United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
BENJAMIN NADER, a minor child, by and with his parents, ET AL.
ST. TAMMANY PARISH SCHOOL BOARD
ORDER AND REASONS
S. VANCE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court are the parties' dueling motions for summary
judgment on plaintiffs' claim for attorneys' fees
under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The Court finds that plaintiffs are not entitled to
attorneys' fees under the IDEA. It therefore grants
defendant's motion for summary judgment and denies
case arises out of an IDEA complaint and due process hearing
against defendant St. Tammany Parish School
Board. The IDEA “is a Spending Clause
statute that seeks to ensure that ‘all children with
disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public
education.'” Schaffer v. Weast, 546 U.S.
49, 51 (2005) (quoting 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A)). To
receive federal funding under the Act, each state must comply
with certain conditions, including procedural safeguards set
forth in § 1415. See 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a),
(a)(6)(A). One of these conditions is that each state must
allow “any party to present a complaint . . . with
respect to any matter relating to the identification,
evaluation, or educational placement of [a] child, or the
provision of a free appropriate public education to such
child.” Id. § 1415(b)(6)(A). If the
matter cannot be resolved through an informal meeting,
complaining parents have a right to an “impartial due
process hearing” conducted by a state or local
educational agency, as provided by state law. Id.
§ 1415(f)(1)(A), (f)(B)(ii). The IDEA also permits a
prevailing party in that due process hearing to recover its
attorneys' fees by bringing a subsequent action in
federal court. See Id. § 1415(i)(3).
Benjamin Nader is a student with disabilities in the St.
Tammany Public School System, and the son of plaintiffs James
and Michelle Nader. On October 20, 2017, James and Michelle
Nader filed a special education due process request, pursuant
to the IDEA and Louisiana's implementing regulations, to
determine whether defendant's actions or inactions
violated Benjamin's rights to a free appropriate public
education.A hearing on this request was conducted
from February 19 to 22, 2018, before Administrative Law Judge
William H. Cooper, III.
Nader served as lead counsel during these administrative
proceedings. James Nader is a practicing attorney,
licensed in Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma, and is a
shareholder and director at the law firm of Lobman, Carnahan,
Batt, Angelle & Nader in New Orleans. Sarah Didlake, an
associate attorney at Lobman, Carnahan, Batt, Angelle &
Nader, also provided legal services in connection with
Benjamin's administrative proceeding.
March 12, 2018, Judge Cooper issued a written Decision and
Order on the due process request. He held that defendant had
denied Benjamin “a free and appropriate public
education by segregating him and not accommodating or
modifying his school work or study guides in a manner
reasonably calculated to enable him to receive educational
benefits.” Judge Cooper ordered defendant to provide
Benjamin with curriculum specialists in social studies and
science who would, in a timely manner, “accommodate and
modify each week's school work and study
April 11, 2018, plaintiffs filed this complaint, stating that
as the prevailing parties in the administrative proceedings,
they are entitled to attorneys' fees under the
IDEA. Plaintiffs and defendants now both move
for summary judgment on plaintiffs' claim.
judgment is warranted when “the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Little v.
Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994).
When assessing whether a dispute as to any material fact
exists, the Court considers “all of the evidence in the
record but refrain[s] from making credibility determinations
or weighing the evidence.” Delta &
Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co.,
530 F.3d 395, 398-99 (5th Cir. 2008). All reasonable
inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, but
“unsupported allegations or affidavits setting forth
‘ultimate or conclusory facts and conclusions of
law' are insufficient to either support or defeat a
motion for summary judgment.” Galindo v. Precision
Am. Corp., 754 F.2d 1212, 1216 (5th Cir. 1985); see
also Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. “No genuine dispute
of fact exists if the record taken as a whole could not lead
a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving
party.” EEOC v. Simbaki, Ltd., 767 F.3d 475,
481 (5th Cir. 2014).
dispositive issue is one on which the moving party will bear
the burden of proof at trial, the moving party “must
come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a
directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at
trial.” Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's,
Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1264-65 (5th Cir. 1991) (internal
citation omitted). The nonmoving party can then defeat the
motion by either countering with evidence sufficient to
demonstrate the existence of a genuine dispute of material
fact, or by “showing that the moving party's
evidence is so sheer that it may not persuade the reasonable
fact-finder to return a verdict in favor of the moving
party.” Id. at 1265.
dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will
bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may
satisfy its burden by pointing out that the evidence in the
record is insufficient with respect to an essential element
of the nonmoving party's claim. See Celotex, 477
U.S. at 325. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party,
who must, by submitting or referring to evidence, set out
specific facts showing that a genuine issue exists. See
Id. at 324. The nonmovant may not rest upon the
pleadings, but must identify specific facts that establish a
genuine issue for trial. See, e.g., id.;
Little, 37 F.3d at 1075 (“Rule 56
mandates the entry of summary judgment, after
adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party
who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party's case,
and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at
trial.” (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322)).
IDEA states that “[i]n any action or proceeding brought
under this section, 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)(I).
Defendant does not contest that the Naders were the
“prevailing party” in the administrative
proceeding. The parties instead dispute whether “a
prevailing party who is [a] parent” may be awarded
attorneys' fees when that parent served as his
child's lead counsel. The parties further dispute whether
plaintiffs can recover attorneys' fees in connection with
Didlake's legal services.
Second, Third, Fourth, and Ninth Circuits are the only
circuits that have addressed whether an attorney-parent who
appeared on his child's behalf in an IDEA proceeding can
recover attorneys' fees as a prevailing party. See
Ford v. Long Beach Unified Sch. Dist., 461 F.3d 1087
(9th Cir. 2006); S.N. ex rel. v. Pittsford Cent. Sch.
Dist., 448 F.3d 601 (2d Cir. 2006); Woodside v. Sch.
Dist. Of Phila. Bd. of Educ., 248 F.3d 129 (3d Cir.
2001); Doe v. Bd. of Educ. of Balt. Cty., 165 F.3d
260 (4th Cir. 1998). Each held that the attorney-parent could
not recover attorneys' fees. Id. No court in
this district has addressed this question.
Doe, the Fourth Circuit grounded its decision in an
application of Kay v. Ehrler, 499 U.S. 432 (1991).
In Kay, the Supreme Court held that a pro
se plaintiff who is an attorney cannot be awarded
attorney's fees under the fee-shifting provision of the
Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act, 42 U.S.C. §
1988(b). See 499 U.S. at 437. The Supreme Court
reasoned that the “overriding statutory concern”
in the fee-shifting ...