A.P. et al v. Shamokin Area School District
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re: 14 Cross MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by A.P., and 12 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by Shamokin Area School District. Signed by Honorable Matthew W. Brann on 10/5/2017. (jn)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
A.P., a minor,
P.T., as parent and guardian of A.P.,
OCTOBER 5, 2017
Proportionality. This adjective, defined as: ‘of two quantities having the
same or a constant ratio or relation,’ has been liberated from use by mere
statisticians by assimilation into the recent amendments to the discovery rules of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This mathematical concept applies across
the law, even when the term itself has not been used. In the seminal case on
‘relational’ attorney’s fees, Hensley v. Eckerhart, Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr.
Although the plaintiff often may succeed in identifying some unlawful
practices or conditions, the range of possible success is vast. That the
plaintiff is a ‘prevailing party’ therefore may say little about whether
the expenditure of counsel’s time was reasonable in relation to the
461 U.S. 424, 436 (1983).
The fact that this concept of proportionality has been used throughout the
law underscores the law’s understanding of balance and comparative necessity.
As such, although statutes allow fee shifting, the concept of relational attorney’s
fees ensures that the American Rule isn’t completely displaced.
Plaintiffs A.P., a minor, and her mother P.T., filed a complaint in this Court
against Defendant Shamokin Area School District, for attorney’s fees following a
decision of a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania special education hearing officer in
a special education due process hearing. That decision was rendered in Plaintiffs
favor. Plaintiffs now move for attorney’s fees pursuant to statutory fee shifting
authority set forth in Individuals with Disabilities in Education Improvement Act
of 2004, 20 U.S.C.A. §§ 1400 et. seq., hereinafter “IDEIA” or “IDEA,” and Title V
of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 791, et. seq., specifically Section
504, hereinafter “Section 504” or “the Rehabilitation Act.”
The parties cross filed for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, I
find that Plaintiffs are entitled to attorney’s fees as the ‘prevailing party’ at the
state due process hearing. However, this Memorandum Opinion examines the
extent of fees to be awarded to the prevailing party when the prevailing party
succeeds on far fewer than all the claims brought. I have the authority to decide
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this issue on a motion for summary judgment because “it is the role of the Court to
review the hours billed and decide which are appropriately billed and which are
excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.”2
Motion for Summary Judgment Standard
“One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate
and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses, and we think it should be
interpreted in a way that allows it to accomplish this purpose.”3 Summary
judgment is appropriate where “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”4
“Facts that could alter the outcome are ‘material facts,’ and disputes are ‘genuine’
if evidence exists from which a rational person could conclude that the position of
the person with the burden of proof on the disputed issue is correct.”5
“A defendant meets this standard when there is an absence of evidence that
rationally supports the plaintiff’s case.”6 “A plaintiff, on the other hand, must
Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W. Virginia Dep’t of Health & Human Res., 532 U.S.
598, 602, (2001).
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323–24 (1986).
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).
Clark v. Modern Grp. Ltd., 9 F.3d 321, 326 (3d Cir. 1993) (Hutchinson, J.) (citing Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) and Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322).
Clark, 9 F.3d at 326.
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point to admissible evidence that would be sufficient to show all elements of a
prima facie case under applicable substantive law.”7
“[T]he inquiry involved in a ruling on a motion for summary judgment or for
a directed verdict necessarily implicates the substantive evidentiary standard of
proof that would apply at the trial on the merits.”8 Thus, “[i]f the defendant in a
run-of-the-mill civil case moves for summary judgment or for a directed verdict
based on the lack of proof of a material fact, the judge must ask himself not
whether he thinks the evidence unmistakably favors one side or the other but
whether a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the plaintiff on the evidence
presented.”9 “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the
plaintiff’s position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury
could reasonably find for the plaintiff.”10 “The judge’s inquiry, therefore,
unavoidably asks . . . ‘whether there is [evidence] upon which a jury can properly
proceed to find a verdict for the party producing it, upon whom the onus of proof is
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 252.
Id. (quoting Schuylkill & Dauphin Imp. Co. v. Munson, 81 U.S. 442, 447 (1871)).
