Friday, October 13, 2017

attorney fees - "prevailing party" - success on procedural issue

H.E. v. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter school – 3d Cir. – October 11, 2017

Held:  Success on a claim for procedural relief can constitute a victory‘on the merits that confer ‘prevailing party’ status.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act contains a fee-shifting provision, which, provided that a parent of a child with a disability has emerged as “a prevailing party” in administrative or judicial proceedings challenging violations of the Act, renders the parent eligible for an award of attorneys’ fees. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B).

The parents in this case obtained a court order vindicating their right to an administrative due process hearing under the Act, but the District Court denied their request for attorneys’ fees, reasoning that they had received only interlocutory procedural relief and, for that reason, were not prevailing parties.

Because that conclusion is contrary to this Court’s decisions in M.R. v. Ridley School District, 868 F.3d 218 (3d Cir. 2017), and Bagby v. Beal, 606 F.2d 411 (3d Cir. 1979), where we explained that success on a claim for procedural relief can constitute “a victory ‘on the merits’ that confer[s] ‘prevailing party’ status,” M.R., 868 F.3d at 226 (quoting Bagby, 606 F.2d at 415), we will reverse the District Court’s denial of attorneys’ fees and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.