Submitted: April 12, 2018
from United States District Court for the Western District of
Arkansas - Ft. Smith Division
GRUENDER, MELLOY, and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.
Cyndi Harter prevailed in an administrative hearing and a
judicial review proceeding, the district court instructed her to
file a request within fourteen days for the attorney fees to
which she was entitled as the prevailing party. Harter timely
filed the request, but only for the hours expended on the
administrative hearing. The district court partially granted
the fee request, awarding only about half the amount she
requested. After this award - and after the initial deadline
had long passed - Harter made another request for attorney
fees, this time for the hours spent on the district court
review proceeding and time spent seeking fees. The district
court denied this fee request as untimely and denied
Harter's request for an extension of time. Harter appeals
the reduced award of attorney fees and the denial of her
second fee request.
2014, Harter initiated a "due process hearing,"
claiming that Paris School District ("PSD")
violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
("IDEA") by not providing her daughter with a free
and appropriate public education ("FAPE") in the
"least restrictive environment." See 20
U.S.C. §§ 1401(9), 1412(a), 1415(f). A hearing
officer with the Arkansas Department of Education presided
over a seven-day due process hearing spread over several
weeks in late 2014 and in early 2015. See 20 U.S.C.
§ 1415(f). The hearing officer ruled, in large part, in
favor of Harter.
allowed by 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2), PSD filed a civil
action in Arkansas state court, challenging the findings and
the relief ordered by the hearing officer. Harter, on behalf
of her daughter, removed the case to federal court.
removal, Harter filed a pleading captioned as a "third
party complaint," raising several claims against PSD and
two school officials in their individual and official
capacities and seeking attorney fees from PSD. The district
court severed PSD's IDEA claim and Harter's
request for attorney fees from the non-IDEA claims
by Harter against PSD and the two school officials.
district court ruled in the IDEA review proceeding in favor
of Harter, affirming nearly all of the hearing officer's
findings. The district court also concluded that, as
the prevailing party, Harter was entitled to attorney fees.
20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B). The district court
"direct[ed] the parties to submit briefing as to the
amount to be awarded for work done on the IDEA claim,"
and gave Harter fourteen days to do so.
days later, Harter requested $69, 206.74 in attorney fees and
costs, claiming approximately 215 attorney hours of work
performed on the due process hearing. A few months later, the
district court granted in part and denied in part the
request, awarding only $27, 000 in attorney fees (based on
108 hours at $250 per hour) and $750 in other costs. The
district court concluded the reduction was warranted because
Harter's attorney spent an unreasonable amount of time
and incurred excessive costs for the hearing.
two weeks later, Harter filed another motion for attorney
fees. She requested an additional $11, 350 in attorney fees,
plus $400 in other costs, both for defending the hearing
officer's findings in the district court review
proceeding and for seeking fees for the due process hearing.
The next day, the district court issued an order sua
sponte, requiring Harter to explain why her second fee
request should not be denied as untimely and why she failed
to include the request for attorney fees related to the
district court litigation in her initial fee request.
filed a response to the district court, stating that she
believed the second request for attorney fees was timely and
that it was her attorney's practice to bifurcate fee
requests in such a manner. She further requested that, if the
court found her request to be untimely, it grant an extension
of time based on her attorney's good faith
district court denied Harter's second request for
attorney fees as untimely. The district court noted that its
prior order "clearly directed [Harter] to submit
briefing as to the amount to be awarded for work done on the
IDEA claim within 14 days" and "did not indicate
that [Harter's attorney] should bifurcate her costs and
fees in any way." The court further denied Harter's
request for an extension to file her fees request out of
time, concluding that, "[w]hile the failure to file the
motion in a timely manner was neglect, it was not