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T.P., By and Through His Parent, Kimbrely R. v. City of Chicago Public School District 299

March 29, 2011

T.P., BY AND THROUGH HIS PARENT, KIMBRELY R. PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT 299, LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICT; CHICAGO OFFICE OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION; AND ILLINOIS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. Holderman Chief Judge, United States District Court

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES F. HOLDERMAN, Chief Judge:

On April 27, 2010, plaintiff T.P. ("Plaintiff"), by and through his parent, Kimbrely R., filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants City of Chicago Public School District 299 ("School District"), the Chicago Office of the Board of Education (the "Board"), and the Illinois State Board of Education (the "ISBE"), seeking to enforce an administrative decision issued by Impartial Hearing Officer Mary Onken ("IHO") on October 21, 2009, following a four-day special education due process hearing pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1401, et seq. (Dkt. No. 1 ("Compl.") ¶ 1.) Plaintiff also sought attorneys fees pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B), as the prevailing party in the administrative proceeding. (Id. ¶ 4, 20.)

On June 29, 2010, counsel for the Board*fn1 and counsel for Plaintiff reported that they had settled Plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief.*fn2 Approximately two months later, on August 26, 2010, counsel reported that the Board had paid Plaintiff $85,979.75 in partial settlement of Plaintiff's claim for attorneys' fees. The parties have been unable to reach a settlement regarding the remaining attorneys' fees requested by Plaintiff. Now pending before the court is Plaintiff's "Motion for Summary Judgment" (Dkt. No. 26), seeking an additional $53,065.25 in attorneys' fees, prejudgment interest from the date of the IHO's October 21, 2009 order, and additional fees for counsel's prosecution of the pending motion. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is granted and judgment is entered in favor of Plaintiff on his claim for attorneys' fees. Attorneys' fees are awarded to Plaintiff in the amount of $35,442.75; prejudgment interest is awarded on this $35,442.75 in attorneys' fees for the time period beginning October 21, 2009 and ending March 29, 2011; and prejudgment interest is awarded on the previously-paid $85,979.75 in attorneys' fees for the time period beginning October 21, 2009 and ending September 9, 2010.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is an eight-year-old student who has autism. (Dkt. No. 26-2 ("Pl.'s SMF") ¶ 1.) Plaintiff's school district of residence is the School District, and the Board is the relevant "local educational agency" as defined by 20 U.S.C. § 1401(19). (Id. ¶¶ 1, 3 (erroneously citing 20 U.S.C. § 1402(15)).)

In September 2008, Plaintiff enrolled as a first grade student at Passages Charter School. (Id. ¶ 7.) On December 15, 2008, Plaintiff's mother, Kimbrely R., requested an impartial due process hearing from the ISBE, alleging that the School District had denied Plaintiff a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") in the least restrictive environment. (Id. ¶ 11; see also Pl.'s Ex. C ("10/21/2009 Order") at 4.) Plaintiff requested that the IHO order the School District to: (1) hold an individualized education program ("IEP") meeting to write appropriate special educational goals, modifications, and accommodations; (2) not change Plaintiff's placement to a self-contained autism classroom; (3) provide Plaintiff with a trained one-on-one paraprofessional at Passages Charter School; (4) pay for student's teachers and paraprofessionals at Passages Charter School to attend training for the instruction of children with autism and include training for any new staff hired; (5) provide autism itinerant to consult with student's teachers and paraprofessionals 30 minutes per week regarding student's inclusion at Passages Charter School; (6) hire a behavioral consultant with expertise with children with autism to observe Plaintiff and assist with writing an appropriate behavioral intervention plan; (7) write an appropriate behavioral intervention plan; (8) pay for compensatory services beyond the regular school day for each of student's deficit areas, sixty minutes per week for each deficit area, for the time the IHO finds that the School District has denied Plaintiff a FAPE; (9) pay for any other compensatory education deemed appropriate by the IHO, including transportation to and from the compensatory education services; and (10) any additional relief deemed appropriate by the IHO. (Pl.'s SMF ¶ 12; see also 10/21/2009 Order5.)

After a four-day due process hearing from September 21, 2009, through September 24, 2009, the IHO issued a decision on October 21, 2009, holding that the School District had denied Plaintiff a FAPE and that the School District's proposed placement of Plaintiff in an autism instructional classroom violated the least restrictive environment mandate. (Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 13-14; Dkt. No. 23 ("Bd.'s Ans.") ¶ 30; 10/21/2009 Order 18, 21.) With the exception of Plaintiff's request for a behavioral consultant, the IHO granted Plaintiff's request for relief in its entirety. Relevant to the pending motion, the IHO specifically ordered that the Board was to provide compensatory services in the form of 60 minutes per week for one year of occupational therapy and 60 minutes per week for one year of speech therapy, and that the Board was to pay the transportation costs associated with providing such services. (Pl.'s SMF ¶ 14; Bd.'s Ans. ¶ 30; 10/21/2009 Order 22-23.) The IHO also ordered that Plaintiff was to be evaluated by an audiologist, a speech and language therapist, and an occupational therapist at the Board's expense. (Pl.'s SMF ¶ 14; Bd.'s Ans. ¶ 30; 10/21/2009 Order 22-23.)

