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I.T. v. Department of Education

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

April 29, 2014

I.T., by and through his parents Renee and Floyd T., Plaintiffs,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, STATE OF HAWAII, Defendant

Decided Date: February 27, 2014

Page 1048

For I. T, by and through his parents Renee and Floyd T., Renee T., Floyd T., Plaintiffs: Denise W. Wong, Ogomori & Yoshimoto, LLP, Honolulu, HI; Jerel D. Fonseca, Fonseca & Ching, Honolulu, HI; John P. Dellera, John P. Dellera, Honolulu, HI.

For Department of Education, State of Hawai'i, Defendant: James E. Raymond, LEAD ATTORNEY, Department of the Attorney General Education Division, Honolulu, HI.

OPINION

Page 1049

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS' OBJECTIONS TO THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION TO GRANT IN PART AND DENY IN PART PLAINTIFF'S SECOND MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES AND ADOPTING THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

Leslie E. Kobayashi, United States District Judge.

On February 27, 2014, the magistrate judge issued the " Findings and Recommendation

Page 1050

to Grant in Part and Deny in Part Plaintiff's Second Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Related Nontaxable Expenses" (" F& R" ). [Dkt. no. 78.] On March 12, 2014, Plaintiffs I.T. (" Student" ), by and through his parents Renee and Floyd T. (collectively " Plaintiffs" ), filed their objections to the F& R (" Objections" ). [Dkt. no. 79.] Defendant Department of Education, State of Hawai'i (" Defendant" or " the DOE" ), filed its response to the Objections (" Response" ) on March 25, 2014. [Dkt. no. 81.] The Court finds this matter suitable for disposition without a hearing pursuant to Rule LR7.2(e) and LR74.2 of the Local Rules of Practice of the United States District Court for the District of Hawai'i (" Local Rules" ). After careful consideration of the Objections, Response, and the relevant legal authority, this Court HEREBY DENIES Plaintiffs' Objections and ADOPTS the F& R, for the reasons set forth below.

BACKGROUND

The factual and procedural background relevant to the merits of this case is set forth in this Court's September 11, 2012 Amended Order Affirming in Part and Vacating and Remanding in Part the Hearings Officer's October 6, 2011 Decision (" 9/11/12 Order" ), [dkt. no. 31,] and in this Court's December 17, 2013 Order Revising the Hearings Officer's June 5, 2013 Decision on Remand, and Awarding Compensatory Education (" 12/17/13 Order" ) [dkt. no. 68].[1] Thus, this Court will only discuss the background related to the attorneys' fees issue.

After this Court issued the 9/11/12 Order, Plaintiffs filed a Motion Attorneys' Fees and Related Nontaxable Expenses on September 25, 2012 (" First Fee Motion" ). [Dkt. no. 32.] On November 30, 2012, the magistrate judge issued his findings and recommendation to grant in part and deny in part the First Fee Motion (" First F& R" ). [Dkt. no. 42.] The magistrate judge recommended that this Court reduce Plaintiffs' requested award of $71,693.95 in attorneys' fees to an award of $46,504.48. [First F& R at 6, 28.] After applying various reductions, the magistrate judge reduced the adjusted request amount, based on limited success, by twenty percent, equivalent to $11,626.13 in attorneys' fees with general excise tax. [Id. at 22-28.] Plaintiffs filed objections to the First F& R on December 14, 2012. [Dkt. no. 45.] On January 31, 2013, this Court issued an order denying Plaintiffs' objections to the First F& R and adopting the First F& R as the order of this Court (" 1/31/13 Order" ). [Dkt. no. 46.[2]] In the 1/31/13 Order, this Court, inter alia, denied Plaintiffs' objection to the reduction for limited success. This Court ruled that the magistrate judge " correctly concluded that Plaintiff's success was limited, and that 'much of the relief sought in this appeal was denied.'" 1/31/13 Order, 2013 WL 419016, at *6 (citing First F& R at 25).