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Summary judgment therefore is “where the rubber meets the road” for a
plaintiff, as the evidentiary record at trial, by rule, will typically never surpass that
which was compiled during the course of discovery. “In this respect, summary
judgment is essentially ‘put up or shut up’ time for the non-moving party.”12
“[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility
of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those
portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions
on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact.”13 “[R]egardless of whether the
moving party accompanies its summary judgment motion with affidavits, the
motion may, and should, be granted so long as whatever is before the district court
demonstrates that the standard for the entry of summary judgment, as set forth in
Rule 56(c), is satisfied.”14
Where the movant properly supports his motion, the nonmoving party, to
avoid summary judgment, must answer by setting forth “genuine factual issues that
properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be
Berckeley Inv. Grp., Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006) (Fisher, J.).
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323 (internal quotations omitted).
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resolved in favor of either party.”15 For movants and nonmovants alike, the
assertion “that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed” must be supported by:
(i) “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” that go beyond “mere
allegations”; (ii) “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or
presence of a genuine dispute”; or (iii) “showing . . . that an adverse party cannot
produce admissible evidence to support the fact.”16
“When opposing summary judgment, the non-movant may not rest upon
mere allegations, but rather must ‘identify those facts of record which would
contradict the facts identified by the movant.’”17 Moreover, “[i]f a party fails to
properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party’s
assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may . . . consider the fact
undisputed for purposes of the motion.”18 On motion for summary judgment,
“[t]he court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other
materials in the record.”19
Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 250.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1).
Port Auth. of N.Y. and N.J. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 311 F.3d 226, 233 (3d Cir. 2003) (Weis,
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2).
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(3).
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“[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge’s function is not himself to
weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether
there is a genuine issue for trial.”20 “[T]here is no issue for trial unless there is
sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for
that party.”21 “If the evidence is merely colorable . . . or is not significantly
probative, summary judgment may be granted.”22
“The standard by which the court decides a summary judgment motion does
not change when the parties file cross-motions.”23 “When ruling on cross motions
for summary judgment, the court must consider the motions independently,24 and
view the evidence on each motion in the light most favorable to the party opposing
Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249.
Id. at 249–50 (internal citations omitted).
Weissman v. United States Postal Serv., 19 F. Supp. 2d 254, 259 (D.N.J. 1998) citing
Southeastern Transp. Auth. v. Pennsylvania Pub. Utility Comm’n, 826 F.Supp. 1506, 1512
(E.D.Pa.1993), aff’d, 27 F.3d 558 (3d Cir.1994).
Id. citing Williams v. Philadelphia Housing Authority, 834 F. Supp. 794, 797 (E.D. Pa.
1993), aff’d, 27 F.3d 560 (3d Cir. 1994).
See Matsushita Elec. Insur. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
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Attorney’s Fees Standard Under the Statutes
As late Justice Antonin Scalia has explained, “under th[e] ‘American Rule,’
we follow ‘a general practice of not awarding fees to a prevailing party absent
explicit statutory authority.’”26 That statutory authority exists here.
Prevailing Party Status
Both the IDEIA and the Rehabilitation Act provide for fee shifting.
Specifically, the IDEIA provides “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 the prevailing party who is the parent of a child with a disability.”27
The provision in the Rehabilitation Act is similar, stating, “in any action or
proceeding to enforce or charge a violation of a provision of this subchapter, 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.”28 Both are “worded similarly to
corresponding clauses in civil rights statutes, such as [42 U.S.C.] §
1988…therefore, courts have held that the appropriate analysis in fee disputes
under the IDEA [and the Rehabilitation Act] is that developed under § 1988.”29
Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W. Virginia Dep’t of Health & Human Res., 532 U.S.
598, 602, (2001) citing Key Tronic Corp. v. U.S., 511 U.S. 809, 819, (1994).
