Mamakating, 126 F. Supp.2d 305, 313 (S.D.N.Y. 2000). The rates used by ...


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