Johnson v. Flagler County School District
ORDER overruling 42 Defendant's Response and Written Objections; adopting 39 Report and Recommendation; granting, in part, and denying, in part, 29 Plaintiff's Motion on Entitlement to Attorney's Fees and Expenses. The parties are directed to confer and file a notice no later than September 2, 2022. Signed by Judge Marcia Morales Howard on 8/1/2022. (JW)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
Case No. 3:21-cv-995-MMH-PDB
FLAGLER COUNTY SCHOOL
THIS CAUSE is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation
(Doc. 39; Report) entered by the Honorable Patricia D. Barksdale, United States
Magistrate Judge, on May 12, 2022. In the Report, the Magistrate Judge
recommends that the Court grant, in part, and deny, in part, Plaintiff’s Motion
on Entitlement to Attorney's Fees and Expenses and Supporting Memorandum
of Law (Doc. 29; Motion) filed by Reba Johnson ("Plaintiff"). See Report at 34.
Specifically, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court find Plaintiff is
entitled to an award of reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in prosecuting this
action and an award of costs under 28 U.S.C. § 1920 but not to an award of
expenses outside of those permitted under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1821 and 1920. Id. The
Magistrate Judge also recommends that the undersigned direct the parties to
confer in good faith on a reasonable amount of attorney’s fees incurred in
prosecuting this action and, in the event that issues remain after the parties
confer, direct the Magistrate Judge to conduct a telephone conference to discuss
and resolve the issues speedily and efficiently. Id. Finally, the Magistrate Judge
recommends that the Court delay entry of a judgment on attorney’s fees until
after an agreement or decision on the reasonable amounts is reached. Id. On
June 2, 2022, the Flagler County School District ("District" or "Defendant") filed
Defendant's Response and Written Objections to Certain Portions of the
General Magistrate's Report and Recommendation (Doc. 42; Objections). 1
Plaintiff filed a response to the Defendant’s Objections on June 13, 2022. See
generally Plaintiff’s Response to Defendant’s R&R Objection (Doc. 45;
Response). Accordingly, this matter is ripe for review.
Because the Court finds that Defendant’s Objections are due to be
overruled and the Report is due to be adopted as the Court’s opinion, the Court
will not repeat the factual background or the arguments and authority
Instead, the Court writes briefly only to address the
Defendant is advised that Judge Barksdale is a United States Magistrate Judge, not a
“General Magistrate,” and thus should be referred to, respectfully, as “Judge Barksdale” or
the “Magistrate Judge.” See generally 28 U.S.C. § 636; United States v. Fleming, No. 3:09-cv153-J-34HTS, 2009 WL 10671227 at n.2 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 1, 2009).
Plaintiff, a student in the Flagler County School system, sued the District
to enforce an agreement made during a mediation conducted under § 615 of the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), codified and amended at
20 U.S.C. § 1415 (§ 1415). See Report at 1. At the request of the parties, the
Court entered a Consent Decree and reserved jurisdiction to enforce the Decree.
Following the entry of the Consent Decree, Plaintiff filed the instant
Motion seeking a determination that she is entitled to an award of attorney’s
fees and expenses. Id. The Motion was referred to the Magistrate Judge to
prepare a report and recommendation. See (Doc. 29).
In the Report, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court
determine that Plaintiff is entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees and costs
because § 1415 authorizes a “prevailing party” in a lawsuit to enforce an
agreement reached through an IDEA mediation to recover reasonable
attorney’s fees. See Report at 29, 34. Additionally, the Magistrate Judge
recommends the Court find that Plaintiff did not have to assert a separate cause
of action to determine whether she can collect attorney’s fees. Id. at 32-33.
Finally, the Magistrate Judge recommends the Court deny Plaintiff's Motion to
the extent she seeks a determination that she is entitled to "something beyond
costs under § 1920, as limited by § 1821, and reasonable attorney's fees." Id. at
Standard of Review
The Court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings
or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.”
28 U.S.C. § 636(b).
Pursuant to Rule 72, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Rule(s)), the Court “must
determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge’s disposition that has been
properly objected to.”
See Rule 72(b)(3); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
However, a party waives the right to challenge on appeal any unobjected-to
factual and legal conclusions.
See 11th Cir. R. 3-1. 2
As such, the Court
reviews those portions of the Magistrate Judge’s findings to which no objection
was filed for plain error and only if necessary, in the interests of justice. See
id.; see also Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985) (“It does not appear that
Congress intended to require district court review of a magistrate [judge’s]
factual or legal conclusions, under a de novo or any other standard, when
neither party objects to those findings.”); Dupree v. Warden, 715 F.3d 1295,
1304-05 (11th Cir. 2013) (recommending the adoption of what would become
11th Circuit Rule 3-1 so that district courts do not have “to spend significant
amounts of time and resources reviewing every issue—whether objected to or
The Magistrate Judge properly informed the parties of the time period for objecting and the
consequences of failing to do so. See Report at 34.
