and Submitted August 1, 2016 Pasadena, California
from the United States District Court for the Central
District of California, D.C. No. 2:10-cv-01431-JVS-MLG James
V. Selna, District Judge, Presiding
Daniel Harbottle (argued), Harbottle Law Group, Irvine,
California, for Plaintiff-Appellant.
J.K. Tiffany (argued), Tiffany Law Group, Torrence,
California, for Defendant-Appellee.
Ann Salmon Evans and Karl H. Widell, Dannis Woliver Kelley,
Long Beach, California, for Amici Curiae California School
Boards Association Education Legal Alliance & National
School Boards Association.
Before: Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, Johnnie B. Rawlinson,
and Consuelo M. Callahan, Circuit Judges.
with Disabilities Education Act / Attorneys' Fees
panel affirmed the district court's grant of relief from
judgment but vacated its award of attorneys' fees to a
student in an action under the Individuals with Disabilities
remand from a ruling that student K.G.'s school district
was the agency responsible for K.G.'s free appropriate
public education, K.G. moved for statutory attorneys'
fees. The district court denied the motion on the ground that
K.G. was not a prevailing party but subsequently granted
relief from judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
60(b) and awarded fees.
panel held that the district court did not abuse its
discretion in granting relief under Rule 60(b)(1) on the
ground of excusable neglect.
panel held that K.G. was a prevailing party entitled to
attorneys' fees because K.G. achieved the benefit sought,
a decision as to which agency was responsible to provide a
free appropriate public education. The panel rejected the
argument that K.G. could not have benefitted from the
litigation because K.G. graduated with a high school diploma
months before the district court decided the case. The panel
held that K.G.'s victory was not trivial or merely
panel held, however, that it was not clear whether the amount
of attorneys' fees awarded was reasonable because much of
counsel's work took place after K.G.'s graduation.
The panel vacated the fee award and remanded for the district
court to determine whether the hours billed following
K.G.'s graduation were truly the result of advocacy
reasonably calculated to advance K.G.'s interests.
and dissenting in part, Judge Callahan joined all of the
majority opinion except for Section III C, addressing the
amount of fees. Judge Callahan wrote that there was no
justification in either the IDEA or case law for limiting an
award of attorneys' fees to a prevailing party based on
whether the student graduated.
O'SCANNLAIN, Circuit Judge:
asked to decide whether the attorney for a student covered
under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is
entitled to fees for legal work performed after the
student's graduation from public school.
case originates from a dispute over which California
government entity would be responsible for funding the
education of K.G., an emotionally disturbed minor from
California. Following K.G.'s release from juvenile hall
in 2007, the California Department of Education ("the
State"), the Orange County Department of Education
("the County"), and the Irvine Unified School
District ("the School District") all agreed that
K.G. was entitled to a "free appropriate public
education" ("FAPE") under the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C.
§ 1400(d)(1)(A), but each entity disclaimed
responsibility for funding such FAPE. Eventually, the County
agreed to fund K.G.'s FAPE, temporarily, until the
financially responsible agency could be determined as a
matter of law.
November 2009, an administrative law judge ("ALJ")
within California's Office of Administrative Hearings
ruled that the School District was the agency responsible for
the FAPE under California law. The District filed a civil
action in federal district court challenging the ALJ's
decision and naming the State, the County, and K.G. as
co-defendants in February of 2010, two months before
K.G.'s graduation in April. Proceedings in the district
court continued for seven months after K.G.'s graduation
and culminated in a decision holding the State responsible
for K.G.'s FAPE in November of 2010. The State appealed
to this court, and we determined that, as a matter of
California law, the School District was responsible for
providing K.G.'s FAPE and not the State; we remanded the
case for proceedings consistent with our decision. See
Irvine Unified Sch. Dist. v. Cal., 506 F.App'x 548,
550 (9th Cir. 2013) (unpublished).
remand and before the entry of judgment in district court,
K.G. moved for statutory attorneys' fees under IDEA. 20
U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(B)(i)(I). K.G., still with the
original attorney, requested $232, 625.00 in fees and $1,
286.85 in costs. The district court denied the request for
attorneys' fees entirely, holding that K.G. was not a
"prevailing party" under IDEA because K.G.'s
"victory"-the conclusive determination as to which
agency would fund the FAPE-was merely "technical or de
minimis." During the course of litigation, K.G. had
maintained that the State was responsible for the FAPE rather
than the School District, an argument the district court
accepted. The district court therefore reasoned that,
"given the inherently equitable nature of deciding on
attorney fee awards, it seems inappropriate for the District
to pay fees accumulated while K.G. was arguing the
District's own position." K.G. failed to file a
the assistance of a new attorney, K.G. sought relief from the
district court's denial of fees under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 60(b) in February 2014. K.G. argued that the
original attorney had "experienced several traumas,
including the death of her mother and father-in-law as well
as her own life-threatening condition, which triggered an
unusually severe bout of depression and anxiety."
According to K.G., the denial of substantial attorneys'
fees was the final blow, deepening the attorney's
depression and "feelings of hopelessness, "
rendering her "too incapacitated to file a timely appeal
of the Fee Order." The district court found K.G.'s
arguments persuasive and granted relief from judgment on May
20, 2014. After receiving such relief, K.G. again moved for
attorneys' fees. This time, K.G. sought a total of $282,
038.25, representing $221, 971.35 for work performed by the
original attorney and $60, 066.90 for work performed by the
district court went on to grant in part K.G.'s renewed
motion for attorney's fees, mandating that the School
District pay $174, 803.65 in fees and costs: the court
awarded $126, 657.25 for work performed by K.G.'s
original attorney and $48, 146.40 for work performed by
K.G.'s new attorney. The School District timely appeals
the district court's order.
School District contends that the district court erred in
granting K.G. relief from its original judgment denying
attorneys' fees. We review a district court's grant
of relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) for
abuse of discretion. Cal. Dep't of Soc. Servs. v.
Leavitt, 523 F.3d 1025, 1031 (9th Cir. 2008).
School District first argues that the district court did not
apply the correct legal rule in evaluating whether to grant
relief. Rule 60(b)(1) provides that a district court
"may relieve a party . . . from a final judgment"
in cases of "mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or
excusable neglect." To determine whether a party's
failure to meet a deadline constitutes "excusable
neglect" under Rule 60(b)(1), a court "must apply a
four-factor equitable test, examining: (1) the danger of
prejudice to the opposing party; (2) the length of the delay
and its potential impact on the proceedings; (3) the reason