Class Action Defense Cases-Blackman v. District of Columbia: Federal Court Failed To Properly Certify Orders For Appeal And Defense Correct That Attorney Fees In Section 1983 Class Actions To Enforce IDEA Are Capped DC Circuit Holds
DC Circuit Agrees With Defense that Attorney Fee Awards in Section 1983 Class Action to Enforce IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) are Capped by IDEA, but Holds that Federal District Court Failed to Properly Certify Two Attorney Fee Orders for Appeal
Following substantial litigation in multiple consolidated class action lawsuits against the District of Columbia, the federal district court rejected defense arguments and entered three separate attorney fees awards against the District. Defense attorneys sought interlocutory review of the attorney fee orders; the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held (1) it did not have jurisdiction over two of the orders because the district court failed to properly certify them for appeal, and (2) the district court erred in concluding that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) did not limit the amount of fees that could be awarded in section 1983 actions to enforce the IDEA. Blackman v. District of Columbia, 456 F.3d 167 (D.C. Cir. 2006).
Congress enacted legislation limiting the amount of attorney fees that could be awarded to prevailing parties in IDEA cases against the District of Columbia to stem “‘the growth in legal expenses and litigation associated with special education in the District of Columbia and the usurping of resources from education to pay attorney fees.’” Blackman, at 170 (quoting H.R.Rep No. 195-670, at 50 (1998)). Four separate class action lawsuits were filed against the District under section 1983 seeking to enforce the IDEA, two of which were consolidated as a single lawsuit leaving three distinct albeit consolidated class actions pending. Id., at 171-72. The district court ordered injunctive relief in two of the cases, but not the third. Eventually the plaintiffs in all three actions sought attorney fees. The District argued that IDEA capped any attorney fee award against it, and that attorney fees were not warranted in the action in which the district court failed to order injunctive relief because the plaintiffs therein were not “prevailing parties.” The district court rejected both arguments and awarded attorney fees in all three actions. Id., at 173-74.