United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ERIC C. RUIZ, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.
ORDER ON ATTORNEY FEES
L. ROBART, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the court on Plaintiff Eric C. Ruiz's
motion for attorney fees and expenses. (Mot. (Dkt. # 16).)
Defendant Nancy A, Berryhill ("the Commissioner" or
"the Government") opposes Mr. Ruiz's motion.
(Resp. (Dkt. # 18).) Having considered the submissions of the
parties, the relevant portions of the record, and the
applicable law, the court GRANTS Mr. Ruiz's motion. For
the reasons stated below, the court awards Mr. Ruiz $10,
980.88 in attorney fees and $12.78 in expenses.
November 13, 2017, the court adopted the Report and
Recommendation of the Honorable Brian A. Tsuchida, United
States Magistrate Judge, and reversed and remanded this
matter to the Social Security administration for an immediate
calculation and award of benefits. (11/13/17 Order (Dkt. #
14).) On February .12, 2018, Mr. Ruiz filed the instant
motion, requesting attorney fees under the Equal Access to
Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. §§
2412(a)-(b), 2412(d)(1)(A). (See Mot. at 1-2.) Under
§ 2412(b), Mr. Ruiz seeks an award of $27, 900.00 based
on 55.8 hours of work at a market rate of $500.00 per hour.
(Id. at 1.) Alternatively, Mr. Ruiz seeks an award
under § 2412(d) of $10, 980.88 based on 55.8 hours of
work at the statutory rate of $196.79 per hour. (Id.
at 2.) The Commissioner responds that Mr. Ruiz's request
should be denied in its entirety because the Government's
actions in this case were substantially justified.
(See Resp.) The court now addresses the motion.
Ruiz first seeks an award of attorney fees under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2412(b). To achieve such a recovery, the court must
find that the Government acted in "bad faith."
See Brown v. Sullivan, 916 F.2d 492, 495 (9th Cir.
1990) (citing Barry v. Bowen, 825 F.2d 1324, 1334
(9th Cir. 1982)). Mr. Ruiz alleges that the Government acted
in bad faith when it disregarded then-Chief Judge Marsha
Pechman's order to evaluate Mr. Ruiz's clinical
diagnosis of depression. (Mot. at 9-10; see also
Admin. Record ("AR") at 1275.) Mr. Ruiz also
alleges a second act of bad faith when the Commissioner made
a "cursory" argument on appeal. (Mot. at 10.)
Mr. Ruiz seeks an award under § 2412(d). To achieve this
recovery, Mr. Ruiz must be a prevailing party; however,
recovery is barred if the position of the United States was
substantially justified. See 28 U.S.C. §
2412(d)(1)(A). The Government's position must be
substantially justified during both the underlying agency
action and any subsequent litigation. See Al-Harbi v.
IMS., 284 F.3d 1080, 1084-85 (9th Cir. 2002).
"Substantial justification" in this context means
"justification to a degree that could satisfy a
reasonable person." Id. at 1084 (internal
quotation marks omitted) (quoting Pierce v.
Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988)). The Government
bears the burden of proving substantial justification in both
forums. See 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B).
court has reviewed the administrative record in this matter
and considered the contents of the docket, including the
briefing related to the motion for attorney fees. The court
finds that the Government did not act in bad faith,
vexatiously, or for oppressive reasons. Mr. Ruiz presented a
complex disability analysis. The results of his IQ tests were
mixed, and evidence was presented concerning diagnosed
malingering. (See AR at 1248.) There were diagnoses
of cognitive impairment and disputes regarding whether Mr.
Ruiz met the requirements of Listing § 12.05(c).
(See, e.g., Id. at 1283, 1420, 1491, 1495-96.) Thus,
contrary to Mr. Ruiz's arguments (see Mot. at
2), this was not a simple, straightforward case.
Nevertheless, the court finds that the position of the United
States was not substantially justified, such that an award of
fees and costs is unwarranted. The Government has failed to
meet its burden of proving that its actions were justified to
a degree that could satisfy a reasonable person.
on its findings, the court GRANTS Mr. Ruiz's motion for
attorney fees, costs, and expenses based on 55.8 hours worked
at the EAJA hourly rate of $196.79, for a total of $10,
980.88 in fees and $12.78 in expenses. This award shall be
delivered to Mr. Ruiz's counsel, George Andre Fields,
Esq. The Commissioner shall contact the Department of
Treasury after this order is entered to determine if the EAJA
award is subject to any offset. If the Department of the
Treasury verifies to the Office of General Counsel that Mr.
Ruiz does not owe a debt, the Government will honor the
assignment of the EAJA award and pay the award directly to
Mr. Fields. If there is an offset, any remainder shall be
made payable to ...