In Board of Education of Evanston-Skokie Community Consolidated School District v. Risen, a district court held that the parents could recover attorneys’ fees for the time their counsel spent preparing for, traveling to and from, and attending a mediation session.
This case arose after the District was ordered to reimburse the parents of a special education student for the cost of his private placement tuition. The parents also sought to recover attorneys’ fees for a mediation session conducted in connection with the case. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) contains a fee-shifting provision that allows the court, in its discretion, to award reasonable attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party. 20 U.S.C. 1415(i)(3)(b). However, the law provides that fee awards may not include the time an attorney spends preparing for or attending a resolution session.
The District argued that the mediation was the equivalent of a resolution session, for which the parents could not receive attorneys’ fees. The court disagreed, finding that resolution sessions only include preliminary meetings that are geared toward an early resolution of the case. IDEA defines a preliminary meeting as one held within 15 days of receiving notice of the parents’ complaint. The mediation in this case occurred 15 months after the initial request. Due to the lengthy delay, the court held that the mediation could not be considered “preliminary.”
Moreover, the court noted that while IDEA expressly excludes time spent on resolution sessions from awards of attorneys’ fees, the law is silent with regard to mediations.
Contact Michelle Todd or any of our student special education group attorneys with your special education inquiries or for the impact of this decision on your special education hearing process.