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Aguilera v. Astrue

April 28, 2009

MARIA ROCIO AGUILERA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hayes, Judge

ORDER

The matter before the Court is the Application for Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act (Doc. # 18).

Background

On November 20, 2003, Plaintiff applied to the Commissioner of Social Security for Social Security Disability Benefits (Administrative Record ("AR") 15). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application for benefits, and again on reconsideration (AR 15). Plaintiff thereafter requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). On April 11, 2005, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's application for benefits (AR 15-23). On December 13, 2005, the Appeals Council adopted the ALJ's findings (AR 6-8). On January 11, 2008, Plaintiff initiated a civil action challenging the ALJ's decision to deny benefits by filing the Complaint (Doc. # 1). On June 23, 2008, this Court issued an order granting a joint motion to remand pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. section 405(g) (Doc. # 12), and remanding the case to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings.

On February 21, 2009, Plaintiff filed the Application for Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. section 2412. Plaintiff contends that she is the prevailing party within the meaning of the EAJA, and that as the prevailing party, she is entitled to EAJA fees for all work reasonably performed. Plaintiff contends that she is entitled to EAJA fees for 36.38 hours of service at a rate of $170 per hour, totaling $6,174.60. Plaintiff submitted an affidavit and itemization of services in support of the Application for Fees. On March 16, 2008, Defendant filed the Opposition to the Application for Fees (Doc. # 21). Defendant does not contest that Plaintiff is the prevailing party and is entitled to EAJA fees. Defendant does not assert that Plaintiff's requested rate of $170.00 is unreasonable. However, Defendant contends that Plaintiff's requested fees for 36.38 hours of service is unreasonable, and that Plaintiff's request should be reduced by 10.72 hours. On March 24, 2009, Plaintiff filed the Reply (Doc. # 22). Plaintiff contends that her fee request for 36.38 hours of service is reasonable, and requests additional EAJA fees for 4.5 hours of service at a rate of $170 per hour, totaling $760.00, for time spent reviewing the Opposition and preparing the Reply.

Analysis

The EAJA provides:

Except as otherwise specifically provided by statute, 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 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 awarded pursuant to the EAJA must be reasonable, and the party seeking such fees bears the burden of proving that the fees and hourly rate requested are reasonable. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983); see also Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392, 1397 (9th Cir. 1992) (it is plaintiff's burden to document "the appropriate hours expended in the litigation by submitting evidence in support of those hours worked"). Where fees are not shown to be reasonable, the court may reduce the award accordingly. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433-34. District courts have discretion in determining the amount of a fee award, including the reasonableness of the hours claimed by the prevailing party. Gates, 987 F.2d at 1398.

A. Fees for Work Performed During Pre-Complaint Administrative Proceedings

Defendant contends that Plaintiff is not entitled to recover fees for time her attorney spent representing her during the administrative proceedings. Defendant asserts that "Plaintiff's fee request should be reduced because it included attorney time expended during the prior administrative proceedings." Opposition, p. 3. Defendant contends that the administrative proceedings in this case did not conclude until November 25, 2007. Defendant contends that the following entries document work performed before the administrative proceedings in this case concluded, and should be excluded:

1. 10/10/07 Review Hearing decision denial dated September 26, 2007 -- 2.50;

2. 10/16/07 Prepare/ review/ edit/ sign letter to client with attachments and documents -- .40; Prepare/ review/edit/ sign ...


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