Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Winslow Board of Education pays $32,400 to settle IDEA attorney fee claim.

On September 12, 2012, the Winslow Township (Camden County) Board of Education agreed to pay $32,400 to a not-for-profit law firm that successfully represented a 12-year0old disabled student in an action under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

In his suit, the twelve year old Sicklerville student, identified only by his initials "P.B.," who had been diagnosed with "Autism Spectrum Disorder with features closely aligned to Asperger's Syndrome" wanted to continue to attend Yale Academy, in Cherry Hill, while the school district wanted him to attend its own in-district class for disabled students.

After several hearings before the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law, including a due process trial that spanned six days, Administrative Law Judge Patricia M. Kerins concluded "that Winslow has failed to provide P.B. with a free appropriate public education . . . [and the school board's] program is not individualized to P.B.'s unique needs and is not designed to provide him with meaningful educational benefit."

Thereafter, the law firm representing P.B. sued the Winslow school board for $31,935 it said that it earned in attorney fees for representing P.B. in the litigation.  Specifically, the firm claimed $150 per hour for 212.9 hours spent on the case.

After further litigation, the law firms fees rose to $36,000, but the firm agreed, in order to settle the case, to take 90% of that amount, which is $32,400.

The case is captioned P.B. v. Winslow Township Board of Education, Federal Case No. 1:12-cv-01225 and P.B.'s attorneys were Sean M. Benoit and W. Emmett Dwyer of Disability Rights New Jersey of Trenton.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of P.B.'s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $32,400 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Winslow or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Winslow or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay P.B. $32,400 than take the matter to trial.