20 U.S.C.A. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(I); 34 C.F.R. § 300.517(a)(1)(i).
29 U.S.C.A. § 794a.
W.L.G. v. Houston Cty. Bd. of Educ., 975 F. Supp. 1317, 1322 (M.D. Ala. 1997)
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However, “only the tribunal that hears the substantive claim [has the authority to]
to award attorney’s fees as part of the costs” under the Rehabilitation Act.30
Accordingly, although the analysis of the three statutes may be used
interchangeably, it is with the understanding that any award here is based only on
the IDEIA, as this was not the tribunal that heard the Rehabilitation Act claim.
Under the IDEIA, “the Court is vested with discretion to award ‘reasonable’
attorney’s fees to the parents of a disabled child who is the prevailing party.”31
Thus, the first question presented in the matter at hand is the extent to which
Plaintiffs were the prevailing party.
To understand when one is the prevailing party, the Court must explore the
intent of the IDEIA. “The IDEIA provides federal funds to help state and local
education agencies meet their obligation to educate students with disabilities.”32
“To be eligible to receive these federal funds, states must comply with an extensive
array of requirements.”33 “Chief among these is the state’s obligation to enact a
policy that ensures that every student with a disability will receive a free,
Children’s Ctr. for Developmental Enrichment v. Machle, 612 F.3d 518, 522 (6th Cir. 2010).
174 A.L.R. Fed. 453.
37 Causes of Action 2d 447.
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appropriate public education.”34 The concept of a free, appropriate public
education is so vital to the statute that practitioners have abbreviated this term to
the acronym FAPE.
The United States Supreme “Court determined that when Congress enacted
the IDEIA, it primarily sought to make public education available to disabled
students, and that implicit in such a purpose was a requirement that the public
education be sufficient to confer some educational benefit on the disabled
student.”35 “Nevertheless, the Court cautioned, Congress did not impose any
greater substantive educational standard than is necessary to make access
The ‘degree of success’ standard articulated by the United States Supreme
Court in Hensley, supra, governs attorney’s fees awards in IDEIA cases. “A
‘prevailing party’ must be successful in the sense that it has been awarded some
relief by a court.”37 “The touchstone of the prevailing party inquiry must be the
material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties in a manner which
A.W. v. E. Orange Bd. of Educ., 248 F. App’x 363, 364 (3d Cir. 2007) (internal citations
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Congress sought to promote in the fee statute.”38 “Under the IDEA, a prevailing
party is one that attains a remedy that both (1) alters the legal relationship between
the school district and the handicapped child and (2) fosters the purposes of the
IDEA.”39 “While a party does not need to prevail on every issue to become a
prevailing party, she must prevail on some ‘significant issue in litigation which
achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit.’”40
The United States Supreme Court has explained “respect for ordinary
language requires that a plaintiff receive at least some relief on the merits of his
claim before he can be said to prevail.”41 “The plaintiff must be able to point to a
resolution of the dispute which changes the legal relationship between itself and
the defendant.”42 “Beyond this absolute limitation, a technical victory may be so
insignificant… as to be insufficient to support prevailing party status.”43 “Where
the plaintiff’s success on a legal claim can be characterized as purely technical or
de minimis, a district court would be justified in concluding that even the
Alief Indep. Sch. Dist. v. C.C. ex rel. Kenneth C., 713 F.3d 268, 270 (5th Cir. 2013) (internal
Id. citing Hensley at 433.
Texas State Teachers Ass’n v. Garland Indep. Sch. Dist., 489 U.S. 782, 792 (1989) (internal
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“generous formulation” we adopt today has not been satisfied.”44 “The touchstone
of the prevailing party inquiry must be the material alteration of the legal
relationship of the parties in a manner which Congress sought to promote in the fee
statute.”45 “Where such a change has occurred, the degree of the plaintiff’s overall
success goes to the reasonableness of the award under Hensley, not to the
availability of a fee award vel non.”46
The particulars of the case at bar are, as follows. On November 17, 2015,
Plaintiff, A.P.’s mother, P.T., filed a special education due process hearing
complaint with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Office for Dispute
Resolution.47 The complaint was a nine-count complaint asserting that the school
district failed to develop an evaluation report (Count I); failed to convene an
individualized education program team (Count II); failed to adequately develop the
October 9, 2013 individualized education plan (Count III); failed to adequately
develop the October 6, 2014 individualized education plan (Count IV); failed to
adequately develop the September 17, 2015 individualized education plan (Count
V); violated her right to a free, adequate public education in the least restrictive
Id. at 792-3.
