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D.I., O/B/O R.G v. Phillipsburg Board of Education

May 18, 2011

D.I., O/B/O R.G.,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
PHILLIPSBURG BOARD OF EDUCATION, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cooper, District Judge

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, D.I., on behalf of her minor child R.G., brings this action under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., seeking an award of attorneys' fees and related costs pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B). (Dkt. entry no. 1, Compl.) Plaintiff now moves for summary judgment, arguing that she (1) is the prevailing party in the underlying matter, and (2) should be awarded attorneys' fees and related costs as to both the underlying matter and the current fee application. (Dkt. entry no. 9, Pl. Mot. Summ. J.; Pl. Br. at 1; Stoloff Cert. at 4.) Defendant, Phillipsburg Board of Education, opposes the motion. (Dkt. entry no. 12, Def. Opp'n.)

The Court decides the motion on the papers without oral argument, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 78(b). For the reasons that follow, the Court holds that Plaintiff may recover $16,152.50 in attorneys' fees and $613.99 in related costs.

BACKGROUND

R.G. has been a student in the Phillipsburg School District since kindergarten. R.G. is classified as multiply disabled, and has received special education services since 2003. (Dkt. entry no. 9, Pl. Stmt. Facts at ¶ 2; Compl. at 2.) Plaintiff, through counsel, sent a letter to Defendant in January 2010 requesting that Defendant provide R.G. the following independent educational evaluations: (1) neuropsychological evaluation, (2) audiological and auditory processing evaluation, and (3) speech-and-language evaluation. (Pl. Stmt. Facts at ¶ 3; Compl. at 2; dkt. entry no. 12, Def. Stmt. Facts at ¶ 1.) Plaintiff also requested that Defendant order a functional behavior assessment for R.G. (Dkt. entry no. 12, Souders Cert., Ex. A, 1-27-10 Letter from Pl. Counsel to Def. Counsel ("1-27-10 Letter").)

Defendant petitioned for a due process hearing on March 3, 2010, to determine which evaluations, if any, it would be obligated to provide. (Pl. Stmt. Facts at ¶ 4; Def. Stmt. Facts at ¶ 4; Compl., Ex. A, Due Process Pet.) During a March 17, 2010 mediation conference, the parties agreed that Defendant would provide (1) an "in-house" functional behavior assessment, and (2) an independent audiological and auditory processing evaluation. (Pl. Stmt. Facts at ¶ 6; Def. Stmt. Facts at ¶ 5.) The remaining two evaluations remained in dispute between the parties, and a due process hearing was scheduled for April 16, 2010. (Pl. Stmt. Facts at ¶ 8.)

The parties reached a settlement on the morning of the due process hearing, before the hearing occurred. (Id. at ¶ 9.) The settlement was memorialized in a Final Consent Order providing that Defendant would provide (1) "an 'in-house' (i.e. District-conducted) Functional Behavior Assessment," (2) "an independent audiological and auditory-processing evaluation(s)," and (3) $3,500 toward the cost of "an independent neuropsychological evaluation," to be conducted by an evaluator selected by the presiding Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Compl., Ex. B, Phillipsburg Bd. of Educ. v. C.G. and D.I. o/b/o R.G., OAL dkt. no. EDS 03318-2010, Final Consent Order dated 4-22-10.) The Final Consent Order stated:

This Consent Order is without prejudice to the rights, claims and defenses of both parties on the issue of any application for attorney's fees. As neither the issue of prevailing party status or attorneys fees was before this tribunal, no determination has been made as to whether either party is the prevailing party. (Final Consent Order at ¶ 9.)

Defendant opposes Plaintiff's fee application on the bases that the relief granted to Plaintiff was incomplete in relation to the four evaluations sought, and that the numbers of hours expended by Plaintiff's counsel on the underlying matter and current fee application are unreasonable in comparison to its own time expenditures. Plaintiff contends that Defendant's opposition to the motion must be disregarded under Local Civil Rule 6.1 for failure to comport with the briefing schedule. (Dkt. entry no. 14, Pl. Reply at 1-2.) The Court, in the interest of justice, will consider the late-filed opposition papers. See Anchorage Assocs. v. V.I. Bd. of Tax Rev., 922 F.2d 168, 175 (3d Cir. 1990) (stating that a movant is not automatically entitled to summary judgment simply because the non-movant does not oppose the motion).

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standards For Attorneys' Fees Under the IDEA

A. "Prevailing Party" Status

The fee-shifting provision of the IDEA provides that a court, "in its discretion, may award reasonable attorneys' fees as part of the costs . . . to a prevailing party who is the parent of a child with a disability." 20 U.S.C. ยง 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(I). The parties do not ...


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