Thursday, August 12, 2004

Big Day in the DC District Court I

August 5, 2004 was a big day for Judge Paul L. Friedman of the United States District Court for the District of Coumbia. On that date, he issued five decisions dealing with special education law. The first, Blackman v. District of Columbia, involved a motion for attorneys fees and costs filed by plaintiff Michelle Bridgeford, mother and next friend of Rochelle Bridgeford. The underlying case involved an application for a preliminary injunctions seeking to enforce a settlement agreement entered into by the parties in lieu of a due process hearing. The Court granted the injunction and a motion for attorneys' fees was made. The total amount sought was $7,048.73 in attorneys' fees and costs.

The school district opposed the motion. First, it claimed that a statutory cap on fees exists which limits the amount of fees that a plaintiff can obtain in an action brought under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The Court, however, stated that the cap was inapplicable, as this action was brought under 42 U.S.C. 1983.

Second, the school district claimed that, under Buckhannon Board & Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Dep't of Health and Human Services, the plaintiff was not entitled to attorneys' fees. In order to obtain fees under Buckhannon, the plaintiff must show that there is an alteration in the legal relationship of the parties that has been given some judicial imprimatur. The Court held that the order, granting injunctive relief, altered the legal relationship between the parties and provided the required judicial imprimatur.

The Blackman case can be found here.


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