Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Attorney Fees
  • Date Filed: 03-02-2015
  • Case #: 12-57315
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Court Judge Wardlaw for the Court, Circuit Court Judges Callahan and Reinhardt
  • Full Text Opinion

When a plaintiff asserts both merited and frivolous claims, the prevailing defendant may only be awarded attorneys fees for the time attributed to defending the frivolous claims.

C.W., an 11-year old with cerebral palsy, attended a special elementary school within the Capistrano Unified School District (“District”). The District provided a triennial assessment of C.W. and had an occupational therapist assess C.W.’s motor skills. The therapist made several recommendations for the school and for C.W.’s parents to assist in C.W.’s progression. C.W.’s parents disagreed with the assessment recommendations and requested an independent evaluation from an outside therapist. The District refused to pay for an outside evaluation and filed a request for a due process hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ found that the assessment of C.W. had been properly done, and, therefore, any independent assessment should be paid by C.W. personally. C.W. appealed the ALJ’s decision and included additional claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court affirmed the decision of the ALJ and denied C.W.’s request for attorney’s fees. The District was awarded attorney’s fees because the district court determined that C.W.’s claims were frivolous. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that in determining whether a claim is frivolous, one must be sure not to make the faulty assumption that just because a plaintiff did not prevail, that their claim was without foundation. In examining C.W.’s claims, the panel determined that not all of the claims were frivolous. Thus, when both merited and frivolous claims are asserted, the prevailing party may only be awarded attorneys fees for the time attributed to the frivolous claims. The panel referred the case to the Appellate Commissioner to determine which fees were appropriate. AFFIRMED in Part; REVERSED in Part.

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