RC v. Baldwin County Board of Education
ORDER that the Clerk is DIRECTED to CLOSE this miscellaneous action and REFUND to RC the fee paid for the filing of this action. RC may then file an independent civil action in this Court, if he so chooses. Signed by Magistrate Judge Katherine P. Nelson on 11/15/2013. (srr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
RC, on behalf of his daughter, SC,
BALDWIN COUNTY BOARD OF
Miscellaneous Action No. 13-00019-N
Plaintiff RC, the father of a daughter with a disability, SC, asserting he is a
prevailing party pursuant to the Individuals with Disability Education Act, 20
U.S.C. § 1400, et seq. (the “IDEA”), see 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(I), has filed a
miscellaneous action in this Court. The only document in the action is a motion for
attorneys’ fees. (See generally Doc. 1.)
First, it does appear that a federal court has jurisdiction, pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1331, over “a cause of action for parents to recover attorneys’ fees” under
the IDEA. E.g., Robert v. Cobb Cnty. Sch. Dist., 279 Fed. App’x 798, 800 (11th Cir.
May 28, 2008) (per curiam) (“20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(A) confers jurisdiction over
IDEA actions to district courts, and § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(I) creates a cause of action for
parents to recover attorneys’ fees.” (citing § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(I) (“In any action or
proceeding brought under this section, the court, in its discretion, may award
reasonable attorneys’ fees as part of the costs . . . to a prevailing party who is the
parent of a child with a disability.”))).
Parents need only prevail in an IDEA
administrative action, not also in a lawsuit filed because of that action, to be
prevailing parties and entitled to attorneys’ fees under the IDEA. See Mitten v.
Muscogee Cnty. Sch. Dist., 877 F.2d 932, 935 (11th Cir. 1989). And, as the Eleventh
Circuit held in Robert, any “question concerning the validity of the [underlying
administrative] proceeding goes to the merits of plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees claim but
does not defeat the district court’s power to adjudicate the claim.” Id. (citing Steel
Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env’t, 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998) (“[T]he absence of a valid (as
opposed to arguable) cause of action does not implicate subject-matter jurisdiction,
i.e., the courts’ statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case.” (emphasis
in original))); see also id. (because “Plaintiffs’ complaint stated a claim under 20
U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B) . . . [it was] sufficient to vest the district court with
jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.” (emphasis added) (citing Newton v. Capital
Assurance Co., Inc., 245 F.3d 1306, 1308 (11th Cir. 2001) (“Under [28 U.S.C. §
1331], federal courts have federal-question jurisdiction over suits in which a wellpleaded complaint establishes . . . that federal law creates the cause of action . . .
.”) (internal citation omitted and emphasis added)))).
There is, however, a problem with this action as filed: it has been filed as a
miscellaneous action, instead of as a civil case.
That difference is not
Miscellaneous actions typically do not exist independently.
Rather, their use is reserved to matters filed with the court that are not properly
considered to be independent civil or criminal cases, but are, instead,
administrative and directly or indirectly related to a civil or criminal case. E.g.,
registration of a judgment entered in another district. See, e.g., Bernhard v. BCN
Recovery, No. 10-1075, 2010 WL 2179795 (C.D. Ill. June 1, 2010) (“[T]he usual
procedure is for the judgment creditor to register a judgment in a separate federal
district pursuant to [28 U.S.C. §] 1963, then to seek a writ of execution in that
district.”) RC’s request for attorneys’ fees is not related to, for example, the appeal
of the administrative action to this Court. It is, instead, an “independent claim”
that should have been raised in a complaint filed in a new civil case. See, e.g.,
Matthew V. ex rel. Craig V. v. Dekalb Cnty. Sch. Sys., 244 F. Supp. 2d 1331, 1335
(N.D. Ga. 2003) (“Parents may bring an independent claim for attorney’s fees in a
district court after their child prevails before a state ALJ . . . . [A]n independent
claim for attorneys’ fees places the district court in its more usual trial court
role.” (citations omitted and emphasis added)).
Accordingly, the Clerk is DIRECTED to CLOSE this miscellaneous action
and REFUND to RC the fee paid for the filing of this action. RC may then file an
independent civil case in this Court, if he so chooses.1
DONE and ORDERED this the 15th day of November, 2013.
/s/ Katherine P. Nelson
KATHERINE P. NELSON
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Indeed, RC’s counsel, Mr. Sears, has previously done that very thing in this
Court. See generally Dickerson ex rel. Ingram v. Brodgen, 80 F. Supp. 2d 1319 (S.D. Ala.
1999) (action for attorneys’ fees filed via a complaint (see Civil Action No. 99-00418-RV-S,
Doc. 1) after an administrative hearing officer found that the Conecuh County Board of
Education failed to provide plaintiff’s son with a free, appropriate education as required by
the IDEA); see also id. at 1322-23 (concluding “that the two-year period of limitations set
forth in Alabama Code § 6–2–38(l) should be applied to actions brought in Alabama for
attorneys’ fees under section 1415(i)(3)(B) of the IDEA” (emphasis added)).
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