The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, which represents families
in disputes with school districts over special education services, has filed a civil suit against the Philadelphia School District in which it claims the defendant has failed to respond to its requests for attorneys’ fees stemming from underlying litigation.
The complaint, which was filed in federal court in Philadelphia on Feb. 6, stems from a 2013 case in which the law center represented the parent of a child eligible for special education services.
The parent in that case, identified only as “K.W.” in court papers, entered into a retainer agreement that assigns her interest in any attorneys’ fees awarded to the Law Center, the lawsuit states.
According to last week’s civil action, a special hearing officer issued an opinion following a hearing back in November of last year that provides “significant relief” to the parent, and as a result, the parent is entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees and costs incurred during the prosecution of the special education hearing.
In mid-November, the Law Center sent a letter to the school district requesting payment for the parent’s legal fees and costs, a correspondence that was followed up with an in-person meeting earlier this year.
As of Jan. 16, however, an agreement on fees had not been reached.
In this case, the Law Center seeks a total of $42,634.08 in legal fees stemming from the work performed by staff attorney Sonja Kerr, whose hourly rate is typically $450, although the plaintiff only seeks a $400 per hour reimbursement rate in connection with its representation of “K.W.”
Law Center attorney Michele Reichow, who has served as the special education administrator at the nonprofit organization since last year, and who typically bills $125 per hour, also worked on the underlying case in the capacity as a paralegal, the complaint states.
The lawsuit says that Kerr spent 104 total hours working on the case while Reichow put in about 7-and-a-half hours.
The parent, the suit says, incurred travel costs of $96.58.
The Law Center claims that the parent is entitled to reasonable attorneys’ fees because she was the prevailing party in the special education due process hearing.
The complaint was filed by attorney Molly E. Flynn of the Philadelphia firm Drinker Biddle & Reath.
The federal case number is 2:14-cv-00815-CDJ.