On November 8, 2016, the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California ruled in Y.L. v. Manteca Unified School District, et al. that a late settlement offer, made less than 10 days before the administrative proceeding began, does not bar a prevailing plaintiff “from recovering fees incurred after the offer was made.
In this case, Plaintiffs alleged that the defendant school district and county office of education failed to provide a FAPE, alleging 17 separate issues. The complaint went to an administrative law hearing, on which the ALJ held that plaintiff prevailed fully on one issue (failure to permit parental participation in the IEP process), and partially on another (Petitioner’s claim that the defendants failed to provide an hour per week of pull-out services). As remedies, defendants were ordered to provide two hours of training to appropriate staff regarding parent participation, and Plaintiff was awarded 21.5 hours of compensatory education on the pull-out services issue. Plaintiff lost on the remaining 15 issues.
Plaintiff later moved for attorney’s fees in federal court. Defendants made a settlement offer of $15,000—likely well above the value of the training and comp-ed time—about six months after the administrative hearing but nearly two years before the District Court’s ruling regarding an award of attorney’s fees.
Under the IDEA, plaintiffs may not recover fees incurred after a settlement offer made “at any time more than 10 days before the proceeding begins” if the relief obtained “is not more favorable to the parents than the offer of settlement.” 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(D). The District Court ruled the 10 day rule applied to the administrative hearing. As such, because defendants’ settlement offer was made after the administrative hearing, it “[did] not bar plaintiff from recovering fees incurred after the offer was made.” Y.L. v. Manteca.
- Under this ruling, in order to forestall recovery of subsequent legal fees under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(D), settlement offers must be made more than 10 days prior to the administrative hearing.
- Once the 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(3)(D) 10-day deadline passes, any further settlement offers will not limit recovery, even if made more than 10 days prior to a subsequent proceeding.