Following this Court's 12/17/13 Order, Plaintiffs filed their Second Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Related Nontaxable Expenses (" Fee Motion" ). [Filed 12/30/13 (dkt. no. 71).] In the Fee Motion, Plaintiffs seek the restoration of the fees deducted for limited success in the 1/31/13 Order, [Mem. in Supp. of Fee Motion at 9,] as well as an award for work performed in this case after November 1, 2012 [id. at 12 & n.5]. Plaintiffs request a total of $60,715.11 in attorneys' fees, with general

Page 1051

excise tax. [Id. at 23.] In the F& R, the magistrate judge: rejected Plaintiffs' request for restoration of the limited success reduction in the 1/31/13 Order; [F& R at 10; ] reduced Plaintiffs' counsel John Dellera, Esq.'s requested hourly rate to $300; [id. at 17; ] deducted from Mr. Dellera's request hours that the magistrate judge found excessive and hours that the magistrate judge found were attributable to clerical or ministerial tasks; [id. at 19-23; ] and reduced Plaintiffs' remaining post-November 1, 2012 fees by twenty percent for limited success [id. at 23-30]. The magistrate judge therefore recommended an award of $29,544.00 in attorneys' fees and $1,392.11 in tax, for a total of $30,936.11. [Id. at 30.]

In the instant Objections, Plaintiffs argue that the magistrate judge erred in: denying the request to restore the fees deducted for limited success in the First F& R and in the 1/31/13 Order; reducing Mr. Dellera's hourly rate for the work performed after November 1, 2012; reducing Mr. Dellera's requested hours for time purportedly reflecting clerical or ministerial tasks and block billing; and reducing the post-November 1, 2012 request based on limited success.

STANDARD

This district court reviews a magistrate judge's findings and recommendations regarding an award of attorneys' fees under the following standard:

When a party objects to a magistrate judge's findings or recommendations, the district court must review de novo those portions to which the objections are made and " may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 673, 100 S.Ct. 2406, 65 L.Ed.2d 424 (1980); United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc) (" [T]he district judge must review the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations de novo if objection is made, but not otherwise." ).
Under a de novo standard, this Court reviews " the matter anew, the same as if it had not been heard before, and as if no decision previously had been rendered." Freeman v. DirecTV, Inc., 457 F.3d 1001, 1004 (9th Cir. 2006); United States v. Silverman, 861 F.2d 571, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). The district court need not hold a de novo hearing; however, it is the court's obligation to arrive at its own independent conclusion about those portions of the magistrate judge's findings or recommendation to which a party objects. United States v. Remsing, 874 F.2d 614, 616 (9th Cir. 1989).

Valencia v. Carrington Mortg. Servs., LLC, Civil No. 10-00558 LEK-RLP, 2013 WL 3223628, at *5 (D. Hawai'i June 25, 2013).

DISCUSSION

I. Restoration of Prior Reduction

In the instant Objections, Plaintiffs characterize the 1/31/13 Order as issuing only an " interim award." See, e.g., Objections at 2. Plaintiffs argue that, in light of the 12/17/13 Order's reversal of the Administrative Hearings Officer's (" Hearings Officer" ) June 5, 2013 Remanded Decision Subsequent to U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi's September 10, 2012 Amended Order Affirming in Part, and Vacating and Remanding in Part, the Hearings Officer's October 6, 2011 Decision (" Decision on Remand" ) and in light of the 12/17/13 Order's award of $44,335.53 in tuition reimbursement as compensatory education, Plaintiffs' " degree of success improved materially" and " the reduction of 20% [in the

Page 1052

1/31/13 Order] is no longer appropriate." [Objections at 3-4.]

First, Plaintiffs' characterization of the fee award in the 1/31/13 Order as merely an " interim" award that could be revisited after the proceedings on remand is inconsistent with this Court's rulings in the 9/11/12 Order and the 1/31/13 Order. Although this Court in the 9/11/12 Order remanded a portion of the case to the Hearings Officer, nothing in the 9/11/12 Order indicated that this Court would revisit Plaintiffs' award of attorneys' fees after the proceedings on remand. Plaintiffs chose to file the First Fee Motion after the 9/11/12 Order. This Court ruled upon that request and issued a final decision on Plaintiffs' entitlement to attorneys' fees for the proceedings associated with the 9/11/12 Order. The instant order will constitute this Court's ruling on Plaintiffs' entitlement to attorneys' fees for the proceedings associated with the 12/17/13 Order.[3] In the 12/17/13 Order, this Court did not reconsider its rulings in the 9/11/12 Order; this Court made rulings based on the parties' briefing regarding the proceedings on remand. Any success that Plaintiffs obtained in their appeal from the Hearings Officer's Decision on Remand did not alter the fact that the record that this Court considered in the 9/11/12 Order was insufficient to determine what compensatory education Student was entitled to receive.

