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Sanfilippo v. Astrue

March 2, 2009

ANTONINO SANFILIPPO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Barry Ted Moskowitz United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES

Plaintiff has filed a motion for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

I. BACKGROUND

In this action, Plaintiff sought judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. In an order dated August 14, 2006, the Court denied Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and granted Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment. The Court found that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") did not commit legal error because substantial evidence supported his decision to deny Plaintiff benefits.

Plaintiff appealed the Court's decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In an order filed on April 18, 2008, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the ALJ failed to identify "specific and legitimate" reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's treating physician's opinion and applied the wrong standard to Plaintiff's treating chiropractor's opinion. Accordingly, the Ninth Circuit reversed the Court's decision and ordered that the case be remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. On November 3, 2008, the Court filed an order remanding the case to the Commissioner pursuant to Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). On October 11, 2008, Plaintiff brought the instant Motion for Attorney's Fees [Docket No. 22].

II. DISCUSSION

The Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA") entitles a prevailing party, other than the United States, to attorney's fees unless the government's position was substantially justified or special circumstances exist that render the award of fees unjust. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). Defendant does not dispute that Plaintiff is the "prevailing party," nor does Defendant contend that the Government's position was substantially justified. Rather, Defendant argues that the Court should deny Plaintiff's petition as untimely. In the alternative, Defendant argues that Plaintiff counsel's claimed hours are excessive and unreasonable.

A. Timeliness of Plaintiff's Petition

A prevailing party seeking attorney's fees under the EAJA must submit an application to the court within thirty days of final judgment in the action. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B). A final judgment is one that is no longer appealable. Akopyan v. Barnhart, 296 F.3d 852, 854 (9th Cir. 2002). Defendant contends that the judgment in this case became final120 days after the Ninth Circuit filed its decision and entered judgment remanding the case for further proceedings to the District Court on April 18, 2008. This time period includes the 90 days during which Defendant could petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court and the 30 days allowed under the EAJA. Defendant cites Al-Harbi v. I.N.S, 284 F.3d 1080 (9th Cir. 2004) to support its position.

The Court disagrees that Al-Harbi is on point here. In Al-Harbi, Plaintiff prevailed on a petition for review to the Ninth Circuit from the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA"). When the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision of the BIA and granted the petition for review, it remanded the case directly to the BIA for further proceedings. See Al-Harbi v. I.N.S., 242 F.3d 882, 894 (9th 2001). In contrast, here the Ninth Circuit remanded not to an administrative agency, but to the District Court. Thus, the Ninth Circuit's decision was not the final judgment because it did not terminate the judicial phase of the proceeding. See Kolman v. Shalala, 39 F.3d 173, 176 (7th Cir. 1994) (finding that Seventh Circuit's decision was not a final judgment since rather than terminating the case it remanded it to the district court with further directions to remand the case to the Social Security Administration). Rather, judgment was final here after the District Court entered judgment and the time to appeal expired, making the judgment final and no longer appealable. See Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89, 102 (1991); Akopyan, 296 F.3d at 854 (holding that a sentence four remand becomes a final judgment upon expiration of the time for appeal).

In a civil case where the Government is a party, a notice of appeal must be filed within 60 days from entry of judgment. Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(1)(B). Judgment is considered entered for purposes of Rule 4(a) if it has been entered in compliance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 58. Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(1); see also Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 302--303 (1993). For the purpose of Rule 58, judgment is entered when it is entered in the civil docket and is set out in a separate document. Fed. R. Civ. P. 58(c).

Here, the District Court entered judgment on the civil docket and set out the judgment in a separate document on November 3, 2008 [Docket Nos. 26, 27]. Thus, Plaintiff had 120 days following November 3, 2008 to file an EAJA application. Plaintiff filed his Motion for Attorney's Fees on October 11, 2008, well before his time expired. The Court therefore finds that Plaintiff timely filed his application and is entitled to attorney's fees pursuant to the EAJA.

B. Reasonableness of Plaintiff Counsel's Claimed Hours

The award of attorney's fees under the EAJA must be reasonable. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A). "The most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). Hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary should be excluded form an award of fees. Id. at 434. "Hours that are not properly billed to one's client also are not properly billed ...


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