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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

SDNY awards attorney fees to parent who prevailed via pendency; denial of attorneys fees as denial of FAPE

J.S. and S.S. v. Carmel Central School District: Parents privately placed and filed a hearing request in which they sought reimbursement. Pendency was the private placement. Due to protracted proceedings, the District had to pay for the placement as pendency for a two year period. Parents then made a claim for attorney fees and the District filed a motion to dismiss. Prior case law (O’Shea v. Bd. of Educ., 521 F. Supp. 2d 284 (S.D.N.Y. 2007)) had rejected an attorney fee claim in similar, albeit not the same circumstances. In O’Shea, the litigation of the prior and present claims overlapped; here, the prior action had concluded. The Court found that this was sufficient to distinguish the present case. But, in any event, the Court viewed O’Shea as wrongly decided. Thus, the Court denied the District’s motion to dismiss the Parents’ claim for attorney fees. Of import, the Court noted that the denial of attorneys fees “would effectively deny plaintiffs the free appropriate education guaranteed by the IDEIA. After all, if plaintiffs must pay thousands of dollars in attorneys fees to secure appropriate public education, then that education can hardly be called free.” (Note that this is a SDNY case outsourced to a Maryland judge).

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