United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
LINCOLN-SUDBURY REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, Plaintiff and Counterclaim-Defendant,
MR. and MRS. W., Defendants and Counterclaim-Plaintiffs, and WALLIS W., Counterclaim-Plaintiff,
BUREAU OF SPECIAL EDUCATION APPEALS, Counterclaim-Defendant.
ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS'
FEES AND COSTS
Dennis Saylor IV United States District Judge
Lincoln-Sudbury Regional School District, as the prevailing
party in this lawsuit, has moved for attorneys' fees and
related costs. For the reasons stated below, the motion will
be granted in part and denied in part.
W. was a minor child who attended Lincoln-Sudbury High
School. On September 30, 2012, she was injured during a
field-hockey practice and suffered a concussion. After seeing
a doctor, she was instructed to stay home from school for
about two weeks, and refrain from physical activity for
another two weeks or so after that. The doctor's orders
were communicated to the school, which complied with them in
all respects. Various accommodations were made to help Wallis
catch up on the work she missed.
Wallis struggled in her intensive mathematics class
throughout the school year. In May 2013, eight months after
the concussion, her math teacher recommended that she take an
advanced, but less rigorous, course for the following year.
Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. W., then claimed that Wallis was
disabled and that the school had failed to provide reasonable
accommodations, precipitating a lengthy dispute. In September
2013, Mr. and Mrs. W. removed Wallis from Lincoln-Sudbury and
enrolled her at Lawrence Academy, a private school.
parents brought a proceeding before the Board of Special
Education Appeals (“BSEA”). The hearing officer
issued a decision on April 1, 2016, finding that Wallis was
not impaired during the 2012-2013 academic year and that she
was not denied access to the school curriculum. The hearing
officer also found that the parents' claim was
“patently frivolous” and brought for an
“improper purpose.” After the decision, the
district initiated this action to recover its attorneys'
fees and costs under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B), and Mr.
and Mrs. W. counterclaimed to reverse the hearing
officer's decision. On January 25, 2018, this Court
granted the district's motion for summary judgment,
agreeing with the hearing officer's finding that the
parents' claims were both frivolous and brought for an
improper purpose, and finding that an award of reasonable
fees was proper. The Court then directed the parties to file
briefs and supporting affidavits and exhibits concerning the
calculation of attorneys' fees and costs.
First Circuit, courts follow the so-called
“lodestar” method for calculating reasonable
attorneys' fees. Tenn. Gas Pipeline Co. v. 104 Acres
of Land, 32 F.3d 632, 634 (1st Cir. 1994); see also
Hutchinson ex rel. Julien v. Patrick, 636 F.3d 1, 13
(1st Cir. 2011). The lodestar method involves
“multiplying the number of hours productively spent by
a reasonable hourly rate to calculate a base figure.”
Torres-Rivera v. O'Neill-Cancel, 524 F.3d 331,
336 (1st Cir. 2008) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart,
461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)).
fashioning the lodestar, the first step is to calculate the
number of hours reasonably expended by the attorneys for the
prevailing party, excluding those hours that are
“excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.”
Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434; see also Grendel's
Den, Inc. v. Larkin, 749 F.2d 945, 950 (1st Cir. 1984)
(explaining that a court should subtract “hours which
[are] duplicative, unproductive, excessive, or otherwise
unnecessary”). “[T]he court has a right-indeed, a
duty-‘to see whether counsel substantially exceeded the
bounds of reasonable effort.'” United States v.
Metro. Dist. Comm'n, 847 F.2d 12, 17 (1st Cir. 1988)
(quoting Pilkington v. Bevilacqua¸ 632 F.2d
922, 925 (1st Cir. 1980)).
determining the number of hours reasonably expended, a
court's second step in calculating the lodestar requires
a determination of a reasonable hourly rate-a determination
that is benchmarked to the “prevailing rates in the
community” for lawyers of like “qualifications,
experience, and specialized competence.” See Gay
Officers Action League v. Puerto Rico, 247 F.3d 288, 295
(1st Cir. 2001). In determining a reasonable hourly rate, a
court must consider “the type of work performed, who
performed it, the expertise that it required, and when it was
undertaken.” Grendel's Den, 749 F.2d at
951. The moving party bears the burden of establishing an
attorney's level of skill and experience, and when that
party fails to provide documentation as to the attorney's
qualifications, a court may reduce the hourly rate. See,
e.g., Martinez v. Hodgson, 265 F.Supp.2d 135,
142 (D. Mass. 2003).
