United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER
PATRICIA A. GAUGHAN United States District Court Chief Judge
matter is before the Court upon Plaintiffs' Motion for
Attorneys' Fees Associated with the Administrative
Hearing. (Doc. 33). This is an Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (“IDEA”) case. For the reasons that
follow, Plaintiffs' motion is DENIED.
LaRhonda and Amiya Burton filed this Amended Complaint
against the Cleveland Heights University Heights City School
District (the “District”). This Court has
previously stated the underlying facts in its Memorandum of
Opinion and Order on Defendant's Motion for Judgment on
the Pleadings and will not repeat them herein.
filed a lawsuit in this Court on January 18, 2017. They
brought seven claims, in an Amended Complaint, including a
claim for denial of FAPE under the IDEA, violation of IDEA,
violation of the Child Find Requirement, a discrimination
claim, a retaliation claim, and a claim for attorneys'
fees. The parties litigated these claims for almost a year.
Following discovery and motion practice, Plaintiffs requested
to dismiss all of their claims without prejudice. The parties
filed a Stipulated Notice of Dismissal pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) on January 15, 2018, and the
case was closed the next day.
filed the Motion for Attorneys' Fees at issue here on
January 30, 2018. Defendant opposes the motion.
argues that the Court lacks jurisdiction to consider the
merits of the claim for attorneys' fees because
Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the Amended Complaint
without prejudice. For the following reasons, the Court
Seven of the Amended Complaint asserts a claim for
attorneys' fees under IDEA associated with the
administrative hearing. However, the parties filed a
stipulated notice of voluntary dismissal of all claims
without prejudice. Just as the Court may not rule on the
merits of any of the other claims, Defendant maintains it
also lacks jurisdiction to decide the merits of Count Seven.
Defendant acknowledges that the Supreme Court recognized in
Cooter & Gell v. Hartmarx Corp., 496 U.S. 384
(1990), that courts retain jurisdiction to consider
collateral issues, such as attorneys' fees pursuant to
Rule 11, after an action is no longer pending. For example,
it has been recognized that “a request for
attorneys' fees under § 1988 raises legal issues
collateral to and separate from the decision on the
merits.” Gnesys, Inc. v. Green, 437 F.3d 482
(6th Cir. 2005) (quoting White v. New Hampshire Dep't
of Employment Security, 455 U.S. 445 (1982)). Defendant
asserts, however, that because the Amended Complaint included
a separate substantive claim for attorneys' fees, the
herein motion is not simply “collateral” to the
closed action. In its reply, Plaintiffs merely contend that
they have properly sought their fees pursuant to Fed. R. Civ.
Pro. 54, which requires a prevailing party to seek fees by
motion after a judgment. Since the Court granted the
stipulated notice of voluntary dismissal, judgment has been
entered. Plaintiffs do not address whether the fees issue is
a collateral matter.
stated above, requests for attorneys' fees under §
1988, for example, raise legal issues collateral to the main
cause of action and, therefore, the district court has
jurisdiction after judgment or dismissal of the § 1983
complaint to entertain the motion for attorneys' fees.
See also Valley Disposal, Inc. v. Central Vermont Solid
Waste Management Dist., 71 F.3d 1053 (2d Cir. 1995)
(Although the § 1983 complaint contained a specific
request for § 1988 attorneys' fees in the prayer for
relief, the court retained jurisdiction to entertain a motion
for fees after the underlying complaint was dismissed because
whether to award fees is a collateral issue involving
questions that must be resolved after resolution of the
merits, e.g., whether the party seeking fees prevailed.). In
other cases, the issue of attorneys' fees is a core issue
which must be sought and resolved before judgment. Vaughn
v. Konecranes, Inc., 2016 WL 5219586 (E.D.Ky. Sept. 19,
2016) (citations omitted) (The issue of whether
attorneys' fees were owed under a contractual
indemnification provision was not merely collateral to the
main issue of the enforceability of the indemnity
provision.). Here, Plaintiffs request fees pursuant to IDEA
incurred in the underlying administrative hearing. This is a
core issue on judicial review of the due process hearing
where IDEA permits any party that is dissatisfied with the
administrative outcome to bring suit in state or federal
court. Unlike a § 1988 application which must be
addressed after resolution of the main cause of
action, i.e., the § 1983 claim, the request for fees
here required the Court to consider the issues of fees along
with the appeal of the state level review officer's
decision which has already been resolved.
insist that they have complied with Rule 54 because they
filed their motion after entry of judgment. R. 54(d)(2)(B).
However, the rule also states, “A claim for
attorney's fees . . . must be made by motion unless the
substantive law requires those fees to be proved at trial as
an element of damages.” R. 54(d)(2)(A). One court has
explained that “[t]his rule distinguishes legal fees
that are sought as damages based on the substantive law of
the claim before the trial court with legal fees that are
collateral to the merits and awarded only after the
adjudication of the relevant claims and entry of
judgment.” Vaughn, supra (citations omitted).
In this case, Plaintiffs seek fees “associated with the
administrative hearing, ” which has already been
resolved, as part of its civil action for review of that
hearing. As such, Plaintiffs were required to raise and prove
the issue of fees during the pendency of this Complaint.
Id. As Plaintiffs dismissed their claim for fees
without prejudice, the Court is without jurisdiction to
consider fees via a motion.