In the alternative to their argument that the 1/31/13 Order merely granted an interim fee award, Plaintiffs also argue that they are entitled to relief from the 9/11/12 Order pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b). Rule 60(b) states:

On motion and just terms, the court may relieve a party or its legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons:
(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect;
(2) newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b);
(3) fraud (whether previously called intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party;
(4) the judgment is void;
(5) the judgment has been satisfied, released or discharged; it is based on an earlier judgment that has been reversed or vacated; or applying it prospectively is no longer equitable; or
(6) any other reason that justifies relief.

None of these grounds apply in the instant case. This Court therefore concludes that

Page 1053

Plaintiffs are not entitled to Rule 60(b) relief from the 9/11/12 Order.

Having reviewed the issue de novo, this Court agrees with the magistrate judge's analysis that Plaintiffs are not entitled to the restoration of the fees deducted in the 1/31/13 Order based on limited success. Plaintiffs' objection on this issue is DENIED.

II. John Dellera's Hourly Rate

Plaintiffs next object to the F& R's reduction of the requested hourly rate for Mr. Dellera from $400 to $300. Plaintiffs argue that the reduction is inconsistent with the Hawai'i Supreme Court's holdings regarding hourly rates in Kaleikini v. Yoshioka, 129 Hawai'i 454, 304 P.3d 252 (2013). [Objections at 7-8.] Plaintiffs emphasize that, in Kaleikini, the Hawai'i Supreme Court, inter alia, awarded an attorney with " half as much experience" as Mr. Dellera attorneys' fees based on an hourly rate of $300. [Id. at 7-9.] Kaleikini, however, is not binding upon this Court in this Court's consideration of motions for attorneys' fees pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (" IDEA" ), and this Court agrees with the magistrate judge's refusal to follow Kaleikini. See, e.g., F& R at 17 (noting that " state court determinations about hourly rates have no bearing on the rates awarded in this district court" ).

Plaintiffs also argue that the magistrate judge erred in rejecting Mr. Dellera's requested hourly rate of $400 because that rate is consistent for the prevailing rates in the community. Plaintiffs emphasize that this district court has previously concluded " that the prevailing rate is not limited to 'IDEA cases' but includes the rate paid to 'all attorneys in the relevant community engaged in equally complex Federal litigation, no matter the subject matter.'" [Id. at 9 (quoting A.D. ex rel. I.D. v. Dep't of Educ., Hawai'i, Civil No. 12-307 JMS-KSC, 2014 WL 692910, at *4 (D. Hawai'i Feb. 20, 2014) (citing Prison Legal News v. Schwarzenegger, 608 F.3d 446, 455 (9th Cir. 2010))).] In their memoranda regarding the Fee Motion, the parties addressed whether Mr. Dellera was entitled to an award based on an hourly rate commensurate with the rate awarded to Paul Alston, Esq., in other cases. The magistrate judge ultimately found that Mr. Dellera's experience, skill, and reputation did not warrant an hourly rate commensurate with the rates that this district court has previously awarded to Mr. Alston. [F& R at 14-17.] In analyzing this issue, the magistrate judge did not limit his analysis to IDEA cases. [Id. at 15-16 (some citations omitted) (citing Au v. Funding Group, Inc., 933 F.Supp.2d 1264, 1274-75 (D. Haw. 2013); Eggs 'N Things Int'l Holdings PTE, Ltd. v. ENT Holdings LLC., Civil No. 11-00626 LEK-KSC, 2012 WL 1231962, at *2 (D. Haw. Mar. 20, 2012), adopted by Eggs 'N Things Int'l Holdings PTE, Ltd. v. ENT Holdings LLC., Civil No. 11-00626 LEK-KSC, 2012 WL 1231992 (D. Haw. Apr. 11, 2012)).] Thus, the F& R does not violate the legal principle from A.D. that Plaintiffs cite in the Objections.

This Court agrees with the magistrate judge, [id. at 17,] that the district court's award of $300 per hour to Mr. Dellera in A.D. represents a reasonable hourly rate. See 2014 WL 692910, at *5. This Court therefore DENIES Plaintiffs' objection to the reduction in Mr. Dellera's requested hourly rate.

III. Reduction for Clerical/Ministerial Tasks and Block Billing

Plaintiffs next object to the magistrate judge's exclusion of the following hours from Mr. ...


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