United States District Court, D. Minnesota
R.M.M., a minor child, by and through her Mother and Natural Guardian, T.M., Plaintiffs,
Minneapolis Public Schools, Special School District No. 1; and Minneapolis School Board, Defendant. Special School District No. 1, Minneapolis Public Schools, Plaintiff,
R.M.M., by and through her Parents, O.M. and T.M., Defendants Special School District No. 1, Minneapolis Public Schools, Plaintiff,
R.M.M., by and through her Parents, O.M. and T.M., Defendants
Goetz & Andrea L. Jepsen, School Law Center, LLC, 452
Selby Avenue, Suite 2E, St. Paul, Minnesota 55102, for
R.M.M., by and through her Parents, O.M. and T.M.
Tubbs Booth, Booth Law Group, LLC, 10520 Wayzata Boulevard,
Suite 200, Minnetonka, Minnesota 55305, for Minneapolis
Public Schools, Special School District No. 1, and
Minneapolis School Board.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RICHARD NELSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the Motion for Attorney Fees
and Costs filed by R.M.M. [Doc. No. 107]. For the reasons set
forth herein, the motion is granted in part and denied in
Court's June 27, 2017 Order [Doc. No. 105] provides a
detailed explanation of the underlying facts and issues in
these lawsuits. See R.M.M. by and through T.M. v.
Minneapolis Pub. Schs., Nos. 15-cv-1627 (SRN/HB) &
16-cv-3085 (SRN/HB), 2017 WL 2787606 (D. Minn. June 27,
2017). In brief, R.M.M. is a minor student, who was
voluntarily enrolled at Annunciation Catholic School
(“ACS”), a private school in Minneapolis.
Id. at *2. In 2014, her mother filed an
administrative complaint with the Minnesota Department of
Education on her behalf, alleging that the Minneapolis School
District (“the School District”) had violated its
location, identification, and evaluation
(“child-find”) obligations under the Individuals
with Disabilities Education Improvement Act
(“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et
seq., as well as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
of 1973 (“Section 504”), and had denied R.M.M. a
free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) while
she attended the private school. R.M.M., 2017 WL
2787606, at *2.
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) dismissed as
moot the child-find claim, held a due process hearing on the
FAPE claim, and ruled that the School District had denied
R.M.M. a FAPE starting in January 2014. Id. He
required the School District to provide or pay for additional
instruction for R.M.M. in reading, writing, and mathematics.
2015, the child's mother, T.M., and the School District
respectively initiated two lawsuits in this
Court. Id. R.M.M. sought review of the
dismissal of the child-find and pre-January 2014 FAPE claims,
and further asserted discrimination claims under the
Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and
Section 504. Id. The School District appealed the
ALJ's decision on the FAPE claims, arguing that the ALJ
lacked jurisdiction over them, and had erroneously awarded
relief. Id. Following the parties' cross motions
to dismiss, this Court concluded that R.M.M.'s parents
were entitled to a due process hearing on their child-find
and FAPE claims, and, under Minnesota state law, R.M.M. had
an individual right to a FAPE commensurate with her public
school peers. See R.M.M. v. Minneapolis Pub. Schs.,
Nos. 15-cv-1627 (SRN/HB) & 15-cv-1855 (SRN/HB), 2016 WL
475171, at *16 (D. Minn. Feb. 8, 2016). The Court reinstated
the child-find claim and remanded the matter to the ALJ for
March 2016, the School District filed an appeal with the
Eighth Circuit, limited to the question of whether R.M.M. had
an individual right to a FAPE and to a due process hearing on
the issue of a FAPE. See Special Sch. Dist. No. 1 v.
R.M.M., 861 F.3d 769, 770 (8th Cir. 2017). The Eighth
Circuit held that Minnesota state law granted R.M.M. the
right to a FAPE and that under both federal and state law,
R.M.M.'s parents had a right to a due process hearing to
dispute the provision of a FAPE. Id. at 774-78.
2016, the ALJ held a due process hearing on the remanded
child-find claim. (See ALJ's July 1, 2016 Order
at 2, Ex. C to Goetz Aff. [Doc. No. 111].) He found that the
School District had failed to provide a FAPE, (see
id. at 17), and awarded compensatory education and
retroactive reimbursement for the costs of an assessment, and
$21, 145 for tuition and related services for the 2015-16
school year at a private school, as well as tuition through
the 2017-18 school year. (Id. at 19-20.)
and her parents filed the instant motion for attorneys'
fees and costs based on the attorneys' fees provision of
the IDEA, 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3). (Pls.' Mot. at
1-2.) They contend that they prevailed in these matters,
citing the judgments entered in this Court on June 28, 2017
in Case Number 15-1627 [Doc. No. 106], and in Case Number
16-3085 [Doc. No. 35], and in the Eighth Circuit's June
29, 2017 judgment in Appellate Case Number 16-1601. They seek
to recover attorneys' fees totaling $312, 283.78, costs
and filing fees totaling $400, plus pre- and post-judgment
interest. (Pls.' Mem. Supp. for Attys.' Fees
(“Pls.' Mem.”) at 22-23 [Doc. No. 110].)
School District opposes this motion. It divides the
underlying procedural history into two separate
administrative actions, arguing that Plaintiffs did not
“prevail” under federal law-under which
attorneys' fees are recoverable-in the “first
action.” (Defs.' Opp'n Mem. at 2 [Doc. No.
113].) It contends that Plaintiffs are not entitled to any
fees and costs for work performed in the “first action,
” because relief was afforded only under state law, and
state law does not provide for attorneys' fees.
(Id. at 1-7.) As to the remanded “second
action” on Plaintiffs' child-find claim, the School
District concedes that Plaintiffs are entitled to some fees.
(See id. at 7.) However, the School District seeks a
reduction from the requested amount, arguing that R.M.M. did
not prevail on all of her claims, and the fees were
excessive, redundant, or should otherwise be excluded.
(See Id. at 7-21.)
IDEA provides for the discretionary award of reasonable
attorneys' fees “ to a prevailing party who is the
parent of a child with a disability.” 20 U.S.C. §
1415(i)(3)(B). The Eighth Circuit has observed that to be a
“prevailing party” for purposes of IDEA
attorneys' fees, a litigant must obtain
“‘actual relief on the merits of his claim that
materially alters the legal relationship between the parties
by modifying the defendant's behavior in a way that
directly benefits the plaintiff.'” Neosho R-V
Sch. Dist. v. Clark, 315 F.3d 1022, 1030 (8th Cir. 2003)
(quoting Birmingham v. Omaha Sch. Dist., 298 F.3d
731, 734 (8th Cir. 2002); Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S.
103, 111-12 (1992)).
in Neosho, the Eighth Circuit found that the student
was a prevailing party, because the administrative panel
altered the legal relationship between the parties by
granting the student a right to a behavior management plan
that the school district had previously denied. 315 F.3d at
1030. Similarly, in Birmingham, the court found that
the student was a prevailing party where she was awarded
compensatory education to remedy a right that her school had
previously denied her. 220 F.3d at 857.
however, the School District argues that R.M.M. was not a
prevailing party for purposes of her initial administrative
action because she prevailed on her FAPE claim only under
state law, and ...