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Alicia M. C. v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

January 9, 2020

ALICIA M. C.[1], Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER RE: PLAINTIFF'S APPLICATION FOR FEES UNDER THE EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE ACT, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(D)

          MUSTAFA T. KASUBHAI, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         Before the Court is Plaintiff's Application for Fees Under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). ECF No. 24. Both parties consent to jurisdiction by a U.S. Magistrate Judge. For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants Plaintiff's application for fees and orders the award of attorney fees under the EAJA in the amount of $11, 294.10.

         BACKGROUND

         On August 8, 2019, the Court issued an Opinion and Order granting the Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner's”) Motion for Remand for further administrative proceedings. ECF No. 22. Plaintiff timely filed an EAJA application requesting attorney fees. Pl.'s EAJA Appl. 1, ECF No. 24. Plaintiff requested $7, 127.07 in attorney fees. Id. Upon the Commissioner's filing of an objection, Plaintiff filed a reply and requested an additional $1, 429.75 in attorney fees. Pl.'s Reply, ECF No. 27. The Commissioner objects certain portions of Plaintiff's attorney fees on two grounds. First, the $2, 226.33 in attorney fees for the 10.9 hours Plaintiff's attorney spent in preparing the response to the Commissioner's Motion for Remand. Def.'s Resp. 2, ECF No. 26. Second, the $510.95 in attorney fees for the 2.9 hours that Plaintiff's attorney and the paralegal spent in preparing the EAJA application. Id.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The EAJA provides:

[A] court shall award to a prevailing party other than the United States fees and other expenses . . . incurred by that party in any civil action (other than cases sounding in tort), including proceedings for judicial review of agency action, brought by or against the United States in any court having jurisdiction of that action, 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). “Fees and other expenses” include “reasonable attorney fees”. 28 U.S.C § 2412(d)(2)(A). While the EAJA contains a presumptive rate cap of $125 an hour in attorney fees, courts may award a higher fee for cost of living increases.[2] Id. The statute explicitly permits the court, in its discretion, to reduce the amount awarded to the prevailing party to the extent that the party “unduly and unreasonably” protracted the final resolution of the case. 28 U.S.C. §§ 2412(d)(1)(C), 2412(d)(2)(D). When determining whether attorney fees are reasonable under the EAJA, federal courts use the “lodestar” method. Costa v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 690 F.3d 1132, 1135 (9th Cir. 2012). The lodestar amount is calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by the reasonable hourly rate. Id. The prevailing party should exclude from their fee request hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary. Id. The court can adjust the lodestar amount by considering reasonableness factors. Stetson v. Grissom, 821 F.3d 1157, 1166 (9th Cir. 2016). These factors, known as the “Kerr factors”, include “the quality of representation, the benefit obtained . . ., the complexity and novelty of the issues presented, and the risk of nonpayment.” Id. at 66-67.

         DISCUSSION

         The Commissioner does not dispute that Plaintiff is the “prevailing party.” Def.'s Resp., ECF No. 26. The Commissioner challenges Plaintiff's application for fees incurred in opposing the Commissioner's Motion for Remand and in preparing the EAJA application. Id. at 2.

         I. Fees for Opposing the Commissioner's Motion for Remand

         A. Advancement of Plaintiff's Position

         The Commissioner first contends that Plaintiff's attorney did not advance Plaintiff's position in opposing the Commissioner's Motion for Remand. Id. at 6-7. Plaintiff disagrees. The Court therefore evaluates whether Plaintiff advanced her position beyond the remand terms requested by the Commissioner. If a court identifies additional error, not conceded by the Commissioner in its proposed remand, then a plaintiff may recover compensation for time ...


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