The IHO gave the School District fifteen days from the School District's receipt of the October 21, 2009 order to provide the ISBE with proof of the School District's compliance. (Pl.'s SMF ¶ 15.) On December 7, 2009, Plaintiff's mother informed the School District that Amy Zier & Associates would be willing to conduct the occupational therapy evaluation for Plaintiff and to provide Plaintiff with weekly occupational therapy. (Id. ¶ 19.) The School District did not object to Amy Zier & Associates providing these services; however, as of April 23, 2010, the School District had not paid Amy Zier & Associates for either the initial evaluation or for any weekly occupational therapy provided to Plaintiff beginning in February 2009. (Id. ¶¶ 21, 26, 31.) As a result of the School District's failure to pay Amy Zier & Associates, Plaintiff's occupational therapy was suspended on March 19, 2010. (Id. ¶¶ 28, 30.) Similarly, on December 7, 2009, Plaintiff's mother informed the School District that All Bright Therapies would be willing to conduct the speech-language evaluation for Plaintiff and to provide Plaintiff with weekly speech therapy. (Id. ¶ 19.) The School District did not object to All Bright Therapies providing these services; however, as of April 24, 2010, the School District had not paid All Bright Therapies for either the initial evaluation or for any weekly speech therapy provided to Plaintiff beginning in February 2009. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 27, 32.) As of April 23, 2010, the School District also had not paid Plaintiff's mother for transportation costs. (Id. ¶ 34.)

Plaintiff's complaint was filed on April 27, 2010. (Dkt. No. 1.) The following day, on April 28, 2010, Plaintiff filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. (Dkt. No. 6.) At status hearings held on April 29, May 6, May 13, and May 27, 2010, the parties reported that they were in the process of negotiating a settlement regarding Plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief. (See Dkt. Nos. 9, 10, 11, 13.) On May 4 and May 10, 2010, the Board paid Amy Zier & Associates the money due on its outstanding February and March 2010 invoices. (Dkt. No. 28 ("Bd.'s SMF") ¶ 1.) On May 4, May 10, and May 11, 2010, the Board paid All Bright Therapies the money due on its outstanding February, March, and April 2010 invoices. (Id. ¶ 2.) On May 12, June 3, and June 16, 2010, the Board paid Plaintiff's mother, Kimbrely R., for her travel expenses with respect to these services. (Id. ¶ 3.) On June 29, 2010, counsel for the Board and counsel for Plaintiff reported that they had settled Plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief. As discussed above, the parties are in agreement that "the only remaining dispute in the litigation is the appropriate fee award." (Pl.'s SMF ¶ 40.)

LEGAL STANDARD

A grant of summary judgment is proper "if 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." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). "A factual dispute is 'material' only if the dispute's resolution might change the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Spivey v. Adaptive Marketing LLC, 622 F.3d 816, 822 (7th Cir. 2010). "There is no genuine issue of material fact when no reasonable jury could find in favor of the nonmoving party." Brewer v. Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of Ill., 479 F.3d 908, 915 (7th Cir. 2007).

When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must consider the facts in the record before the court in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. McCann v. Iroquois Mem'l Hosp., 622 F.3d 745, 752 (7th Cir. 2010). The court does not make credibility determinations or weigh conflicting evidence. Id.

ANALYSIS

The primary purpose of the IDEA is "to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). Parents who disagree with a local educational agency's "identification, evaluation, or educational placement of [their] child, or the provision of a free appropriate public education to such child," may request an impartial due process hearing conducted by the appropriate state educational agency.

20 U.S.C. §§ 1415(b)(6)(A), (f)(1)(A). If parents remain dissatisfied with the outcome of the due process hearing, they may then bring a civil action in federal or state court. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A).

The IDEA further 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 a prevailing party who is the parent of a child with a disability." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(I). Accordingly, the "IDEA's fee-shifting provision allows an award of reasonable attorneys' fees to the party who prevails in an administrative proceeding as well as an action in court." Linda T. v. Rice Lake Area Sch. Dist.,417 F.3d 704, 707 (7th Cir. 2005) (citing T.D. v. LaGrange Sch. Dist. No. 102, 349 F.3d 469, 479 (7th Cir. 2003)). When adjudicating a claim for attorneys' fees, the court separately addresses whether the plaintiff is a "prevailing party" and whether the claimed fees are "reasonable." See id. at 708 ("[i]n some circumstances, even a plaintiff who formally 'prevails'. . . should receive no attorney's fees at all") (quoting Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 115 (1992)).

1. Prevailing Party Status

It is undisputed that Plaintiff was the "prevailing party" at the due process hearing.

(Bd.'s Ans. ¶ 93.) That Plaintiff did not obtain all of the relief he requested at the due process hearing does not change this result. See Linda T., 417 F.3d at 708 ("The prevailing party inquiry 'does not turn on the magnitude of relief obtained,' but the size of the fee award does.") (quoting Farrar, 506 U.S. at 114). The court analyzes below the reasonableness of Plaintiff's request for fees, insofar as the requested fees are associated with proceedings before the IHO.

On the other hand, the Board argues that Plaintiff was not the prevailing party with respect to his request for injunctive relief before this court. The Board focuses on the fact that "the court did not rule" on Plaintiff's motion for injunctive relief, and asserts that any success on Plaintiff's motion for injunctive relief should be considered de minimis. (Bd.'s Resp. 3-4.) Plaintiff takes the position that "prevailing plaintiffs are entitled to fees for post-judgment monitoring." (Pl.'s Reply 2.)

As a general matter, Plaintiff is correct in asserting that "where the plaintiffs must come to district court to enforce the decision of a hearing officer, they are entitled to attorney's fees." (Pl.'s Reply 3 (quoting Capiello v. Dist. of Columbia, 779 F. Supp. 1, 1 (D. D.C. 1991)).) This assertion is only true, however, if the district court plaintiff is properly considered a "prevailing party." See 20 U.S.C. ยง 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(I). "[T]o be a 'prevailing party' a litigant must have obtained a judgment on the merits, a consent decree, or some similar form of judicially sanctioned relief." T.D., 349 F.3d at 478 (citing Buckhannon Bd. & Care ...


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