Id. at 793.
ECF No. 13-2 at 1-18.
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environment (Count VI); failed to provide a free, adequate public education, failed
to implement an individualized educational plan, and/or failed to convene an
individualized education plan team (Count VII); violated her due process rights
for failure to provide expulsion rights (Count VIII); and denied a free, appropriate
public education by a failure to provide manifestation determination rights (Count
A.P. began in the school district in the autumn 2013 as a second grade
student and continued there through the third grade. She left that school district
after the third grade and is currently enrolled at a private school.48 A.P. is autistic,
and the parties agree that she is ‘disabled’ under the relevant statutes.49 On
October 12, 2011, A.P.’s prior school district issued a reevaluation report as
required by the IDEIA.50 Shamokin Area School District had not conducted
another assessment or evaluation since that report from the prior school district.51
When A.P. began at Shamokin Area School District, the District
implemented the individualized education plan (“IEP”) from her prior school
ECF No. 13-1 at 7.
ECF No. 13-1 7.
ECF No. 13-1 at 8.
ECF No. 13-1 at 8.
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district.52 A.P.’s “behaviors were severe and inappropriate when first arriving at the
school district.”53 In her first full month at the Shamokin Area School District,
this second grade student had a tantrum that broke her teacher’s nose, gave that
teacher a concussion, and broke the classroom aide’s ankle.54 As a result, the
school district reduced A.P.’s school day by an hour and fifteen minutes.55 This
was not done to punish her, but rather was on the recommendation of the special
education director from A.P.’s prior school district.56 On October 3, 2014, P.T.
signed an agreement to waive reevaluation of A.P.57 Thirteen months later, P.T.
filed for the special education due process hearing.
Plaintiff sought the following:
an order for the payment of an independent educational evaluation,
(“IEE”); an order for the payment of a speech and language IEE; an
order for the payment of a sensory processing IEE; an order for
payment of an assistive technology IEE; an order for payment of a
functional behavior IEE; an order for the school district to develop
adequate IEP goals and SDI to address all of the Student’s areas of
need; and attorney’s fees and costs associated with this complaint and
due process hearing. . .
ECF No. 13-1 at 9.
ECF No. 13-1 at 9.
ECF No. 13-1 at 9.
ECF No. 13-1 at 10.
ECF No. 13-1 at 19.
ECF No. 13-1 at 10.
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The Parent also seeks compensatory education for the time period
referenced throughout this complaint to until such time an adequate
educational program is developed and implemented. Regarding the
computation of a quantitative amount of compensatory education, the
parent requests that the school district provide a copy of the
bargaining agreement(s) with its teacher’s union covering the last
three (3) years. Plaintiffs also request that the school district include
corresponding pay scales and any and all information pertaining to the
value of employee benefits, including but not limited to life and health
Alternatively, the Parent also requests a qualitative amount of
compensatory education to address the denial of FAPE. The Parent
seeks a reasonable amount of compensatory education which would
be provided until such time that the student would be in a position that
the student should have been in had the school district provided FAPE
in the least restrictive environment.
In order to implement this remedy, the Parent also seeks that the
hearing officer appoint a qualified third party to develop, oversee and
monitor the Student’ s compensatory education services and goals.
This program would be based upon the independent evaluations
described above. The overseeing third party and compensatory
education services would be provided at school district expense. The
Parent requests that the compensatory education services and
associated monitoring remain in place until the Student meets his
compensatory education goals.58
After two days of testimony, the hearing officer found only that the
“violation proven by Petitioner in the instant case involves the school district’s
failure to conduct a timely reevaluation and to fully assess the student.”59
The hearing officer ultimately ordered the following relief:
ECF No. 13-2 at 16-17.
ECF No. 13-1 at 43.
