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Nazdar Alzayadie v. Michael Astrue

March 14, 2011

NAZDAR ALZAYADIE,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL ASTRUE,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Janis L. SammartinoUnited States District Judge

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

(Doc. No. 30)

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff Nazdar Alzayadie's amended motion for attorney's fees. (Doc. No. 30.) Also before the Court are Defendant Michael Astrue's opposition (Doc. No. 32 (Opp'n)) and Plaintiff's reply (Doc. No. 34 (Reply)). Having considered the parties' arguments and the law, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's motion.

BACKGROUND

On August 11, 2010, the Court granted Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment after finding that Plaintiff is disabled and entitled to social security benefits. (Doc. No. 26 (Order Adopting R&R), at 1--2.) The Court concluded that the administrative law judge erred in upholding Defendant's denial of benefits. (Id.) After judgment was entered in her favor, Plaintiff timely filed the instant motion.

LEGAL STANDARD

Under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), a party who prevails in an action seeking reversal of a government agency's decision is entitled to attorney's fees unless the government establishes that (1) its position was substantially justified or (2) special circumstances make the award for fees unjust. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A).*fn1

ANALYSIS

Before discussing points of contention, the Court clarifies what is not at issue in this motion. Both parties agree that Plaintiff is a "prevailing party" within the meaning of § 2412. (Doc. No. 30-1 (P. & A.), at 3--4; Opp'n 1.) Both parties also agree that Defendant has not established that (1) his position was substantially justified or (2) special circumstances make the award for fees unjust. (P. & A. 4--8; Opp'n 1.)

In short, neither party disputes, and the Court agrees, that Plaintiff is entitled to attorney's fees. (P. & A. 15; