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J.T. v. Department of Education

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

January 18, 2019

J.T., by and through his parents Renee and Floyd T., Plaintiffs,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, STATE OF Hawai'i, Defendant.

          ORDER: GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S OBJECTIONS TO THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION; DENYING PLAINTIFFS' OBJECTIONS; AND ADOPTING THE FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION, AS MODIFIED

          LESLIE E. KOBAYASHI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On July 30, 2018, the magistrate judge filed his Findings and Recommendation to Grant in Part and Deny in Part Plaintiff's Second Motion for Attorney's Fees and Related Nontaxable Expenses (“F&R”). [Dkt. no. 145.] Defendant Department of Education, State of Hawai'i (“Defendant” or “the DOE”) filed its objections to the F&R (“DOE Objections”) on August 13, 2018, and Plaintiffs J.T. (“Student”), by and through his parents Renee and Floyd T. (collectively “Plaintiffs”), filed their cross-objections to the F&R (“Plaintiffs' Objections”) on August 17, 2018. [Dkt. nos. 146, 147.] Plaintiffs filed their response to the DOE Objections (“Plaintiffs' Response”) on August 22, 2018, and the DOE filed its response to Plaintiffs' Objections (“DOE Response”) on August 27, 2018. [Dkt. nos. 148, 149.] The Court has considered both objections as non-hearing matters pursuant to Rule LR7.2(e) of the Local Rules of Practice of the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii (“Local Rules”). The DOE Objections are hereby granted in part and denied in part, Plaintiffs' Objections are hereby denied, and the F&R is adopted as modified by the instant Order, for the reasons set forth below. This Court hereby awards Plaintiffs $114, 257.55 in attorney's fees.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 31, 2012, this Court issued an Order Reversing in Part and Remanding Hearings Officer's Order Dated September 12, 2011 (“5/31/12 Order”) and, on August 14, 2017, the Ninth Circuit issued a memorandum disposition reversing the 5/31/12 Order and remanding the case for further proceedings (“Memorandum Disposition”). [Dkt. no. 27, 116.[1] On May 31, 2018, this Court issued an Order Affirming in Part and Vacating in Part Hearings Officer's Order Dated September 12, 2011 (“5/31/18 Order”). [Dkt. no. 138.[2] The hearings officer's September 12, 2011 decision was affirmed as to the rulings that Student was denied a Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”) at two Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) team meetings. This Court vacated the decision, insofar as this Court concluded the IEP team's failure to consider a psychologist report and Renee T.'s concerns about Student's out-of-school behavior also denied Student a FAPE. This Court concluded Student's placement at Loveland Academy (“Loveland”) was appropriate, and that a partial reimbursement award was warranted under the circumstances of this case. This Court ordered reimbursement of $61, 137.47 under 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(10)(C)(ii) and reimbursement of $12, 187.61 under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C)(iii), for a total award of $73, 325.08. 5/31/18 Order, 2018 WL 2449190, at *13-14.

         The final Judgment was issued on May 31, 2018, and Plaintiffs timely filed their Second Motion for Attorney's Fees and Related Nontaxable Expenses (“Fee Motion”) on June 13, 2018. [Dkt. nos. 139, 140.] The Fee Motion seeks an award of $162, 456.00 in attorney's fees, plus $7, 654.93 for general excise tax (“GET”), resulting in a total award of $170, 110.93, for work performed from the remand proceedings after the 5/31/12 Order through the proceedings in this district court following the remand from the Ninth Circuit. [Mem. in Supp. of Fee Motion at 17-18.] Plaintiffs' reply in support of the Fee Motion (“Fee Reply”) also requested additional attorney's fees incurred in connection with the Fee Reply. [Fee Reply, filed 7/19/18 (dkt. no. 144), at 9-10.] Thus, the total request represents 396.4 hours of work by John Dellera, Esq., at a rate of $420 per hour, plus GET, for a total award of $174, 332.92.[3] [Fee Reply at 9-10.]

         The magistrate judge found: Plaintiff is entitled to an award of reasonable attorney's fees under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq.; [F&R at 2;] $400 is a reasonable hourly rate for Mr. Dellera; Plaintiffs' fee request should be reduced by twenty percent because of limited success and by 6.7 hours for a fee motion Plaintiffs prematurely filed before the Ninth Circuit, [id. at 6-7]. The magistrate judge therefore recommends that Plaintiffs receive a fee award representing 389.7 hours of work by Mr. Dellera at $400 per hour, reduced by 20%, plus GET, for a total of $130, 580.05. [Id. at 8.]

         The DOE Objections contest only the magistrate judge's finding as to Mr. Dellera's reasonable hourly rate. Plaintiffs' Objections contest only the magistrate judge's reduction based on limited success.

         STANDARD

         This Court reviews a magistrate judge's findings and recommendations 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 (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).

Muegge v. Aqua Hotels & Resorts, Inc., Civil 09-00614 LEK-BMK, 2015 WL 4041313, at *2 (D. Hawai'i June 30, 2015) (alteration in Muegge) (some citations omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Reasonab ...


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