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Legal Memorandum: Recovery of Attorney's Fees

Issue: Whether a parent involved in an IDEA matter (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) may recover attorneys’ fees following a settlement granting them the relief initially requested, but only after an attorney’s involvement.

Area of Law: Education Law
Keywords: Attorney's fees; Recovery; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 532 U.S. 598; 290 F.3d 159; 318 F.3d 545; 786 A.2d 907
Cited Statutes: § 1415; Section 1415(i)(3)
Date: 11/01/2007

While the catalyst theory formerly allowed for a fee award under circumstances in which the mere threat of litigation brought about the desired outcome, that theory was explicitly rejected by the United States Supreme Court in Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home v. West Va. Dep’t of Health & Human Res., 532 U.S. 598 (2001).

Since the 2001 Buckhannon decision, the Third Circuit, as well as most other courts across the country, have required some sort of judicial involvement to confer prevailing party status.  See IDEA 2004 to determine whether Congress may disapprove of the treatment given § 1415’s fee-shifting provision.  Although IDEA 2004 contains some amendments to the fee-shifting statute, it has not changed the provision as it existed at the time of the Buckhannon decision, supporting the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the statute.

Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home v. West Va. Dep’t of Health & Human Res., 532 U.S. 598 (2001) (In a case under the FHAA and ADA, the Supreme Court held the catalyst theory, under which a plaintiff fails to obtain judgment but nonetheless achieves the desired results because of voluntary action by the defendant, is inapplicable to the determination of a prevailing party because the desired result is not occasioned by a judicially sanctioned change in the legal relationship between the parties.).

Baer v. Klagholz, 786 A.2d 907 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2001) (Parents challenging state education regulations were not entitled to portion […]

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