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Connecticut Board of Education Awarded Attorneys' Fees by Federal Court in IDEA Case

Stamford Board of Education

In the first decision in Connecticut, and one of the only decisions in the country, a federal judge recently awarded a Connecticut school district attorneys’ fees under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). The case, E.K. by and through his Parents and Next of Friends, Mr. and Mrs. K. v. Stamford Board of Education, No. 07cv800 (Mar. 31, 2009), stemmed from a student’s challenge to his expulsion for making racial threats toward another student. In the spring of 2007, the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut denied the student’s request for a preliminary injunction to require the district to readmit the student to his high school and allow him to participate in graduation ceremonies. After this denial, the student, through his attorney, essentially ignored the prosecution of his IDEA claim -- although he did not officially withdraw the claim for several months -- but maintained his other claims, due process and constitutional vagueness. The district moved for summary judgment; the student opposed this motion and filed his own motion for summary judgment.

In May 2008, the District Court granted the school district’s motion for summary judgment and, thereafter, the district filed with the District Court a request for attorneys’ fees against the student’s attorney. Specifically, the school district claimed that the attorney had pursued the claim under the IDEA after he knew the claim to be frivolous, and that he did so to harass or increase the cost of litigation. The Magistrate Judge, in granting the school district its attorneys’ fees, found that the school district was the prevailing party in the underlying litigation, because the District Court had granted the district’s motion for summary judgment in its entirety, and further found that the plaintiff’s attorney had continued to litigate the IDEA claims after he knew that the litigation had become frivolous. According to the decision, “after the Court denied injunctive relief . . . , plaintiff was clearly on notice of the deficiencies of his IDEA claim.” E.K., No. 07cv800 at *14. The plaintiffs’ attorney has since filed an objection to the Magistrate Judge’s ruling.

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