COPELAND v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
ORDER AND OPINION ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS for 29 Motion for Attorney Fees filed by DONNA COPELAND. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 9/22/2016. (Attachments: # 1 Appendix) (lccrc1)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Case No. 1:13-CV-00837 (CRC)
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA,
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Donna Copeland has moved for $130,405.85 in costs and fees as a prevailing
party in this action against the District of Columbia under the Individuals with Disabilities in
Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. The District acknowledges that Copeland
prevailed in the litigation, but opposes certain aspects of her calculation of attorneys’ fees. Its
principal objection is over her counsel’s use of the “enhanced” Laffey matrix to arrive at their
applicable hourly billing rates. The District urges the Court to instead calculate the rates at 75%
of the standard Laffey rates, which it contends approximate the prevailing market rates for IDEA
litigation in this jurisdiction. Magistrate Judge Robinson issued a Report and Recommendation
(“R&R”), effectively splitting the difference: She recommends applying standard Laffey rates
but with no percentage discount. Only the District filed objections to the R&R within the
required 14-day period, again arguing that the Court should apply a prevailing rate of 75% of
applicable Laffey rates. The District also asked the Court to address the appropriate hourly rate
for time spent on preparing the fees motion, and whether the Laffey matrix for the year in which
the billable work took place determined the proper hourly rate for that work. Reviewing these
objected-to issues de novo, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3), Court the will adopt the
recommendations of the Magistrate Judge, for the reasons briefly discussed below.
Under the IDEA, a court, “in its discretion, may award reasonable attorneys’ fees,” which
are to be “based on the rates prevailing in the community in which the action or proceeding arose
for the kind and quality of services furnished.” 20 U.S.C. § 14515(i)(3)(B)–(C). Here, the
parties’ dispute regards the appropriate hourly rate, the reasonableness of which turns on: “(1)
‘the attorney[’s] billing practices,’ (2) ‘the attorney[’s] skill, experience, and reputation,’ and (3)
‘the prevailing market rates in the relevant community.’” Eley v. D.C., 793 F.3d 97, 100 (D.C.
Cir. 2015) (quoting Covington v. D.C., 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995)). Accordingly, it is
Plaintiff’s burden to “produce satisfactory evidence . . . 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.” Eley, 793 F.3d at 100 (quoting Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886,
895 n.11 (1984)). “[E]vidence of the prevailing market rate can take many forms,” Eley, 793
F.3d at 104 n.5, including affidavits concerning general market rates and conditions, citations to
similar awards given by other courts in the jurisdiction, comparisons to fees charged in the
private setting, and—at the heart of the matter here—fee matrices, including the Laffey matrix
and the “enhanced” Laffey matrix. See Eley, 793 F.3d at 100, 104; Covington, 57 F.3d at 1109.
If Plaintiff meets her burden, Defendant’s “burden in rebuttal” is to “provide specific contrary
evidence tending to show that a lower rate would be appropriate.” Covington, 57 F.3d at 1109–
The parties dispute whether IDEA litigation as a class is “complex federal litigation”
warranting application of either the standard or “enhanced” Laffey matrix. But this case does not
require resolving that issue—regarding which there is a split among fellow courts in this District
and among judges on the D.C. Circuit.1 Pending greater clarity from the Circuit on that question,
the relevant concern is, instead: Did Plaintiff “produce satisfactory evidence” that the rates
sought “are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services” by similarly
skilled and experienced lawyers? Eley, 793 F.3d at 100.
The Court finds that, although that burden was not met with respect to the “enhanced”
Laffey rates, Plaintiff did offer sufficient evidence that the standard Laffey matrix is an
appropriate guidepost for the rates that should be afforded counsel in this case. 2 In particular, in
addition to detailed affidavits from her own attorneys, Plaintiff has submitted affidavits from five
IDEA practitioners, unaffiliated with this litigation, all of which support Plaintiff’s contention
that IDEA litigators commonly charge and are awarded standard Laffey rates, and that rates
significantly below that measure in this case would be insufficient. See Pl.’s Mot. Fees, Ex. 6, at
7 (Verified Statement of Diana M. Savit) (“I would not be tempted to take [an IDEA] case unless
it was extremely strong on the merits and I could reasonably expect to be awarded an hourly rate
of at least $500, far above the ‘75% of USAO Laffey’ rate[.]”); id. Ex. 7, at 3 (Verified
Statement of Charles Moran) (stating that enhanced Laffey rates are “regularly paid by clients”);
id. Ex. 8, at 4 (Verified Statement of Domiento C. R. Hill) (stating view that the “75% USAO”
Compare, e.g., Eley, 793 F.3d at 105 (Kavanaugh, J., concurring) (“[I]n my view, the United
States’ Attorney’s Office Laffey matrix is appropriate for IDEA cases.”) and Merrick v. D.C., 134 F.
