United States District Court, D. Oregon
J. Meserow, Law Office of Nancy J. Meserow, Attorney for
J. Williams, United States Attorney, and Renata Gowie,
Assistant United States Attorney, United States
Attorney's Office, District of Oregon, Heather L.
Griffith, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of
the General Counsel, Social Security Administration,
Attorneys for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
J. Immergut United States District Judge.
moves for an award of attorney's fees, expenses, and
costs under the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. ECF 23.
Defendant objects, arguing that the fees requested are
unreasonable and should be reduced accordingly. ECF 25. For
the reasons below, this Court grants Plaintiff's motion
March 31, 2017, an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) for the Social Security Administration
found that Plaintiff was not disabled during the relevant
time period and denied her application for Disability
Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. AR
14-28. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's
decision. AR 1. Plaintiff timely filed a complaint for
judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. ECF 1.
filed her Opening Brief on September 7, 2018. ECF 13. In its
response, Defendant conceded error by the ALJ and moved to
remand the case for further proceedings under sentence four
of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). ECF 16 at 2. Plaintiff argued in
reply that the court should instead remand for payment of
benefits under the Ninth Circuit's credit-as-true
doctrine. ECF 17; see generally Garrison v. Colvin,
759 F.3d 995, 1019-21 (9th Cir. 2014) (explaining the
doctrine). Because Plaintiff sought to credit the testimony
of a non-medical doctor, Chief Judge Michael W. Mosman
requested further briefing on whether remand for the payment
of benefits was an appropriate remedy. ECF 18. After both
parties provided supplemental briefing, ECF 19, 20, Judge
Mosman issued an Opinion and Order on April 30, 2019,
reversing the decision of the Commissioner and remanding the
case for further proceedings, ECF 21. On July 2, 2019,
Plaintiff filed the current motion for fees, costs, and
expenses. ECF 23.
EAJA authorizes payment of attorney's fees to a
prevailing party in an action against the United States,
unless the government shows that its position in the
underlying litigation was “substantially justified or
that special circumstances make an award unjust.” 28
U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). In social security appeals
brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a claimant is the
“prevailing party” following a sentence-four
remand for further administrative proceedings or the payment
of benefits. Flores v. Shalala, 49 F.3d 562, 568
(9th Cir. 1995) (citing Shalala v. Schaefer, 509
U.S. 292, 300-02 (1993)). Although the EAJA creates a
presumption that fees will be awarded to a prevailing party,
Congress did not intend fee shifting to be mandatory.
Flores, 49 F.3d at 567. Fee awards under the EAJA
are paid to the litigant, and not the litigant's
attorney, unless the litigant has assigned his or her rights
to counsel to receive the fee award. See Astrue v.
Ratliff, 560 U.S. 586, 596-98 (2010).
baseline for an attorney's fee award is the hours
reasonably worked multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983).
After the fee applicant has submitted evidence establishing
entitlement to an award, the opposing party “has a
burden of rebuttal that requires submission of evidence to
the district court challenging the accuracy and
reasonableness of the hours charged.” Gates v.
Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392, 1397-98 (9th Cir. 1992).
Ultimately, the court has discretion to determine whether the
request is reasonable. See Sorenson v. Mink, 239
F.3d 1140, 1145-46 (9th Cir. 2001). However, the Ninth
Circuit has cautioned that district courts may not reduce the
fees requested in social security cases without providing
relatively specific reasons. Costa v. Comm'r Soc.
Sec. Admin., 690 F.3d 1132, 1135- 37 (9th Cir. 2012)
(per curiam). In a social security case, relevant
factors in this analysis include the complexity of the legal
issues, the procedural history, and the size of the record.
Id. at 1136.
determining what fees are reasonable, the court also
considers the results that the party obtained. Atkins v.
Apfel, 154 F.3d 986, 989 (9th Cir. 1998). When a
plaintiff succeeds on only some claims raised in the
underlying lawsuit, Hensley v. Eckerhart sets out a
two-step inquiry to analyze the reasonableness of the fees
requested. 461 U.S. at 434; see also Comm'r, I.N.S.
v. Jean, 496 U.S. 154, 160-63 (1990) (holding that this
inquiry applies to attorney's fees under the EAJA). The
first step is to consider whether the claims on which
plaintiff did not prevail were unrelated to the claims on
which the plaintiff succeeded. Hensley, 461 U.S. at
434. Hours expended on unrelated, unsuccessful claims are
excluded from a reasonable fee award. Id. at 440.
Claims “may be related if either the facts or
the legal theories are the same.” Webb v.
Sloan, 330 F.3d 1158, 1169 (9th Cir. 2003). Unrelated
claims are “distinctly different claims for relief that
are based on different facts and legal theories” and
“distinct in all respects from [the] successful
claims.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434, 440.
second step of the Hensley analysis is to consider
whether the “plaintiff achieve[d] a level of success
that makes the hours reasonably expended a satisfactory basis
for making a fee award.” Id. at 434. The court
must determine whether the plaintiff achieved
“substantial relief” as opposed to “limited
success.” See Id. at 440. “[A] plaintiff
who has won substantial relief should not have his
attorney's fee reduced simply because the district court
did not adopt each contention raised.” Id. If,
however, the plaintiff achieved only “limited success,
” then the court must compare the relief obtained
“to the scope of the litigation as a whole” and
“award only that amount of fees that is reasonable in
relation to the results obtained.” Id. There
is no mathematical formula for making these determinations,
and it is left to the district court's discretion,
exercised in line with these considerations. Id. at
seeks an award of $14, 920.42 in attorney's fees, $9.00
in postage expenses, and $6.00 in photocopying costs. ECF 23.
Plaintiff has discounted this fee request relative to the
hours spent on the litigation. See ECF 24 at 3-4,
¶ 7. Defendant agrees that Plaintiff, as the prevailing
party, is entitled to an award of attorney's fees under
the EAJA because the Commissioner's position was not
substantially justified. ECF 25. Defendant does not challenge
Plaintiff's hourly rate, the $9.00 in expenses, or the
$6.00 in costs. Id. However, Defendant argues that
the requested attorney's fees, representing a total of