S. et al v. HATBORO-HORSHAM SCHOOL DISTRICT
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION RE: MOTION FOR APPROVAL OF PLAINTIFFS' ATTORNEYS' FEES. SIGNED BY DISTRICT JUDGE JOSHUA D. WOLSON ON 5/09/2022. 5/09/2022 ENTERED AND E-MAILED.(ja)
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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
Yuliya S. and Alexis P., individually and on
behalf of their minor child, A. P.
Case No. 2:21-cv-02011
Hatboro-Horsham School District,
The Court has approved the substantive terms of the Settlement Agreement between
Plaintiffs Yuliya S. and Alexis P. (“Parents”) and Defendant Hatboro-Horsham School District,
resolving Parents’ claims alleging violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. After
receiving additional information from Parents regarding the proposed amount of attorneys’
fees, the Court is able to assess the reasonableness of that amount and will approve Parents’
request for attorneys’ fees.
Because the Court writes for the benefit of the Parties, and because resolution of
Parents’ Motion To Approve Plaintiffs’ Attorneys’ Fees does not turn on the underlying facts
of this matter, the Court need not recite the full factual and procedural history. Instead, the
Court incorporates by reference the factual recitation set forth in its prior Memorandum. See
Yuliya S. v. Hatboro-Horsham Sch. Dist., No. 2:21-CV-02011, 2022 WL 1157653, at *1
(E.D. Pa. Apr. 19, 2022).
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In the prior Memorandum and Order, the Court granted Parents’ motion to approve
the substantive parts of their Settlement Agreement with the School District, but it denied
their request for attorneys’ fees, as Parents had not provided the Court with any
documentation to assess the reasonableness of those fees. In denying that portion of the
Settlement Agreement, the Court granted Parents leave to file a renewed motion for approval
of the attorneys’ fees. Parents’ renewed motion is before the Court.
Local Rule 41.2 requires court approval for any settlement involving a minor. See
Local R. 41.2(a). In evaluating the proposed settlement, the Court must “determine the
fairness of [the] settlement agreement and the reasonableness of any attorneys' fees to be
paid from the settlement amount ….” Nice v. Centennial Area Sch. Dist., 98 F. Supp. 2d 665,
667 (E.D. Pa. 2000). To determine the fairness of a minor's compromise in a federal civil
rights action, the Court looks to state law. See id. at 669.
Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 2039(a) provides that “[n]o action to which a
minor is a party shall be compromised, settled[,] or discontinued except after approval by
the court pursuant to a petition presented by the guardian of the minor.” Pa. R. Civ. P.
2039(a). When the Court approves a minor’s compromise, it shall “make an order approving
or disapproving any agreement entered into by the guardian for the payment of counsel fees
and other expenses out of the fund created by the compromise[.]” Id. at 2039(b).
The Court’s Authority To Assess Attorneys’ Fees
Local Rule of Civil Procedure 41.2(a) provides that “[n]o claim of a minor … shall be
compromised, settled, or dismissed unless approved by the court.” L. R. Civ. P. 41.2(a). That
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rule gives effect to the Court’s “inherent and important duty to protect the interests of minors
… who appear before it,” including to “ensure that the settlement does not infringe upon
the substantive rights of the minor.” Milillo v. CEC Ent., Inc., No. 16-cv-298, 2016 WL
4039646, at *1 (E.D. Pa. July 28, 2016) (citation omitted).
Pursuant to the Settlement Agreement, the District is paying Parents’ attorneys’ fees
separate and apart from the other substantive terms in the agreement, rather than from an
overall settlement fund. The plain language of the Local Rule makes clear that the Court is
tasked with approving the Settlement Agreement, which includes a provision requiring the
District to pay Parents’ attorneys’ fees. (ECF No. 35-1 at ¶ 11.) Because the Court is
empowered to review all of the terms of Settlement Agreement, including the term governing
attorneys’ fees, the Court may assess the reasonableness of those fees, just as it does when
confronted with any fee petition. Indeed, in their prior motion to approve the Settlement
Agreement, Parents recognized that “[i]n considering motions to approve a minor’s
compromise, courts generally evaluate … the reasonableness of the requested counsel fees.”
(ECF No. 32 at ¶ 15.)
Parents invoke Local Rule 41.2(c) and argue that the Court lacks the power to
consider and approve the request for attorneys’ fees because the fees do not come from a
common fund. But Rule 41.2(c) does not mean that the Court lacks the power to approve a
settlement that pays fees separately from the settlement fund. If it did mean that, then the
rule would create an enormous loophole, and the Court would not be able to determine
“whether the settlement … is fair and in the best interests of the minor.” Dennis v. Pfizer
Inc., No. 18-cv-2501, 2021 WL 5788458, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 6, 2021) (quotation omitted).
The reality is that many defendants have a fixed amount of money they are willing to pay to
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resolve a case, and they might be agnostic about dividing it between the plaintiff and
plaintiff’s counsel and about the structure of that division. But in a case involving a minor or
incapacitated person, Rule 41.2(a) requires the Court to make sure the division protects the
minor’s or incapacitated person’s interests, regardless of structure.
Reasonableness Of Attorneys’ Fees
In statutory fee-shifting cases such as this one, courts utilize the lodestar method to
assess whether the proposed attorneys’ fees are reasonable. See S.S. Body Armor I., Inc. v.
Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, 927 F.3d 763, 773 (3d Cir. 2019). Pursuant to the lodestar
method, the Court multiplies the number of hours the attorney(s) “reasonably worked on a
client’s case by a reasonable hourly billing rate for such services given the geographical
area, the nature of the services provided, and the experience of the lawyer.” Id. (quotation
To determine whether an attorney’s hourly rate is reasonable, the Court looks to the
prevailing market rate in the forum where the case is being litigated. See Interfaith Cmty.
Org. v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc., 426 F.3d 694, 704-05 (3d Cir. 2005). The Community Legal
Services of Philadelphia’s sample fee schedule 1 indicates that Parents’ counsels’ hourly rates
are reasonable. In addition, the Court has reviewed counsels’ time entries and concludes
that the hours they spent representing Parents over the course of three years, at the
administrative level and in this litigation, are reasonable. Thus, the total fees of $271,335
are presumptively reasonable. See S.S. Body Armor, 927 F.3d at 773. The reduced fee of
$52,500 in the Settlement Agreement is also reasonable.
The CLS fee schedule is available online at https://clsphila.org/about-community-legalservices/attorney-fees/.
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For the reasons stated above, the Court will approve the attorneys’ fee portion of the
Settlement Agreement. An appropriate Order follows.
BY THE COURT:
/s/ Joshua D. Wolson
HON. JOSHUA D. WOLSON
United States District Judge
May 9, 2022
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