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1. The school district is ordered to conduct a functional behavioral
analysis of the student within 30 days of the date of this decision;
2. The school district is ordered to conduct a nonverbal IQ test of the
student within 30 days of the date of this decision;
3. The school district is ordered to conduct a full reevaluation of the
student consistent with the instructions above within 60 days of the
date of this decision;
4. The school district is ordered to reconvene the student’s IEP team
within 90 days of the date of this order to discuss whether any
changes are needed to the student’s educational program or
behavioral intervention plan; and
5. All other relief requested in the instant due process complaint is
It is clear that Plaintiffs were the prevailing party at the state level, as the
hearing officer awarded relief that ‘materially altered’ the legal relationship
between the parties in a manner which Congress sought to promote in the statute.
However, the extent of Plaintiffs’ success is circumscribed.
“Where a party does not succeed on all of his claims, the court has discretion
to reduce the attorney’s fees award accordingly.”60 “Determining whether a
plaintiff’s losing claims warrant reduction is not a “mechanical” process, but
requires that [the Court] properly consider the parties’ achievements in a multiclaim context, considering, for example, hours spent on winning versus losing
Y.Z. ex rel. Arvizu v. Clark Cty. Sch. Dist., 54 F. Supp. 3d 1171, 1178–79 (D. Nev. 2014).
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claims, the level of success achieved, and the degree of overlap between successful
and unsuccessful claims.”61
In holding that A.P.’s rights were violated, the hearing officer condensed the
detailed complaint to five issues: 1) did the school district properly evaluate A.P;
2) was A.P. provided a FAPE; 3) Did the school district fail to educate A.P. in the
least restrictive environment; 4) did the school district violate the law by reducing
A.P.’s school day; and 5) did the school district violate the rules concerning
discipline of students with disabilities?62 The hearing officer found that A.P. was
to be awarded relief limited to the first issue, finding merely that “Respondent
failed to properly reevaluate the student and did not assess the student in all areas
of suspected disability.”63 The hearing officer held that A.P. was provided a FAPE
and educated in the least restrictive environment; and that the school district did
not violate the law by reducing her school day; nor did it violate the discipline
protections of the IDEIA.64 It is true that Plaintiffs prevailed, but only on one of
five issues. In sum, Plaintiffs were successful as to only twenty percent of their
ECF No. 13-1 at 6.
ECF No. 13-1 at 23.
ECF No. 13-1 at 24-
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Having determined that Plaintiffs were the ‘prevailing party,’ I next turn to
the question of the ‘reasonable’ amount of fees to award.
Fee disputes hinge upon “the ‘lodestar’ formula,” which requires
multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by a reasonable hourly
rate.”65 In determining a reasonable fee, district courts in this Circuit have been
instructed to apply “a burden-shifting type of procedure.”66 “A fee applicant bears
the burden of documenting the applicable hourly rate.”67 A reasonable rate is “the
community billing rate charged by attorneys of equivalent skill and experience
performing work of similar complexity.”68 “To inform and assist the court in the
exercise of its discretion, the burden is on the fee applicant to produce satisfactory
evidence—in addition to the attorney’s own affidavits—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.”69
Loughner v. Univ. of Pittsburgh, 260 F.3d 173, 177 (3d Cir. 2001) (Rosenn, J.) (citing
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983)).
Carey v. City of Wilkes-Barre, 496 F. App’x 234, 236 (3d Cir. 2012) (Fisher, J.).
Evans v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & New Jersey, 273 F.3d 346, 361 (3d Cir. 2001).
Student Pub. Interest Research Grp. of New Jersey, Inc. v. AT & T Bell Labs., 842 F.2d 1436,
1450 (3d Cir. 1988) (Becker, J.).
Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 896 n.11 (1984).
