In a series of cases, the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) refused to pay attorneys appointed to represent indigent students in cases under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) fees at an hourly rate above the rate that the attorneys could have recovered under the Criminal Justice Act (CJA). The students’ parents brought breach of contract actions in DC Superior Court to enforce settlement agreements that incorporate by reference DCPS attorney fee guidelines that provide hourly rates well-above the CJA rate. In cases where the student was a prevailing party in the underlying administrative action, the parents sought awards of market-based rates in cases brought in federal court under the fee-shifting provision of the IDEA. We served as co-counsel in four such cases and argued that where a plaintiff is entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees, the fee is calculated based on the prevailing market rate and not on the basis of actual cost, even where the party entitled to fees is represented by appointed counsel.
In Douglas, the district court granted plaintiffs motion in part, agreeing with plaintiffs on most points but reducing the hourly rate to account for the degree of complexity of the litigation.