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Battles v. Berryhill

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

December 21, 2017

MARGARITA M. BATTLES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, 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 United States 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, Dkt. 5; Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge, Dkt. 6). This matter comes before the Court on plaintiff's contested motion for attorney's fees and expenses pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2412 (hereinafter “EAJA”) (see Dkt. 19, 20, 21).

         Subsequent to plaintiff's success at obtaining a reversal of the decision of the Social Security Administration, defendant Commissioner challenged plaintiff's request for statutory attorney's fees on the grounds that the requested fees are unreasonable “in light of the results obtained.” Response, Dkt. 20, p. 1.

         After considering and reviewing the record, including plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees and expenses, and the attached time and expense sheet (see Dkt. 19), as well as the excellent results obtained by plaintiff's counsel, the Court finds that plaintiff's fee request is reasonable (see id.; see also Reply, Dkt. 21). Just because the Court exercises judicial economy and declines to discuss every argument raised by plaintiff as to why the matter should be reversed does not mean that plaintiff obtained limited success.

         Therefore, plaintiff's motion for fees and expenses is granted pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412 (“EAJA”) in the amount of $7, 773.98 in attorney's fees, which includes the additional 1.9 hours incurred defending the motion, and $2.87 for expenses.

         BACKGROUND and PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 21, 2017, this Court issued an Order reversing and remanding this matter for further consideration by the Administration (see Dkt. 16). The Court found that the ALJ erred when evaluating the medical evidence (see id.). This matter was reversed pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further consideration due to the harmful error in the evaluation of the medical evidence (see id.).

         Subsequently, plaintiff filed a motion for EAJA attorney's fees, to which defendant objected (see Dkts. 19, 20). Defendant asserts that the amount of hours expended are unreasonable (Dkt. 20, p. 1). Plaintiff filed a reply (see Dkt. 21).

         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 she received a remand of the matter to the administration for further consideration (see Order on Complaint, Dkt. 16). 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 Attorney Fees, Dkt. 20).

         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 evaluation of the medical evidence. For these reasons, 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 ...


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