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Next, a court considers the number of hours reasonably expended on the
litigation. Similar to its review of the reasonable rate, the court may exclude hours
that were “excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.”70 Further, the court
can reduce the hours claimed by the number of hours “spent litigating claims on
which the party did not succeed and that were ‘distinct in all respects from’ claims
on which the party did succeed.”71 “[I]t is appropriate for the Court to treat the
fees in the manner in which the clients would be treated if the clients were paying
the fees directly.”72
“That the plaintiff is a ‘prevailing party’ therefore may say little about
whether the expenditure of counsel’s time was reasonable in relation to the success
achieved.”73 Thus, “[f]ollowing an objection to a fee request, district courts have
discretion to adjust the hours and rates and to increase or decrease the lodestar
based on other considerations raised by the respondent.”74 The court “may
Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990).
Smith v. Borough of Dunmore, 2008 WL 4542246, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 9, 2008) (Caputo, J.),
aff’d, 633 F.3d 176 (3d Cir. 2011) (Jordan, J.).
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 436 (1983).
Dee v. Borough of Dunmore, 548 F. App’x 58, 60 (3d Cir. 2013) (Hardiman, J.).
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attempt to identify specific hours that should be eliminated, or it may simply
reduce the award to account for the limited success.”75
“A reduced fee award is appropriate if the relief, however significant, is
limited in comparison to the scope of the litigation as a whole.”76 “Indeed, ‘the
most critical factor’ in determining the reasonableness of a fee award ‘is the degree
of success obtained.’”77 “We have already observed that if ‘a plaintiff has
achieved only partial or limited success, the product of hours reasonably expended
on the litigation as a whole times a reasonable hourly rate may be an excessive
“Work on an unsuccessful claim cannot be compensated because it was not
expended in pursuit of the ultimate result achieved.”79 “If a plaintiff has achieved
only partial or limited success, the product of hours reasonably expended on the
litigation as a whole times a reasonable hourly rate may be an excessive amount.”80
Hensley, 461 U.S. at 436–37.
Id. at 440.
Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 114 (1992) (quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at 436).
Farrar, 506 U.S. at 114 (quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at 436).
Hensley, 461 U.S. at 435 (internal citation omitted).
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“This will be true even where the plaintiff’s claims were interrelated, nonfrivolous,
and raised in good faith.”81
C. Plaintiffs will be awarded $3,338.80 for attorney’s fees and $681.00
In Beattie v. Line Mountain School District, a civil rights action, I set the
standard forum rates for attorneys in the Williamsport division of this Court to
range from $150 to $325 per hour, depending on the attorney’s experience, the
complexity of the litigation, and the quality of the submitted work product.82 I
have repeatedly affirmed this holding over the ensuing three years.83 “A
reasonable fee is one which is adequate to attract competent counsel, but which
does not produce windfalls to attorneys.”84
Turning , then, specifically to the IDEIA, I note that “under § 1415(i)(3)(C),
fees are to be based on rates prevailing in the community for the kind and quality
of services furnished.”85
2014 WL 3400975, at *10 (M.D. Pa. July 10, 2014).
See Nittany Outdoor Advert., LLC v. Coll. Twp., 2015 WL 1537616, at *1 (M.D. Pa. 2015);
Joe Hand Promotions, Inc. v. Tickle, 2016 WL 393797, at *1 (M.D. Pa. 2016); Keister v.
PPL Corp., 2016 WL 688031 (M.D. Pa. 2016), aff’d, 677 F. App’x 63 (3d Cir. 2017).
Pub. Interest Research Grp. of New Jersey, Inc. v. Windall, 51 F.3d 1179, 1185 (3d Cir.
1995) (internal citation omitted).
174 A.L.R. Fed. 453.
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Under § 1415(i)(3)(F), the court is generally instructed to reduce the
amount of attorney’s fees awarded whenever the court finds the
following: (1) the parent unreasonably protracted the final resolution
of the controversy; (2) the amount of the attorney’s fees otherwise
awardable unreasonably exceeds the hourly rate prevailing in the
community for similar services; (3) the time spent and legal services
furnished were excessive ; or (4) the parent’s attorney did not provide
to the school district the appropriate information in the due process
complaint in accordance with § 1415(b)(7). Under § 1415(i)(3)(G),
however, such a fee reduction is not required if the court finds that the
state or local educational agency unreasonably protracted the final
resolution of the action or proceeding or that there was a violation of §
In their motion for summary judgment, Plaintiffs’ initially requested an
award of $28,268.00.87 This amount is comprised of $281.00 for two night’s
lodging expense, and 98.2 hours of work at a rate, that he “voluntarily” reduced
from $400.00 per hour to $285.00.88 In Plaintiffs’ reply brief, they increase the
amount requested by $200.00, to $28,468.00 to represent a decrease in the
estimated hour expended in drafting the reply brief but to also add $400.00,
representing the cost of the filing fee to file the complaint.
