Third Circuit offers a Lesson and Opportunity on IDEA Fee Demands

In an interesting but unpublished opinion out of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, there is a lesson for parents’ attorneys and a possible opportunity for school districts involved in fee disputes under the IDEA. In the case of L.J. v. Audubon Board of Education (2010), after having successfully won an IDEA administrative hearing, parents’ counsel filed a fee demand of 235.8 hours at a rate of $400 per hour, which the court struck down to 177.2 hours at a rate of $250 per hour.

In reaching its conclusion, the court noted a couple of important issues. First, the fees must be reasonable and determined by the community market rate. Second, the rate needs be determined based upon the experience, skill and reputation of the lawyer involved. Finally, the court noted that the attorney petitioning for the fees has the burden of showing that the fees are reasonable and meet the standard.

For parents’ attorneys this may be a lesson to be more reasonable in fees or it may cost you, in the case of  L.J.’s counsel it cost over $50,000 in expected fees that were denied by the court. For school districts, this presents an opportunity in that perhaps sometimes it is worth challenging an unreasonable fee demand.  

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