United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
JAMIE D. DUNBAR, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
HONORABLE JOHN C. COUGHENOUR JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's motion for
an award of attorney fees (Dkt. No. 17). Having thoroughly
considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record,
the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and GRANTS
Plaintiff's motion (Dkt. No. 17) for the reasons
appealed the Commissioner of Social Security's
(“Defendant”) denial of her application for
disability benefits. (Dkt. No. 1-1.) The Court reversed the
Commissioner's final decision and remanded the matter for
further administrative proceedings. (Dkt. No. 14 at 1.) The
Court determined the administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) failed to consider relevant opinions of
Plaintiff's treating physicians as well as certain lay
witness testimony. (See generally id.) Although
Plaintiff prevailed, the Court rejected one of her claims on
appeal. (Id. at 15-16) (“Ms. Dunbar recite[d]
a long list of other medical evidence which she argues
supports her interpretation of the evidence, i.e., that she
is disabled . . . [h]owever, this conclusory argument fails
to explain how the ALJ harmfully erred in evaluating, or
failing to evaluate, the recited evidence.”).
now moves for an award of attorney fees in the amount of $8,
561.71 and expenses of $5.70, pursuant to the Equal Access to
Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. section 2412 (“EAJA”).
(Dkt. No. 17 at 1.) Defendant concedes that Plaintiff is
entitled to EAJA attorney fees, but argues that the amount
requested is unreasonable. (Dkt. No. 18 at 1.) Defendant asks
the Court to reduce the award by $4, 177.40 to account for
19.5 hours of what it deems “unnecessary billing”
Plaintiff's counsel spent on her opening brief.
(Id. at 3.) In addition to objecting to
Defendant's request, Plaintiff asks the Court to order
Defendant to pay its attorney fees and expenses for having to
file a reply in opposition. (Dkt. No. 19 at 7.)
EAJA, attorney fee awards must be reasonable. 28 U.S.C.
§ 2412(d)(1)(A); see also, Hensley v.
Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983) (“[i]t remains
for the district court to determine what fee is
‘reasonable.'”). To determine the amount of a
reasonable fee, a court starts with “the number of
hours expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable
hourly rate.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433 n.7.
From this calculation, the Court should exclude hours that
were not “reasonably expended.” Id. at
434. However, the “important factor of the
‘results obtained'” may lead a district court
to adjust a fee. Id.
argues that Plaintiff's EAJA award should be reduced for
hours that Plaintiff's counsel allegedly spent on claims
that were not ultimately successful on appeal. (Dkt. No. 18
at 1.) Defendant points to 19.5 hours Plaintiff reported for
drafting her opening brief-time that is categorized as
reviewing and incorporating “Dunbar's
testimony” and “the documentary evidence”
into the brief. (Dkt. No. 17-3 at 1.) Defendant notes that
the Court rejected Plaintiff's argument that the ALJ
failed to consider “other medical evidence” that
was consistent with the opinions of her treating physicians.
(Dkt. No. 18 at 2.) The Court also noted that Plaintiff's
claim was conclusory because it failed to explain how the ALJ
harmfully erred in evaluating or failing to evaluate the
recited evidence. (Dkt. No. 14 at 15-16.) Defendant concludes
that it was therefore unreasonable for Plaintiff's
counsel to expend 19.5 hours on arguments that were
ultimately rejected. (Dkt. No. 18 at 2.)
Court concludes that Defendant's proposed reduction is
overly harsh. Ostensibly, Defendant is asking the Court to
subtract all of the initial research and drafting that
Plaintiff's counsel expended on her opening brief. (Dkt.
No. 18 at 2.) The Court does not believe that the entire 19.5
hours of work Defendant identifies necessarily went to
preparing sections of the opening brief that were unavailing.
Furthermore, it is impossible for the Court to parse
counsel's billing records to determine what amount of
time went toward preparing an argument that was ultimately
unsuccessful on appeal. Defendant's proposed reduction is
especially harsh when considering that Plaintiff prevailed on
appeal and her case was remanded for additional proceedings.
See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 435 (“Litigants in
good faith may raise alternative legal grounds for a desired
outcome, and the court's rejection of or failure to reach
certain grounds is not a sufficient reason for reducing a
fee. The result is what matters.”)
than view the 19.5 hours in isolation, the Court asks whether
the total amount of time Plaintiff's counsel spent
drafting the opening brief was reasonable. Plaintiff's
counsel reported expending 28.1 hours on drafting the opening
brief. (Dkt. No. 14-3.) That figure is out of a total of 41.8
hours spent on the entire case. (Id.) The Court
concludes that 28.1 hours was a reasonable figure given the
success achieved by Plaintiff. There is no evidence to
suggest that Plaintiff's counsel made arguments in her
opening brief that were not in good faith. Moreover, the
total time expended is consistent with similar cases heard by
this Court. See, e.g., Vanderslice v.
Berryhill, No. C16-5293-JCC, Dkt. No. 24 (W.D. Wash.
Mar. 14, 2018) (25.1 hours expended on opening brief);
Goodman v. Colvin, No. C16-0285-JCC, Dkt. No. 25
(W.D. Wash. Sep. 19, 2017) (29.8 hours expended on opening
brief). The Court concludes that it would be arbitrary to
lower the award based on a single argument that was
ultimately rejected by the Court.
Court DENIES Plaintiff's additional request for attorney
fees and expenses for having to oppose Defendant's motion
because the Government's position was not unreasonable.
(Dkt. No. 19 at 7.)
foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's motion for attorney fees
(Dkt. No. 17) is GRANTED. Plaintiff is awarded attorney fees
in the amount of $8, 561.71 and expenses of $5.70.
is determined that Plaintiff's EAJA fees are not subject
to any offset allowed under the Department of the
Treasury's Offset Program, then the check for EAJA fees
shall be made payable to Eitan Kassel Yanich, based upon
Plaintiff's assignment of these amounts to
Plaintiff's attorney. Any check for EAJA fees shall be
mailed to Plaintiff's counsel, Eitan Kassel Yanich, at
203 Fourth ...