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Y.Z. v. Clark County Sch. Dist.

United States District Court, D. Nevada

October 20, 2014

Y.Z., a minor, by and through Guardian ad Litem and individual, GRACIELA ARVIZU, Plaintiff,
v.
CLARK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant

Page 1172

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1173

For Y.Z., a minor, by and through Guardian as Litem, Graciela Arvizu, Plaintiffs: Michelle M Jones, Michelle M. Jones, Attorney at Law, Las Vegas, NV.

For Clark County School District, Defendant: Donna Mendoza-Mitchell, Clark County School District, Las Vegas, NV.

Page 1174

Order Granting Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees

ANDREW P. GORDON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

In 2013, Plaintiff " Y.Z." [1] filed an administrative claim with the Nevada Department of Education (" NDE" ) against the Clark County School District (" District" ). Y.Z. alleged that the District denied him certain rights in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (" IDEA" ). During the administrative claim process Y.Z. and the District settled, and the NDE administrative hearing officer incorporated the parties' settlement into an NDE final order. Y.Z. now seeks to recover the attorney's fees he incurred in litigating his claim.

The District argues that only a party who has prevailed in a court action may recover attorney's fees under the IDEA--not. as was the case here, a party who has prevailed in an administrative action. The District also argues that if Y.Z. is permitted to recover fees, his calculation is unreasonable and should be reduced.

I agree with Y.Z. that a plaintiff who prevails in an administrative action may recovery attorney's fees under the IDEA. But I also agree with the District that aspects of Y.Z.'s fee calculation are unreasonable, and I reduce Y.Z.'s award accordingly.

I. BACKGROUND

Y.Z. is a disabled child from a low income, Spanish-speaking family, who attended one of the District's schools. In April of 2013, Y.Z. filed an NDE Due Process Request alleging the District had violated the IDEA by (1) failing to provide Y.Z. a bilingual program of instruction; (2) failing to provide Y.Z. with a certified special education teacher; (3) failing to provide Y.Z.'s parents with notice in the parents' primary language; and (4) failing to implement certain provisions of Y.Z.'s Individualized Education Plan.[2] Y.Z. sought, among other things, compensatory education, translation of Y.Z.'s records, and accommodations related to toilet use.[3]

During the NDA administrative process, the parties settled.[4] The parties' settlement agreement provided Y.Z. with 120 hours of compensatory education, translation of Y.Z.'s records, and accommodations related to toilet use.[5] Y.Z. requested attorneys' fees during the administrative process, but the District refused to include any fee reimbursement in the settlement agreement.[6] After the settlement, the NDE administrative hearing officer issued

Page 1175

a final order expressly incorporating the parties' agreement.[7]

After the administrative action concluded, Y.Z.'s counsel again contacted the District to request attorney's fees. The District refused to pay.[8] Y.Z. alleges that during the course of the underlying administrative proceeding, he incurred $6,600.00 in attorney's fee and $805.50 in costs; [9] and during the instant litigation he incurred 6,025.50 in attorney's fees, and $620.00 in costs.[10] On August 27, 2013, Y.Z. filed a complaint in this Court seeking reimbursement of attorney's fees and costs related to both the underlying administrative action and the instant court action.

II. DISCUSSION

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (" IDEA" ) permits a court to " award reasonable attorneys' fees" to the " prevailing party" " [i]n any action or proceeding brought under" the statute.[11] The prevailing party should ordinarily recover attorney's fees unless the court finds that " special circumstances would render such an award unjust." [12]

The District raises two arguments against Y.Z.'s request for fees: (1) Y.Z. is not a " prevailing party" entitled to fees under the IDEA because he received relief in an administrative process, not in court, and (2) Y.Z.'s fee calculation is not reasonable. I find that Y.Z. is a prevailing party entitled to fees under the IDEA, but that Y.Z.'s fee calculation should be reduced.

A. Prevailing party status

A plaintiff is a " prevailing party" entitled to fees under the IDEA if he (1) brings an action and is provided judicially-sanctioned relief, also referred to as relief with sufficient " judicial imprimatur,[13] and (2) the relief changes the legal relationship between plaintiff and defendant.[14] Here, apparently the parties do not dispute that the second prong of the test is met: the settlement required the District to provide Y.Z. with compensatory education and other binding relief, thus changing the legal relationship between the parties. The issue in dispute is whether relief provided in an administrative action qualifies as " ...


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