In the Objections, Defendant first argues that the Court should deny the
Plaintiff’s Motion using the discretion granted by 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B). See
Objections at 10-13; §1415(i)(3)(B) (stating “the court in its discretion, may
award reasonable attorneys’ fees…to a prevailing party” in an action or
proceeding under § 1415) (emphasis added). In support, Defendant asserts that
the Consent Decree reached is not in Plaintiff’s best interest and, thus, Plaintiff
did not benefit significantly enough from the relief granted to warrant a
determination that she is a prevailing party who is entitled to attorney’s fees.
See Objections 10-13. In her Response, Plaintiff notes that Defendant failed to
raise the argument before Judge Barksdale, and as such, contends that the
Court should decline to consider it. See Response at 2. Alternatively, Plaintiff
asserts that this objection lacks merit because (1) Defendant’s stipulations in
the Consent Decree foreclose its contention that the Decree is not in Plaintiff’s
best interest; (2) “[D]efendant’s assertion that a jointly entered consent decree
is not in the [P]laintiff’s best interest is not a basis for denying fees”; and (3)
Defendant’s argument is based on “irrelevant” and “unsupported” assertions
and claims. Id. at 2-3.
As an additional objection, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff is not eligible
to receive an award of the attorney’s fees because she had been determined
incompetent to proceed in a state court criminal proceeding. See Objections at
13. Plaintiff disagrees, arguing that under Florida law, a person maintains her
decision-making rights even when a criminal court finds her incompetent to
proceed. See Response at 8.
Neither of the arguments raised in the Objections were presented to the
Magistrate Judge. Instead, both are made for the first time only after entry of
the Report. In its response to Plaintiff’s Motion, Defendant asserted only that
(1) Plaintiff’s action for a breach of a mediation agreement is not an action or
proceeding under § 1415 which would allow Plaintiff to collect attorney’s fee; (2)
Plaintiff is not a prevailing party; and (3) Plaintiff should have made her
request for attorney’s fees as a separate cause of action. See generally
Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Motion on Entitlement to Attorney's Fees
and Expenses and Supporting Memorandum of Law (Doc. 31). Thus, both of the
arguments Defendant makes in the Objections are untimely. While the Court
has discretion to consider an untimely argument, it is not required to do so.
Indeed, Eleventh Circuit precedent expressly provides the district court with
discretion “to decline to consider a party’s argument when that argument was
not first presented to a magistrate judge.” Williams v. McNeil, 557 F.3d 1287,
1292 (11th Cir. 2009) ("Thus, we answer the question left open in Stephens [v.
Tolbert, 471 F.3d 1173, 1174 (11th Cir. 2006)] and hold that a district court has
discretion to decline to consider a party's argument when that argument was
not first presented to the magistrate judge."); see also Knight v. Thompson, 797
F.3d 934, 937 n.1 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Williams for the proposition that
"district courts have discretion to decline to consider arguments that are not
presented to the magistrate judge"); Lodge v. Kondaur Capital Corp., 750 F.3d
1263, 1274 (11th Cir. 2014) (citing Williams for the proposition that "a district
court, in reviewing an R&R, has discretion to decline to consider a party's
argument that was not first presented to a magistrate judge"). In consideration
of the record and the arguments presented to the Magistrate Judge, the Court
declines to consider Defendant’s newly raised arguments, including those
inconsistent with the stipulations in the Consent Decree. As such, Defendant’s
Objections are due to be overruled. The Court will accept and adopt the
Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation. Accordingly, it is hereby
1. Defendant’s Response and Written Objections to Certain Portions of the
2. The Report and Recommendation (Doc. 39) of the Magistrate Judge is
ADOPTED as the opinion of the Court.
3. Plaintiff’s Motion on Entitlement to Attorney's Fees and Expenses and
Supporting Memorandum of Law (Doc. 29) is GRANTED, IN PART,
AND, DENIED, IN PART.
a. The Motion is GRANTED to the extent that it is DETERMINED
that Plaintiff is found to be a prevailing party entitled to an award
of reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in prosecuting this action and
costs under 28 U.S.C. § 1920.
b. The Motion is otherwise DENIED.
4. The parties are DIRECTED to confer in good faith on reasonable
attorney’s fees incurred in prosecuting this action and § 1920 costs and
notify the Court no later than September 2, 2022, whether they have
agreed on an amount or whether issues remain. If issues remain, the
Magistrate Judge is DIRECTED to conduct a telephone conference to
discuss the issues and ways to resolve them speedily and efficiently and,
if necessary, establish a briefing schedule.
DONE AND ORDERED in Jacksonville, Florida this 1st day of August,
Counsel of Record
The Honorable Patricia D. Barksdale
United States Magistrate Judge
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