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Yeaple v. Commissioner Social Security

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

November 13, 2017

STEVEN YEAPLE Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL W. MOSMAN Chief United States District Judge

         This matter comes before me on Plaintiff Steven Yeaple's Motion for Award of Fees & Costs Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act (EA J A) [24]. For the reasons stated below, I GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART and award $10, 351.61 in fees (a 10% reduction) and $39.33 in costs.

         BACKGROUND

         Mr. Yeaple applied for Social Security disability benefits. An administrative law judge found that he was not disabled and denied his application. Compl. [1]. The Appeals Council denied review. Compl. [1]. This Court reversed the administrative law judge's decision and remanded for further proceedings. Op. & Order [22].

         As the prevailing party, Mr. Yeaple seeks fees and costs under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412. Mot. [24]. He requests $11, 501.78[1] in fees and $39.33 in itemized costs incurred. Reply [27].

         The Commissioner concedes Mr. Yeaple is entitled to some award under the EAJA, but the Commissioner objects to the amount requested on two grounds: first, that the number of hours spent are unreasonable under the circumstances; and second, that the billing records are "block-billed." Resp. [26]. The Commissioner asks the court to reduce the award to $7, 000 (or by approximately 40%). Resp. [26].

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A party who prevails against the United States in a civil action is entitled, in certain circumstances, to an award of attorney fees and costs under the EAJA. 28 U.S.C. § 2412. The court must determine whether the requested fee amount is reasonable, and may reduce an unreasonable request. Stetson v. Grissom, 821 F.3d 1157, 1166-67 (9th Cir. 2016). In a social security case, reasonableness depends on the complexity of the legal issues, the procedural history, and the size of the record, among other factors. Costa v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 690 F.3d 1132, 1136 (9th Cir. 2012) (per curiam). The court has "wide latitude in determining the number of hours that were reasonably expended." Sorenson v. Mink, 239 F.3d 1140, 1146 (9th Cir. 2001).

         Attorney billing records must enable the court to easily identify the hours reasonably expended. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437 (1983), The court may reduce hours to offset poorly documented billing. Fischer v. SJB-P.D. Inc, 214 F.3d 1115, 1121 (9th Cir. 2000).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Reasonableness

         Mr. Yeaple requests fees for 59.75 attorney-hours spent on his case. Reply [27]. His attorneys spent 10 hours reviewing the record, 29.65 hours preparing the 40-page opening brief, and 15.85 hours preparing the reply. Wilborn Decl. [25] Ex. 1.

         Mr. Yeaple argues the hours his attorneys spent are reasonable in light of the complex record, the quality and length of the briefs, and the Commissioner's contentious litigation strategy. Reply [27]. The Commissioner contends the hours are unreasonable because the legal issues were routine, the record not exceptionally long, and the issues not unduly complicated. Resp. [26].

         Both parties cite many cases where courts found a similar number of hours either reasonable or unreasonable. These cases are only marginally helpful to the case-specific analysis required here; what was unreasonable in the context of one case may be reasonable in this context, and vice versa. See Costa, 690 F.3d at 1136 (questioning ...


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