United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Central Division
KAREN ARTICHOKER, LEGAL GUARDIAN AND NEXT FRIEND OF D.D., A MINOR, Plaintiff,
TODD COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART MOTION FOR
ROBERTO A. LANGE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Karen Artichoker, Legal Guardian and Next Friend of D.D.,
filed a motion for attorney's fees under 20 U.S.C. §
1415(i)(3)(B), a provision of the Individuals with Disability
Education Act (IDEA). Doc. 57. Artichoker seeks $65, 125 in
attorney's fees for work done on D.D.'s IDEA case at
both the administrative level and on appeal before this
Court. Doc. 59-1 at 9. The Todd County School District
opposes this motion in its entirety. Doc. 60. Finding that
Artichoker prevailed on her claims within the meaning of the
IDEA at the administrative level only, this Court grants
attorney's fees in the amount of $32, 575, and denies all
other attorney's fees.
Court issued an Opinion and Order providing a detailed
explanation of the facts and issues in this case. Doc. 54;
Artichoker v. Todd Cty. Sch. Dist., No.
3:15-CV-03021-RAL, 2016 WL 7489033 (D.S.D. Dec. 29, 2016).
During the 2014-2015 school year, D.D. was a 12-year old
student enrolled in seventh grade at the Lakeview School on
the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation, within the Todd County
School District. Doc. 54 at 4-5. Following a number of
behavioral issues, school absences, and meetings to develop a
behavior plan, D.D. was suspended from school for the
remainder of the year after bringing a knife to school. Doc.
54 at 5-7. On April 27, 2015, D.D.'s legal guardian,
Artichoker, filed an IDEA complaint against the District for
failing to conduct a required and requested individual
special education evaluation, and failing to provide D.D.
with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) and IDEA
protections during D.D.'s three and a half month
suspension. Doc. 54 at 7. Artichoker requested a full
evaluation of D.D., an individualized education plan (IEP),
compensatory education, and attorney's fees. Doc. 54 at
7. A due process hearing was scheduled before an
administrative hearing examiner for July 7, 2015. Doc. 54 at
the due process hearing, the District made Artichoker a
written settlement offer, offering D.D. a full evaluation
either while placed at a short-term psychiatric care facility
at the District's expense or by a "school
psycholbgist/evaluator who contracts with the school;"
providing D.D. a tutoring software system for summer use; and
placing D.D. at a different school in the fall better able to
accommodate D.D.'s needs. Doc. 23-20; Doc. 54 at 7.
Artichoker rejected the offer, citing the lack of
compensatory educational services and because an evaluation
done by an evaluator of the District's choosing would not
be sufficient. Doc. 23-23 at 1. Following the hearing but
before a written decision, Artichoker resisted scheduling an
evaluation because she was "not confident that [D.D.]
would receive an impartial evaluation from the
[District's] staff or people with whom the District has a
regular contractual relationship, " because of the
potential for bias, and because Artichoker "expressly
requested that an evaluation be conducted by someone who is
not employed by the District or have a regular contractual
relationship with the District." Doc. 23-26 at 1.
hearing examiner issued a written decision finding in favor
of Artichoker on both issues addressed: (1) "Whether the
Todd County School District's failure to order an
evaluation after referral and request for evaluations by the
guardian violated the IDEA and deprived D.D. of FAPE, "
and (2) "Whether the Todd County School District's
expulsion of D.D. without the procedural safeguards of the
IDEA deprive[d] her of FAPE." Doc. 19-3 at 1; Doc. 54 at
8. The hearing examiner ordered the District to complete
"a full and individualized initial evaluation conducted
by a qualified professional licensed in the state of South
Dakota who is not regularly affiliated with the School
District, " and "[s]hould DD qualify for special
services under the IDEA the school is to implement those
within one month." Doc. 19-3 at 11; Doc. 54 at 8. D.D.
then received a full and individualized initial evaluation
while placed at a residential treatment facility, qualified
for, and began receiving necessary services under an IEP.
