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 Price, the district court granted DCPS’s motion for summary judgment and denied the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, holding that parents who prevailed in IDEA proceedings could recover only the statutory rate for attorney’s fees set by the CJA when their attorneys were appointed by the court to represent them. We appealed that decision and, on June 26, 2015, the DC Circuit reversed, holding that the attorney’s fees should be based on prevailing rates in the community and that the CJA rate is not a relevant factor in determining the fees.