The parents of a student in the Miami-Dade County School District sued the district for over $1,000,000 due to an alleged denial of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). They also sought $486,519 in attorneys’ fees.
The parents were successful in the suit, but not to the extent they would have liked. They recovered $48,326 for educational expenses incurred, less than 10% of the amount sought.
And for attorneys’ fees the recovery was $168,313.
Still, that ain’t chicken feed. There were four law firms involved in the case, including 13 lawyers, one of whom regularly charges $600/hour. The court thought that New York hourly rate was excessive for a case in Florida, so it dropped it down to what competent Florida lawyers might charge.
This case went on for five years, moving from the due process hearing to the federal district court and then the 11th Circuit. We expect it’s not completely over, as there are more attorneys’ fees to argue over.
Keep in mind: we are only talking about the fees that were incurred by the lawyers representing the parents. The school ended up paying a large chunk of those fees, and no doubt, kept a number of its own lawyers busy on the case as well.
There has to be a better way than this.
The case is R.L. and S.L. v. Miami-Dade County School Board. The decision of the federal court for the Southern District of Florida addressed the attorneys’ fee issue in detail and it can be found at 61 IDELR 64 or 2013 WL 2157156. The 11th Circuit decision is at 114 LRP 30126 or 2014 WL 3031231.