Doc. 54 at 8.
the hearing examiner's decision, but before D.D.'s
evaluation was completed, Artichoker filed suit in this
Court, seeking a "reversal of the hearing officer's
decision that failed to award compensatory educational
services." Doc. 54 at 11. The District filed a
counterclaim challenging the hearing examiner's decisions
on the two issues addressed. Doc. 54 at 11. This Court
affirmed the hearing examiner's decision, thus denying
Artichoker's request for compensatory education and
denying the District's request for reconsideration of the
hearing examiner's IDEA decisions. Doc. 54 at 25-26.
then filed a motion for attorney's fees for work done by
Artichoker's counsel, Dana Hanna. Doc. 57. This motion
included 130.3 hours of work done at the administrative
level, and 130.2 hours of work done at the district court
level in defending the District's counterclaims. Doc. 58;
Doc. 59-1. At a rate of $250 an hour, Artichoker requests
$65, 125 total, comprised of $32, 575 at the administrative
level and $32, 550 at the district court level. Doc. 59-1 at
6, 8-9. The District opposes this motion for attorney's
fees in its entirety. Doc. 60.
Attorney's Fees under the IDEA
an action under the IDEA, "the court, in its discretion,
may award reasonable attorneys' fees as part of the costs
... to a prevailing party who is the parent of a child with a
disability." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i). "A
litigant is a 'prevailing party' if he obtains
'actual relief on the merits of his claim that materially
alters the legal relationship between the parties by
modifying the defendant's behavior in a way that directly
benefits the plaintiff.'" Neosho R-V Sch. Dist.
v. Clark, 315 F.3d 1022, 1030 (8th Cir. 2003) (quoting
Birmingham v. Omaha Sch. Dist, 298 F.3d 731, 734
(8th Cir. 2002); Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103,
111-12 (1992)). A party does not need to succeed on the
entirety of the litigation to be considered the prevailing
party under the IDEA; "[a] party prevails if it
succeeded on any significant issue which achieved some of the
benefit it sought." Yankton Sch. Dist. v.
Schramm, 93 F.3d 1369, 1377 (8th Cir. 1996). However,
"any relief obtained 'must directly benefit the
plaintiff at the time of the judgment or
settlement.'" Drennan v. Pulaski Cty. Special
Sch. Dist., 458 F.3d 755, 757 (8th Cir. 2006) (internal
alteration omitted) (quoting Warner v. Indep. Sch. Dist.,
No. 625, 134 F.3d 1333, 1338 (8th Cir. 1998)).
Furthermore, "attorney's fees should ordinarily be
awarded to the prevailing party unless 'special
circumstances' exist to make an award unjust."
Borengasser v. Ark. State Bd. of Educ, 996 F.2d 196,
199 (8th Cir. 1993).
IDEA prohibits the award of attorney's fees and costs in
certain situations. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(D).
"Attorneys' fees may not be awarded ... in any
action or proceeding under this section for services
performed subsequent to the time of a written offer of
settlement to a parent, " if (1) the offer is made at
least ten days before the administrative proceeding begins,
(2) the offer is not accepted within ten days, and (3)
"the court or administrative hearing officer finds that
the relief finally obtained by the parents is not more
favorable to the parents than the offer of settlement."
Id. § 1415(i)(3)(D)(i). However, if the
prevailing party parent "was substantially justified in
rejecting the settlement offer, " attorney's fees
may be awarded. Id. § 1415(i)(3)(E). A court
can reduce the amount of attorney's fees awarded if it
finds that (1) "the parent, or the parent's attorney
. . . unreasonably protracted the final resolution of the
controversy;" (2) "the amount of the attorneys'
fees otherwise authorized to be awarded unreasonably exceeds
the hourly rate prevailing in the community for similar
services by attorneys of reasonably comparable skill,
reputation, and experience;" (3) "the time spent
and legal services furnished were excessive considering the
nature of the action or proceeding, " or (4) "the
attorney representing the parent did not provide to the local
educational agency the appropriate information in the notice
of the complaint." Id. § 1415(i)(3)(F).
order to award attorney's fees under the IDEA, this Court
must first determine whether Artichoker was a prevailing
party at the administrative level-whether she "succeeded
on any significant issue in litigation which achieved some of
the benefit [she] sought." Texas State Teachers
Ass'n v. Garland Indep. Sch. Dist., 489 U.S. 782,
791-92 (1989) (internal marks and quotation removed);
Yankton Sch. Dist., 93 F.3d at 1377. The Eighth
Circuit has recognized that an action at the administrative
level qualifies as an "action or proceeding brought
under [§ l4lfj(i)(3)(B)], " and thus a prevailing
parent can ...