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Hunt v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

March 10, 2014

RANDELL M. HUNT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR EAJA FEES AND COSTS

J. RICHARD CREATURA, Magistrate Judge.

This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and Local Magistrate Judge Rule MJR 13 ( see also Notice of Initial Assignment to a U.S. Magistrate Judge and Consent Form, ECF No. 3; Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge, ECF No. 4). This matter is before the Court on plaintiff's contested Motion for EAJA fees and costs ( see ECF Nos. 30, 35).

Subsequent to plaintiff's success at obtaining a reversal of the decision of the Social Security Administration, defendant Acting Commissioner challenged plaintiff's request for statutory attorney's fees on the grounds that the amount of hours requested for attorney time are excessive. After considering and reviewing the record, the Court agrees.

Therefore, plaintiff's motion for EAJA attorney's fees, expenses and § 1920 costs is granted in part: Plaintiff is awarded pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1920 costs in the amount of $405.00; and is awarded pursuant to EAJA, 28 U.S.C. § 2412, expenses in the amount of $68.69 and attorney's fees in the amount of $11, 036.47.

BACKGROUND and PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the written decision by the Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ") denying Social Security benefits ( see ECF No. 1). Defendant filed the sealed administrative record regarding this matter ("Tr.") on October 29, 2012 ( see ECF Nos. 12, 14). Plaintiff filed his Opening Brief on December 5, 2012, challenging the ALJ's written decision denying benefits ( see ECF No. 18). Following oral argument on September 30, 2013, this Court reversed and remanded this matter to the Acting Commissioner for further administrative proceedings, based on errors by the ALJ when reviewing the medical opinion evidence ( see ECF Nos. 26-29).

Subsequently, plaintiff filed a motion for attorney's fees and costs ( see ECF Nos. 30, 31), to which defendant filed a responsive objection ( see ECF No. 35). Defendant agrees that plaintiff is entitled to EAJA fees and she does not "object to the hourly rate, expenses, or costs, based on documentation provided to the Court" ( see id., p. 1). However, defendant does "object to the reasonableness of the attorney time requested in the motion because they are excessive" ( id. ).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

In any action brought by or against the United States, the EAJA requires that "a court shall award to a prevailing party other than the United States fees and other expenses.... unless the court finds that the position of the United States was substantially justified or that special circumstances make an award unjust." 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A).

According to the United States Supreme Court, "the fee applicant bears the burden of establishing entitlement to an award and documenting the appropriate hours expended." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437 (1983). The government has the burden of proving that its positions overall were substantially justified. Hardisty v. Astrue, 592 F.3d 1072, 1076 n.2 (9th Cir. 2010), cert. denied, 179 L.Ed.2d 1215 , 2011 U.S. LEXIS 3726 (U.S. 2011) ( citing Flores v. Shalala, 49 F.3d 562, 569-70 (9th Cir. 1995)). Further, if the government disputes the reasonableness of the fee, then it also "has a burden of rebuttal that requires submission of evidence to the district court challenging the accuracy and reasonableness of the hours charged or the facts asserted by the prevailing party in its submitted affidavits." Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392, 1397-98 (9th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted). The Court has an independent duty to review the submitted itemized log of hours to determine the reasonableness of hours requested in each case. See Hensley, supra, 461 U.S. at 433, 436-37.

DISCUSSION

In this matter, plaintiff clearly was the prevailing party because he received a remand of the matter to the administration for further consideration ( see Order of Remand, ECF No. 29; see also ECF Nos. 26-29). In order to award a prevailing plaintiff attorney fees, the EAJA also requires a finding that the position of the United States was not substantially justified. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B). Defendant implicitly conceded that the government's position was not substantially justified, as defendant argues that plaintiff's recovery for attorney's fees should be reduced, not eliminated ( see Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Motion for EAJA Fees and Costs, ECF No. 35).

The Court agrees with defendant's implicit concession ( see id. ). This conclusion is based on a review of the relevant record, including the government's administrative and litigation positions regarding the ALJ's review of the medical evidence. For this reason, and based on a review of the relevant record, the Court concludes that the government's position in this matter as a whole was not substantially justified. See Guitierrez v. Barnhart, 274 F.3d 1255, 1258-59 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted).

The undersigned also concludes that no special circumstances make an award of attorney fees unjust. See 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). Therefore, all that remains is to determine the amount of a reasonable fee. See 28 U.S.C. § 2412(b); Hensley, supra, 461 U.S. at 433, 436-37; see also Roberts v. Astrue, 2011 U.S. Dist. ...


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