United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
STEVEN M. SMITH, Plaintiff,
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
Richard Creatura United States Magistrate Judge
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. 6; Consent to Proceed
Before a United States Magistrate Judge, Dkt. 7). 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 Dkt. 33; see also
Dkts. 34, 35).
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.
this Court disagrees, and because the requested fees are
reasonable, plaintiff's motion for statutory fees should
be granted. Dkt. 33.
and PROCEDURAL HISTORY
December 8, 2014, this Court issued an Order affirming the
Social Security Administration's decision to deny
benefits (see Dkt. 23). Plaintiff appealed this
decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on February 6,
2015 (Dkt. 25). On August 3, 2017, the Court of Appeals
issued a Memorandum which reversed and remanded this matter
to the Administration for further proceedings (Dkt. 28).
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the ALJ erred when
reviewing the medical evidence and when failing to credit
fully medical opinions (see id., pp. 2, 6). This
matter was reversed pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) for further consideration due to the harmful
errors (see id.).
plaintiff filed a motion for EAJA attorney's fees, to
which defendant objected (see ECF Nos. 33, 34).
Defendant asserts that her position was substantially
justified and that no attorney fees should be awarded under
the EAJA. Dkt. 34, pp. 3-4). Plaintiff filed a reply
(see ECF No. 35).
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).
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.
matter, plaintiff clearly was the prevailing party because he
received a remand of the matter to the administration for
further consideration (see Order re: Mandate, Dkt.
30). 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.
Court notes that the fact that the Administration did not
prevail on the merits does not compel the conclusion that its
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)). The Court also notes that when determining the
issue of substantial justification, the Court reviews only
the “issues that led to ...