United States District Court, W.D. Washington at Tacoma
ORDER ON MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES
W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge
Julie Berg filed a Motion for Attorney Fees (“Motion
for Fees”), seeking attorney's fees pursuant to the
Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412
(“EAJA”). Dkt. 18. Specifically, Plaintiff seeks
attorney's fees pursuant to § 2412(d) of the EAJA,
as well as attorney's fees pursuant to the bad faith
exception in § 2412(b) due to Defendant's
“Motion to Alter the Judgment.” Id.
Defendant objects to the Motion for Fees, contending
Defendant's position in the underlying case was
substantially justified and Defendant did not act in bad
faith. Dkt. 19.
Court concludes Defendant's position was not
substantially justified. Further, the Court finds the Motion
to Alter the Judgment resulted in an inefficient use of
judicial resources. However, the record does not reflect
Defendant filed the Motion to Alter the Judgment in bad
faith. Therefore, Plaintiff's Motion for Fees (Dkt. 18)
February 7, 2018, the Court found the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) erred by failing to find
Plaintiff's migraines were a severe impairment and
failing to consider the limitations associated with
Plaintiff's migraines throughout the sequential
evaluation process. Dkt. 13. Accordingly, the Court reversed
the ALJ's decision and remanded the case to the Social
Security Administration (“Administration”) for
further consideration pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Id.; see also Dkt. 14.
February 15, 2018, Defendant filed a “Motion to Alter
the Judgment” pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 59(e). Dkt. 15. Plaintiff filed a Response opposing
the Motion to Alter the Judgment on February 16, 2018. Dkt.
16. On March 27, 2018, the Court denied the Motion to Alter
the Judgment. Dkt. 17.
filed the present Motion for Fees on April 26, 2018. Dkt. 18.
On May 4, 2018, Defendant filed a Response. Dkt. 19.
Plaintiff filed a Reply on May 11, 2018. Dkt. 20.
action brought by or against the United States, the EAJA
states “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 its positions overall
were substantially justified. Hardisty v. Astrue,
592 F.3d 1072, 1076 n.2 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Flores v.
Shalala, 49 F.3d 562, 569-70 (9th Cir. 1995)). Further,
if the government disputes the reasonableness of the fee, it
“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, 461 U.S. at 433, 436-37.
Position and Conduct
parties dispute whether Defendant's position in the
underlying case was substantially justified. See
Dkt. 18, pp. 4-5; Dkt. 19, pp. 1-3. The parties also dispute
whether Defendant filed the Motion to Alter the Judgment in
bad faith. See Dkt. 18, pp. 5-10; Dkt. 19, pp. 3-5.
matter, Plaintiff was the prevailing party because she
received a remand to the Administration for further
consideration. See Dkt. 13, 14. To award
attorney's fees to a prevailing plaintiff, 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).
Supreme Court has held “substantially justified”
means “‘justified in substance or in the
main' - that is, justified to a degree that could satisfy
a reasonable person.” Pierce v. Underwood, 487
U.S. 552, 565 (1988). A “substantially justified
position must have a reasonable basis both in law and
fact.” Gutierrez v. Barnhart, 274 F.3d 1255,
1258 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing Pierce, 487 U.S. at
565; Flores, 49 F.3d at 569). The Court
“‘must focus on two questions: first, whether the
government was substantially justified in taking its original
action; and second, whether the government was substantially
justified in defending the validity of the action in
court.'” Id. at 1259 (quoting Kali v.
Bowen, 854 F.2d 329, 332 (9th Cir. 1988)). Thus, for the
government to prevail, it must establish both the ALJ's
underlying conduct and its litigation position in defending
the ALJ's error were substantially justified.
Id. “[I]f ‘the government's
underlying position was not substantially justified,
'” the Court must award fees and does not have to
address whether the government's litigation ...