United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
TRACEY K. RANDALL, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
BENJAMIN H. SETTLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on the motion by Tracey K.
Randall (“Randall”) for attorney's fees
pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. §
2412 (“EAJA”). Dkt. 21. The Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”)
challenges only the amount of Randall's requested fees on
the grounds that the amount is unreasonable under the
particular facts of this case. See Dkt. 23. The
Court finds the fees reasonable and GRANTS
Randall's motion for statutory fees.
March 27, 2017, this Court issued an order reversing and
remanding the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits
for further administrative proceedings. See Dkt. 18.
The Court found that (1) the ALJ erred in evaluating the
opinion of examining psychologist Tasmyn Bowes, Psy.D., and
(2) the error was harmful because the resulting residual
functional capacity and step-five finding that Randall could
perform work available in the national economy were not
supported by substantial evidence. See id. at 8-10,
15. 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 16.
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). Randall was the prevailing party because the
Court reversed and remanded the Commissioner's decision
to deny benefits for further administrative proceedings.
See Dkt. 18. The Commissioner does not argue that
the position of the United States was substantially justified
or that circumstances make an award unjust. See Dkt.
23. Therefore, Randall is entitled to EAJA fees.
Randall's counsel requests $8, 468.90 in attorney's
fees and $5.81 in expenses. See Dkt. 21. The
Commissioner objects, however, to the amount of fees
requested by Randall. See Dkt. 23.
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,
436-37. Once 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.
Randall prevailed on the single claim of whether or not the
denial of his social security application was based on
substantial evidence in the record as a whole and 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 that where a plaintiff “has obtained
excellent results, his attorney should recover a fully
compensatory fee.” Id. The Court concludes
based on a review of the relevant evidence that Randall here
obtained excellent results. Therefore, the Court looks to
“the hours reasonably expended on the litigation,
” which, when combined with the reasonable hourly rate,
encompass the lodestar. See id.
issue, the Government contends that the hours expended on the
opening brief were unreasonable. Dkt. 23 at 2. Although two
lawyers worked on the opening brief, that alone does not
warrant the conclusion that there is necessarily a
duplication of services. Duplication of tasks can occur when
two lawyers must expend time to review the record as a whole
in order to provide effective advocacy. Based on the
undersigned's prior experience, the majority of Social
Security Appeals require the services of only one lawyer. In
the uncommon case when an appellant is represented by more
than one lawyer, the better practice would be to voluntarily
discount some hours for duplicate tasks because this is not
complex litigation. For example, the lead attorney should
review co-counsel's time records and then demonstrate to
the presiding court that some discount was included for time
spent by the second lawyer in reviewing the record and
becoming familiar with the facts and legal issues in the
case. In future cases involving more than one lawyer the
Court will expect to see such adjustments in the time records
submitted to the Court consistent with these principles.
the Court will not reduce the fees requested in this matter
because, taking the record as a whole, the Court finds the
requested fees are within the range of reasonableness -
albeit in the higher end of that range.
hereby ORDERED that Randall's motion for
fees and costs is GRANTED. Randall is
awarded $8, 815.72 in attorney's fees and $5.81 in
expenses pursuant to the EAJA and consistent with Astrue
v. Ratliff, 130 S.Ct. 2521, 2524 (2010). Randall's
award is subject to any offset allowed pursuant to the
Department of Treasury's Offset Program. See id.
at 2528. The check for EAJA fees shall ...