United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
S. LASNIK United States District Judge.
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Daniel
Acheson's motion for attorney's fees pursuant to the
Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412
(“EAJA”). See Dkt. 14. The Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) challenges plaintiffs request
for statutory attorney's fees on the grounds that the
Commissioner's position in this matter was substantially
justified and had a reasonable basis in fact and law, and the
Commissioner challenges the amount of plaintiff s requested
fees on the grounds that the amount is unreasonable under the
particular facts of this case. See Dkt. 16. The
Court disagrees and GRANTS plaintiffs motion for statutory
February 2, 2017, this Court issued an order reversing and
remanding the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits
for further administrative proceedings. See Dkt. 12.
The Court found that (1) the ALJ erred by failing to provide
specific and legitimate reasons supported by substantial
evidence to discount the opinions of state agency
psychological consultant Patricia Kraft, Ph.D., and examining
psychologist Amanda Ragonesi, Psy.D., and (2) the errors were
harmful because the resulting residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) and step-five finding were not supported
by substantial evidence. See id. at 7-10. The Court
reversed the Commissioner's decision pursuant to sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further administrative
proceedings due to the harmful error. See id. at
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). When determining the issue of substantial
justification, the court reviews only the “issues that
led to remand” in determining if an award of fees is
appropriate. See Toebler v. Colvin, 749 F.3d 830,
834 (9th Cir. 2014).
was the prevailing party because the Court reversed and
remanded the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits for
further administrative proceedings. See Dkt. 12. The
ALJ's failure to provide sufficient reasons to discount
Dr. Kraft's and Dr. Ragonesi's opinions led to the
remand. See id. at 7-10.
Commissioner argues that her position that the ALJ provided
sufficient reasons to discount Dr. Kraft's and Dr.
Ragonesi's opinions was substantially justified.
See Dkt. 16. The Commissioner has the burden of
proving that her position was substantially justified.
See Hardisty v. Astrue, 592 F.3d 1072, 1076 n.2 (9th
Cir. 2010). In addition, a “substantially justified
position must have a reasonable basis both in law and
fact.” Gutierrez v. Barnhart, 274 F.3d 1255,
1258 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). The fact that the
Commissioner did not prevail on the merits does not compel
the conclusion that her position was not substantially
justified. See Kali v. Bowen, 854 F.2d 329, 334 (9th
Cir. 1988) (citing Oregon Envtl. Council v. Kunzman,
817 F.2d 484, 498 (9th Cir. 1987)). However, a determination
by the Court that the administrative decision was not
supported by substantial evidence is a “strong
indication” that the Commissioner's position was
not substantially justified. Thangaraja v. Gonzales,
428 F.3d 870, 874 (9th Cir. 2005).
the Commissioner simply reiterates her position from the
original litigation, arguing that the ALJ's errors in
evaluating the medical evidence were harmless because the
ALJ's decision was generally “supported by
substantial evidence.” See Dkt. 16 at 3-4.
However, this Court found that such an approach to harmful
error analysis would “essentially relieve the ALJ of
her role as arbiter” and lead to an “absurd
result.” See Dkt. 12 at 8. Having found that
the ALJ's errors in evaluating the medical evidence left
the RFC unsupported by substantial evidence, the Court now
finds no reason that the Commissioner's position was
otherwise substantially justified. The Court also concludes
that there are no special circumstances that render an EAJA
award in this matter unjust. Accordingly, the Court will
award plaintiff attorney's fees under the EAJA.
Amount of Fees
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
Court has an independent duty to review the submitted
itemized log of hours to determine the reasonableness of
hours requested in each case. See id. at 433,
the Court determines that a plaintiff is entitled to a
reasonable fee, “the amount of the fee, of course, must
be determined on the facts of each case.” Id
at 429, 433 n.7. “[T]he most useful starting point for
determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of
hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a
reasonable hourly rate.” Id at 433.
plaintiff prevailed on the single claim of whether or not the
denial of his social security application was not based on
harmful legal error. When the case involves a “common
core of facts or will be based on related legal theories . .
. the district court should focus on the significance of the
overall relief obtained by the plaintiff in relation to the
hours reasonably expended on the litigation.” See
id at 435. The Supreme Court concluded ...