Plaintiffs’ counsel justifies his rate by explaining that he “has exclusively
practiced special education law from 2000 to present, totaling over sixteen (16)
ECF No. 14 at 1.
ECF No. 17 at 14.
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years’ experience at the time of filing.”89 Plaintiffs’ counsel has a Master’s Degree
in Public Administration from Widener University and a Juris Doctorate from
American University. He began his practice of law as a special education defense
lawyer defending school districts.90 After three years of defense work, he opened a
private practice in 2004 and has only represented special needs students in special
education matters since that time.91
By comparison, Defense counsel, with twenty-eight years of experience in
this area of the law billed the District at a rate of $170.00 per hour.92 The District
recommends that the rate awarded to Plaintiffs’ counsel be reduced to the same
rate of that of Defense counsel, which is the rate the Shamokin region can afford.
That suggestion is thoroughly reasonable and persuasive and I will adopt it.
Plaintiffs’ counsel will therefore be awarded fees at a rate of $170 per hour.
Courts have routinely reduced the lodestar by a percentage to reflect the
degree of success obtained pursuant to Hensley.93 Because Plaintiffs succeeded on
only 20% of their claims, I reduce the hours expended by 80%.
ECF No. 15 at 5.
ECF No. 19 at 18.
See e.g. Kerry B. v. Union 53 Public Schools, 882 F. Supp. 184, 10 A.D.D. 367 (D. Mass.
1995) (reducing the award to 10% of that requested); N.S. ex rel. P.S. v. Stratford Bd. of
Educ., 97 F. Supp. 2d 224, 144 Ed. Law Rep. 897 (D. Conn. 2000) (reducing the award by
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Accordingly, Plaintiffs are awarded costs of $281.00 for two nights lodging
and $400 for the filing fee in this Court. Plaintiffs’ hours are reduced by 80% from
98.2 to 19.64. Plaintiffs’ hourly rate is reduced to $170.00. The attorney’s fees
awarded, then, is $3,338.80.
In his 2015 year end remarks, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. explained
the amended discovery rule, that of the “common-sense concept of proportionality”
as a “careful and realistic assessment of actual need.” The same concept applies
here when awarding relational attorney’s fees. I have engaged in a careful and
realistic assessment of the value of litigation that resulted in limited success. To
award Plaintiff counsel fees in the amount of the annual average salary for
taxpayers in the Shamokin area, for obtaining an award of a right already
proscribed by statute, just slightly sooner than the statute requires, is
disproportionate to the result achieved.
15%); Phelan v. Bell, 8 F.3d 369, 3 A.D.D. 518, 87 Ed. Law Rep. 46 (6th Cir. 1993)
(eliminating fees requested from an unsuccessful first complaint); Zayas v. Puerto Rico, 451
F. Supp. 2d 310 (D.P.R. 2006) (reducing the award by 10% for time spent on unsuccessful
claims); A.S. ex rel. V.S. v. Colts Neck Bd. of Educ., 190 Fed. Appx. 140 (3d Cir. 2006)
(affirming District Court award of only 20% of fees requested).
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Consequently, Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment is granted,
Defendant’s denied, but only to the extent specified in this Memorandum Opinion.
As the prevailing party, Plaintiffs’ counsel is awarded $3,338.80 in attorney’s fees,
together with $681.00 in costs, the appropriate amount in relation to the results
An appropriate Order follows.
BY THE COURT:
s/ Matthew W. Brann
Matthew W. Brann
United States District Judge
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