determining the reasonable number of hours and hourly rate,
the court may adjust the lodestar upward or downward based on
a number of factors. Spooner v. EEN, Inc., 644 F.3d
62, 68 (1st Cir. 2011). Those factors include:
(1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and
difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill requisite to
perform the legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of
employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; (5)
the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or
contingent; (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the
circumstances; (8) the amount involved and the results
obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the
attorneys; (10) the ‘undesirability' of the case;
(11) the nature and length of the professional relationship
with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases.
Diaz v. Jiten Hotel Mgmt., 741 F.3d 170, 177 n.7
(1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at 430
seeks $200, 412.50 in attorneys' fees, plus related costs
and expenses of $5, 167.61. In their opposition, defendants
raise four principal objections to plaintiff's requests.
They contend that (1) 74.3 hours for time expended on
“unrelated” matters should be deducted; (2) a
global reduction in hours by 40% is warranted because of
excessive block billing and unproductive work; (3)
plaintiff's attorneys' hourly rates were unreasonably
high; and (4) costs should be limited to court filing fees.
The Court will address each objection in turn.
Alleged Unrelated Matters
first request that the Court reduce attorneys' fees by
74.3 hours for “unrelated work.” (Opp. at 13). Of
those challenged 74.3 hours, defendants identified entries
totaling 11.4 hours they contend are “directly
attributable to unrelated matters” and block billing
entries totaling 62.9 hours they contend contain
“unrelated matters.” (Id. at 8-9).
Plaintiff has conceded that 0.8 hours, attributable to time
spent on reviewing an “Open Meeting Law”
complaint and consulting with the Office of the Attorney
General, should be deducted. (Reply at 9). The eliminated
fees associated with that time have already been incorporated
into plaintiff's $200, 412.50 fee request.
parties dispute whether fees for related state-court matters
are recoverable. Defendants had brought suit against
plaintiff in state court concerning issues arising out of the
same facts as the BSEA proceeding. Plaintiff was represented
by different counsel in the state-court proceeding, and
Attorney Ehrens, plaintiff's lead counsel in this suit,
consulted with that counsel. (Def. Ex. 1). However, in its
complaint, plaintiff stated that it was seeking fees and
costs “to defend against Mr. and Mrs. W.'s claims
in the administrative proceeding below . . . and the
prosecution of [the federal court] action.” (Compl.
¶ 37). Plaintiff did not state it was seeking to recover
fees for state-court matters, even assuming (without
deciding) that such fees would be recoverable here.
Accordingly, the Court will deduct an appropriate amount of
attorneys represent that only 9.8 hours are directly
attributable to Attorney Ehrens's efforts in the
state-court action. (Reply at 11-12). The Court has reviewed the
parties' briefs and supporting affidavits and finds that
representation appears to be accurate. Accordingly, 9.8 hours
will be deducted from the total number of hours for Attorney
further request an additional reduction of 62.9 hours that
were block billed, alleging that the listed activities
included matters from both this litigation and the related
state-court action. Rather than attempt to parse those
entries, the Court will address the block-billing issue
Alleged Block Billing and Unproductive Work
on billing reports provided to plaintiff by its counsel, it
appears that plaintiff requests compensation for 982.7 hours
worked. The billing reports may be summed up as follows:
1 (BSEA Hearing): September 26, 2014 to April 4, 2016
• Attorney Sowyrda-3.9 hours
• Attorney Ehrens-491.2 hours
• Attorney Ehrens-13.5 hours of travel
2 (Federal Litigation Phase 1): April 5, 2016 to April 30,
• Attorney Sowyrda-2.4 hours
• Attorney Ehrens-201.2 hours
• Attorney Ehrens-1 hour of travel
• Paralegal-17.1 hours
3 (Federal Litigation Phase 2): May ...