E.K. v. Stamford Board of Education

___ F. Supp. 3d ___ (U.S. Dist. Conn. 2009)

2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30396

March 31, 2009

This case involved the defendant, Stamford Board of Education’s, renewed motion for an award of attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in its defense against the plaintiffs, a seventeen year old senior enrolled at Stamford High School and his parents, “Mr. and Mrs. K.”

The plaintiff was expelled for 90 days in May of 2007 after two altercations with a classmate earlier in the year, and sought a declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the defendant from enforcing the expulsion. The plaintiff claimed that he was entitled to the protections afforded to disabled students pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and that his constitutionally protected due process rights were violated. However, the judge found that the plaintiff did not meet any of the criteria of a special education student, and, thus, was not entitled to the “stay put” protections under the IDEA. The plaintiff had exited special education two years prior to the altercations, and the defendant was not aware of his past disability.

After the court granted the Stamford Board of Education’s motion for summary judgment, it filed a motion to recover attorney’s fees and costs from the plaintiffs’ counsel under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), 20 U.S.C. §1415(i)(3)(B)(II) and (III). Pursuant to the IDEIA, a court may use its discretion to award attorneys’ fees to a prevailing local educational agency against the attorney of a parent who files a complaint that is, or continues to litigate a claim that becomes, “frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation,” or was “presented for any improper use.”

After reviewing the record, the court found sufficient evidence to conclude that the plaintiffs’ counsel “continued to litigate [the IDEA claim] after the litigation clearly became frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.” The plaintiff argued that his claim was based on “a fair application and comprehensive presentation of the applicable law and reasonable application of the law [to the] facts of the case.” However, the court found that the plaintiffs continued litigation even after the injunctive relief was denied and they were clearly on notice of the deficiencies of their IDEA claim.

The court awarded the defendant the fees and costs incurred in the defense of the IDEA claim alone. Expenses associated with the defense of plaintiffs’ other claims were not included in award. The District Court ordered the Plaintiffs’ counsel to pay attorney’s fees in the amount of $15,972.50, payable to the defendant within thirty days.

Jennifer Pomales, CCA Legal Intern (5/09)

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