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Genn v. New Haven Board of Education

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 17, 2017

NANCY GENN, on her behalf and on behalf of her daughter, SARAH ELIZABETH KATIE GENN, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW HAVEN BOARD OF EDUCATION; REGINALD MAYO, SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS; TYPHANIE JACKSON, DIRECTOR OF SPECIAL SERVICES; PATRICIA MOORE, SUPERVISOR OF SPECIAL SERVICES; and KATHRYN CARBONE, PUBLIC HEALTH NURSE DIRECTOR, Defendants.

          ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S AMENDED MOTION FOR ATTORNEY FEES

          Charles S. Haight, Jr. Senior United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff's Amended Motion for Attorney Fees (Doc. 53), was filed following this Court's Order (Doc. 52) denying Plaintiff's initial Motion for Attorney Fees (Doc. 50). Defendants resist this Amended Motion with a renewed Objection (Doc. 54), reiterating the arguments made against an award in their Objection (Doc. 51) to Plaintiff's earlier Motion, and adding one additional objection, as to Plaintiff's inclusion of the time expended on a December 20, 2011 meeting of a "planning and placement team" in the renewed request for award of fees. See Doc. 54 at 2. This Order resolves Plaintiff's instant Motion, and with it, this litigation.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On November 30, 2016, this Court issued a Ruling (Doc. 49) granting in part and denying in part Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 36) and granting in part and denying in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 37). Familiarity with that decision is assumed.

         As part of that ruling, the Court granted summary judgment to Plaintiff on a single element of the complaint, namely that, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1482 ("IDEA"), Plaintiff parent Nancy Genn is entitled to reimbursement for the Independent Educational Evaluation ("IEE") performed by Miriam Cherkes-Julkowski, Ph.D. Doc. 49 at 31. The IEE reimbursement claim was the only claim on which Plaintiff prevailed. The Court found that, pursuant to the IDEA, Plaintiff is a "prevailing party, " entitled to attorney's fees, though those fees should be limited to the hours spent on the successful claim. Id. at 44-45 (citing 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i); Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983)).

         To conclude the fee issue (and this litigation), the Court issued the following instruction to Plaintiff counsel:

I will consider the question of attorney's fees in the present case if and when Plaintiff submits a quantified claim in the proper form. "Proper form" requires that Plaintiff's attorney (1) comply fully with the Second Circuit's detailed instructions in New York Ass'n of Retarded Children v. Carey, 711 F.2d 1136, 1148 (2d Cir 1983); and (2) limit the claim to the attorney hours spent on the IEE issue, excluding all others.

Doc. 49, at 46.

         On December 7, 2016, Plaintiff counsel filed a timely Motion for Attorney Fees (Doc. 50) along with an affidavit and a "work log" reflecting time expended on this action. See Doc. 50, Exhibit A. Defendants resisted this motion on a number of grounds. See Doc. 51.

         By prior Order (Doc. 52), familiarity with which is assumed, the Court directed Plaintiff' counsel to submit a new motion for attorney fees in compliance with the Second Circuit's well-established standards for such motions, as articulated in Carey, 711 F.2d 1136. Specifically, the Court cited Plaintiff's failure to rely on contemporaneous records, specify the dates on which work was completed, and characterize the nature of the work completed. Doc. 52 at 3-4. The Order also reiterated the Court's prior admonition that Plaintiff's request for attorney fees be limited to costs expended on pursuing Plaintiff claim for reimbursement for an Independent Educational Evaluation ("IEE"), the only substantive issue on which Plaintiff prevailed before this Court. As described in that Order, Plaintiff's first Motion for Attorney Fees (Doc. 50),

presented the Court with a possible framework for considering the fraction of [Plaintiff attorney's] efforts devoted to the IEE claim - some proportion of the effort expended on the four purportedly "intertwined" issues - and then . . . failed to put [its] own framework to use. It is of no use to the Court to identify which issues are intertwined, or which claims are related, if the work log does not follow the principles of Carey, and provides no insight into "the nature of the work performed."

Doc. 52 at 6-7.

         II. STANDARD FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES

         Courts evaluating a request for attorney's fees must conduct a "lodestar analysis, which calculates reasonable attorney's fees by multiplying the reasonable hours expended on the action by a reasonable hourly rate." Kroshnyi v. U.S. Pack Courier Servs., Inc., 771 F.3d 93, 108 (2d Cir. 2014). Proffered hours are reasonable if "at the time the work was performed, a reasonable attorney would have engaged in similar time expenditures." Grant v. Martinez, 973 F.2d 96, 99 (2d Cir. 1992). As to the hourly rate, a district court has discretion but should begin generally with "the prevailing market rates in the relevant community." Perdue v. Kenny A., 559 U.S. 542, 551 (2010) (internal quotation omitted). Determining the reasonable hourly rate for a given case requires "a case-specific inquiry into the prevailing market rates for counsel of similar experience and skill to the fee applicant's counsel." Farbotko v. Clinton Cty. of N.Y., 433 F.3d 204, 209 (2d Cir. 2005). "[T]he fee applicant has the burden of showing by satisfactory evidence - in addition to the attorney's own affidavits - that the requested hourly rates are the prevailing market rates." Id.

         "There is . . . a strong presumption that the lodestar figure represents a reasonable fee." Quaratino v. Tiffany & Co., 166 F.3d 422, 425, (2d Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks omitted). Even so, "the lodestar may be adjusted based on several factors." Id. However, "[w]henever the district court augments or reduces the lodestar figure, it must state its reasons for doing so as specifically as possible." Cohen v. W. Haven Bd. of Police Comm'rs, 638 F.2d 496, 505 (2d Cir. 1980) (internal quotation marks omitted). For example, "in dealing with items that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary, the district court has discretion simply to deduct a reasonable percentage of the number of hours claimed as a practical means of trimming fat from a fee application." Hines v. City of Albany, 613 F.App'x 52, 54-55 (2d Cir. 2015) (internal quotation ...


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