X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
A federal appeals court has upheld the award of attorney fees to parents who succeeded in state administrative proceedings in obtaining compensation for educating their disabled children. Setting the standard for determining the award of fees to a “prevailing party” in an administrative setting under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled that fees awarded under the act of up to $375 per hour were not unreasonable under the statute. The circuit issued that guidance on appeals brought from district court rulings finding that parents were “prevailing parties” within the meaning of IDEA’s fee-shifting provision. The cases were A.R. v. New York City Board of Education, 02-9471 (three cases before Judge Constance Baker Motley) and S.W. v. Board of Education of the City of New York, 03-7258, (a single case before Judge Shira Scheindlin). All four involved separate challenges under IDEA to the special education programs that the New York City Department of Education had provided to the children. At issue was the application of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Buckhannon Board & Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, 532 U.S. 598 (2001), and the circuit’s interpretation of Buckhannon in Roberson v. Giuliani, 346 F.3d 75 (2003.) Together, the cases say that in order to be considered a “prevailing party” under a federal fee-shifting statute a plaintiff “must not only achieve some ‘material alteration in the legal relationship of the parties,’ but that change must also be judicially sanctioned.” But 2nd Circuit Judge Robert Sack said that neither Buckhannon nor Roberson “explicitly instructs us, however, how to apply the rule in Buckhannon to fees awarded” in state administrative proceedings that were considered by Motley and Scheindlin. Two of the administrative proceedings ended with impartial hearing officers entering decision for the parents on the merits. The two others ended with settlement agreements between the parties that were recorded in “Statements of Agreement and Order” signed by the hearing officers. The parents filed suit in the Southern District of New York seeking an award of attorney fees under the fee-shifting provision of IDEA, 20 U.S.C. �1415(i)(3)(B). After the two judges awarded fees to the parents, the Department of Education appealed, claiming that parents of two of the children were not prevailing parties. The circuit opted to hear the cases together before a panel of Judges Sack, Joseph McLaughlin and Sonia Sotomayor. The department made several claims in the fee awards, including that the “community” for determining the hourly rate for attorney’s fees should be that of practitioners who appear before the department for IDEA hearings — not those who appear in the federal district where the action was brought. The department claimed it was an abuse of discretion for Motley to award the attorneys between $300 and $350 an hour for their representation at administrative hearings. It also claimed that Scheindlin was wrong to award similar fees for the administrative hearing work and $375 per hour for prosecuting the fee application in federal court. The Education Department argued that the attorneys’ representation at those hearings, “is simply of a different ‘kind and quality’ than the more sophisticated legal services required to vindicate statutory or constitutional rights in a federal forum.” The first problem facing the circuit, Sack said, was that the case law on federal fee shifting stresses the “judicial” sanctioning of the material change in the parties’ legal relationship, but the IDEA cases before the court dealt with an administrative setting. The solution, he said, was the recognition that an impartial hearing officer’s decision on the merits in an IDEA proceeding constitutes an “administrative imprimatur.” While this is not “judicial,” he said it is analogous because such an order changes the legal relationship of the parties and its terms are enforceable. “In order to give effect to IDEA’s intent to permit awards to winning parties in administrative proceedings even where there has been no judicial involvement, as the parties agree that we must, we conclude that the combination of administrative imprimatur, the change in the legal relationship of the parties arising from it, and subsequent judicial enforceability, render such a winning party a ‘prevailing party’ under Buckhannon‘s principles,” Sack said. After finding that the parents were prevailing parties under the statute and the case law, Sack turned to the calculations of attorney fees, which the circuit found were reasonable and not an abuse of discretion. The Department of Education argued that, under the district court’s approach, a lawyer could be paid at a different hourly rates for similar proceedings against the same defendants in different parts of the city. “But such distinctions are inherent in any approach that distinguishes between the level of legal payments in different districts when setting the rate at which legal fees are to be awarded …” Sack said. “So long as the law provides for or permits fee awards based on geographic markets for services, a lawyer may be paid at different rates for otherwise indistinguishable services.” Assistant Corporation Counsel Kristin M. Helmers, along with Leonard Koerner and Martin Bowe, of counsel to the Corporation Counsel, represented the Board of Education. Michael D. Hampden of Legal Services for Children Inc. represented parents in the cases before Motley. Gary S. Mayerson, of Mayerson & Associates along with Amanda L. Oren, of counsel, represented the parents in the case before Scheindlin.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.