United States District Court, W.D. Washington, at Tacoma
MARTIN J. MASON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S CONTESTED MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES PURSUANT TO THE EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE ACT
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. 5; Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge, ECF No. 6).
This matter comes before the Court on plaintiff's contested motion for attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412 (hereinafter "EAJA") ( see ECF Nos. 25, 26, 27; see also ECF Nos. 28, 29).
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 defendant's position in this matter was justified in substance and had a reasonable basis in fact and law.
Because this Court disagrees, and because the requested fees are reasonable, plaintiff's motion for statutory fees is granted.
BACKGROUND and PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On June 10, 2014, this Court issued an Order reversing and remanding this matter to the Administration for further consideration ( see ECF No. 23, 24).
The Court found that the ALJ erred when he failed to ask the vocational expert ("VE") about inconsistencies regarding other jobs that plaintiff could perform in the national economy ( see id., pp. 2, 12-14). This matter was reversed pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further consideration due to this harmful error ( see id. ).
Subsequently, plaintiff filed a motion for EAJA attorney's fees, to which defendant objected ( see ECF Nos. 25-28). Defendant contends that although the Agency did not prevail, "the underlying Agency action and the Commissioner's position had a reasonable basis in law and fact" (ECF No. 28, p. 3). Plaintiff has filed a reply ( see ECF No. 29).
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.
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 on Complaint, ECF No. 23). In order to award a prevailing plaintiff attorney fees, the EAJA also requires a finding that the position of ...