Supp. 3d 328, 339 (D.D.C. 2015) (applying standard Laffey rates in IDEA litigation) with Price v. D.C.,
792 F.3d 112, 116–17 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (Brown, J., concurring) (“[T]he Laffey Matrix rate [is] an
irrelevant benchmark for [IDEA] administrative proceedings before a D.C. Public Schools officer.”) and
Reed v. D.C., 134 F. Supp. 3d 122, 130 (2015) (applying 75%-of-standard-Laffey rates in IDEA
Plaintiff did not, however, carry her burden to show that enhanced Laffey rates are a “prevailing
market rate.” Only one non-case-related affidavit suggests that such rates are ever paid by IDEA clients,
see Pl.’s Mot. Fees, Ex. 7, at 3 (Verified Statement of Charles Moran), and Plaintiff cites no case where
enhanced Laffey rates were actually awarded and affirmed on appeal.
rate is “unreasonably low and below market rates”); id. Ex. 9, at 3–4 (Verified Statement of
Maria G. Mendoza) (opining that “it is impossible to maintain [an IDEA] practice” where judges
award 75%-of-standard-Laffey rates); id. Ex. 10, at 4 (Verified Statement of Alana Hecht) (“If
all judges . . . were to award” the 75%-of-standard-Laffey rates, “I would likely be forced to
leave my current practice”). Plaintiff bolsters these claims by citing numerous decisions from
courts in this district awarding attorneys’ fees to IDEA litigators in accordance with the standard
Laffey matrix. See, e.g., Merrick v. D.C., 134 F. Supp. 3d 328, 339 (D.D.C. 2015); Thomas v.
D.C., 908 F. Supp. 2d 233, 248 (D.D.C. 2012); Young v. D.C., 893 F. Supp. 2d 125, 131 (D.D.C.
2012); Cox v. D.C., 754 F. Supp. 2d 66, 76 (D.D.C. 2010); Jackson v. D.C., 696 F. Supp. 2d 97,
102 (D.D.C. 2010). All of this, taken together, is sufficient to show that standard Laffey rates
“are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services.” Eley, 793 F.3d at 100.
Defendant, for its part, fails to meet its “burden in rebuttal,” which is to “provide specific
contrary evidence tending to show that a lower rate would be appropriate.” Covington, 57 F.3d
at 1109–10. Although Defendant cites numerous cases awarding fees based on less-thanstandard-Laffey rates in IDEA cases, it provides no further “equally specific countervailing
evidence,” such as affidavits or market surveys, to support a lower rate. At the end of the day,
the Court is left with cases on both sides of the Laffey divide, but significantly more concrete
evidence from Plaintiff in support of applying standard Laffey rates. The Court therefore
concurs in the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation to apply standard Laffey rates here,
especially given the considerable experience of Plaintiff’s counsel. See Pl.’s Mot. Fees, Ex. 4, at
2 (Verified Statement of Nicholas Ostrem) (detailing litigation experience, including “over 100
special education cases in the District of Columbia”); id. Ex. 5, at 4 (Verified Statement of
Douglas Tyrka) (“In my conservative and educated estimate, I have litigated over 1000 IDEA
cases and over 50 IDEA federal cases.”). In setting a reasonable hourly rate in part based on the
relevant “attorney[’s] skill, experience, and reputation,” the “somewhat crude” Laffey
benchmark should in this case, at least, not be downwardly adjusted. Eley, 793 F.3d at 100–01.
In response to Defendant’s two remaining objections, the Court will, consistent with prior
practice: apply the same hourly rate to counsel’s preparation of fee motions as to the remainder
of counsel’s billable work; and apply the appropriate Laffey rate for the year in which the
relevant work was conducted. See, e.g., Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington v.
DOJ, 80 F. Supp. 3d 1, 5 (D.D.C. 2015). The Court will therefore award Plaintiff attorney fees
as follows, and as calculated in the chart appended to this Order:
Total Fees & Costs for Mr. Ostrem:
Total Fees & Costs for Mr. Tyrka:
Total Fee Award to Plaintiff:
For the foregoing reasons, and upon careful consideration of the record in this case and
the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation filed August 29, 2016, the Court hereby
ADOPTS the Report of the Magistrate Judge. The Court further ACCEPTS the
Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge. Accordingly, it is hereby
ORDERED that  Plaintiff’s Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs be GRANTED IN
PART. Plaintiff is hereby awarded attorney fees and costs in the amount of $78,788.10.
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER
United States District Judge
Date: September 22, 2016
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