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Special education — Attorney’s fees
Gordon v. Los Angeles Unified School District Case No. 19-55806 – Federal Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit New
Member(s) Involved: Los Angeles Unified School District
Current status and/or outcome:
The case has been briefed before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the parties await the court’s decision.
Importance of statewide issue:
With limited budgets, school districts must rely on courts to set reasonable reimbursement rates for attorneys when districts end up in litigation. Large attorney’s fees awarded in special education cases reduce school district general funds that would better be spent serving students.
Summary of the case:
This case arose from a 2017 due process hearing decision, after which Plaintiffs’ attorneys requested $220,045 in attorney’s fees and costs, with reimbursement rates of $650/hour and $700/hour, respectively. The attorneys cited evidence of reasonable hourly rates using declarations from other parent-side special education attorneys and fee experts, as well as prior fee awards in IDEA cases granting hourly rates.

To counter the hourly rates requested by opposing counsel, LAUSD illustrated a prevailing market rate in the IDEA community of between $400-$500 per hour.

The district court made some favorable rulings for the school district, determining that the “community” at issue was the IDEA community (looking at a “comparable IDEA case” and fees “in line with special education lawyers in the community”). The court reduced the attorney’s hourly rate demand by $50 each. Despite these favorable rulings, it is LAUSD’s position that the court did not go far enough in reducing the fee awards, as the court prioritized evidence of higher past fee awards over the multiplicity of other evidence submitted by the district reflecting that the prevailing market rate for the IDEA community is actually between $400-500 an hour.

The district appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The ELA filed an amicus brief in support of the district.