L et al v. JACKSON COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD et al
ORDER denying 148 Motion for Attorney Fees; denying 150 Motion to Stay. Signed by JUDGE RICHARD SMOAK on 1/6/2015. (jem)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
PANAMA CITY DIVISION
A.L., and P.L.B.,
CASE NO. 5:13-cv-85-RS-GRJ
JACKSON COUNTY SCHOOL
Before me are the Defendant’s Motion for Attorneys’ Fees and Costs (Doc.
148), Plaintiffs’ “Motion for Stay of Consideration of Attorney Fees until Appeal
is Finished. And, Response Opposition to Defendant’s Amended Motion for
Attorney Fees and Costs” (Doc. 150), and Defendant’s Response to Plaintiffs’
Motion for Stay of Consideration of Attorney Fees until Appeal is Finished (Doc.
I find it appropriate to consider the matter without waiting for the outcome
of the pending appeal. However, after consideration, I decline to exercise my
discretion to award any attorneys’ fees to the prevailing defendant.
This case stems from an administrative lawsuit filed by P.L.B. on behalf of
her son, A.L., and by their attorney, Rosemary Palmer, alleging that the Jackson
County School Board failed to provide A.L. with a Fair and Adequate Public
Education as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(“IDEA”). After an extensive six-week hearing on the matter, an Administrative
Law Judge issued a 191-page opinion on December 27, 2012, finding that the
complaint lacked any merit.
On March 27, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in this court seeking appeal of
the Administrative Law Judge’s decision, and later added claims for violations of
the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Rehabilitation Act, and the
Fourth Amendment. That litigation, which was plagued by missed deadlines
incomplete filings by Plaintiffs’ counsel, came to an end on October 30, 2014. I
issued an Order (Doc. 143) granting summary judgment in favor of the School
Board on all counts.
The School Board now moves for attorneys’ fees against Palmer and P.L.B.
under the ADA, Rehabilitation Act, IDEA, and analogous Florida laws. The Board
requests over $661,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
Plaintiffs’ Motion to Stay
Plaintiffs have requested that Defendants’ motion for fees be stayed pending
resolution of their appeal of the underlying case. However, Plaintiffs cite no legal
basis for this request, nor does there appear to be any. The motion is therefore
Defendant’s Motion for Fees and Costs
Defendant seeks attorneys’ fees pursuant to the ADA, Rehabilitation Act,
IDEA, and Florida Administrative Code.
The Rehabilitation Act provides that in such actions “the court, in its
discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a
reasonable attorney’s fee as part of the costs.” 29 U.S.C. § 794a(b). The ADA
provides for nearly identical relief. 42 U.S.C. § 12205.
The IDEA, provides that “the court, in its discretion, may award reasonable
attorneys’ fees as part of the costs—
(II) to a prevailing party who is a State educational agency or local
educational agency against the attorney of a parent who files a complaint or
subsequent cause of action that is frivolous, unreasonable, or without
foundation, or against the attorney of a parent who continued to litigate after
the litigation clearly became frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation;
(III) to a prevailing State educational agency or local educational agency
against the attorney of a parent, or against the parent, if the parent's
complaint or subsequent cause of action was presented for any improper
purpose, such as to harass, to cause unnecessary delay, or to needlessly
increase the cost of litigation.
20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i) (emphasis added).
The Board argues that it should be entitled to fees and costs incurred during
the administrative proceeding under both IDEA provisions, and for fees and costs
incurred during the district court proceedings under both IDEA provisions as well
as the Rehabilitation Act and ADA provisions.
1. The Administrative Proceedings
The Board first argues that the claims asserted during the administrative
proceedings were frivolous and were asserted for an improper purpose. Both of
these arguments fail.
The Board’s arguments are undeveloped, citing no case law or other
authority beyond a bald recitation of the statute. They instead rely on conclusory
statements and claim that the Plaintiffs’ case must have been frivolous because it
was found to be without merit. Their argument is not sufficient to overcome the
Supreme Court’s and Eleventh Circuit’s frequent caution against “hindsight bias”
in awarding fees to prevailing defendants—that is, courts should not assume that a
plaintiff’s argument was frivolous just because she lost the case. See, e.g., Johnson
v. Florida, 348 F.3d 1334, 1354. The board’s argument is not developed enough to
distinguish itself from the hindsight fallacy or in any event overcome the
“stringent” standard for showing frivolity. Id. Rather, the rote claims that the
Plaintiffs “failed to produce any evidence to support any of the 35 pages of
allegations,” (Doc. 148 at 7), are too conclusory to meet the standard for
frivolity—a standard that the Board does not even bother to cite or explain in its
In the exercise of my discretion, I therefore decline to award attorneys’ fees
incurred by the School Board during the administrative proceedings.
2. The District Court Proceedings
The Board next argues that it is entitled to fees and costs incurred during the
district court proceedings. It claims that it is entitled to fees under both IDEA
provisions, as well as the ADA and Rehabilitation Act.
The argument for fees under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act is wholly
undeveloped; such fees are only summarily requested in the last line of the
argument. I therefore decline to award fees under those statutes.
The argument for fees under IDEA fails for many of the same reasons as the
request for fees for the administrative proceedings. The Board’s memorandum
cites no case law governing the appropriate standards for an award of attorneys’
fees in this case.
The Board instead first makes the argument that because Plaintiffs never
came through on their promises to provide additional evidence, they must have
known that the case was frivolous. This argument again suffers from hindsight
bias, as it presumes that without the promised additional evidence, the case must
have been frivolous because the Plaintiffs lost on the merits below.
The Board next argues that several of Plaintiffs’ legal arguments were so
poor that the case must have been frivolous. Because it cites no authority for this
assertion, I reject the argument.
Finally, the Board summarily argues that because Plaintiffs delayed the
litigation and never produced the additional evidence, the matter must have been
brought to harass and delay. Again, it cites no authority, and again, I reject the
Therefore, in the exercise of my discretion, I decline to award attorneys’ fees
incurred by the School Board during the district court proceedings.
Defendant’s Motion for Attorneys’ Fees and Costs (Doc. 148) is DENIED.
Plaintiffs’ Motion for Stay of Consideration of Attorney Fees until Appeal is
Finished (Doc. 150) is DENIED.
ORDERED on January 6, 2015.
/s/ Richard Smoak
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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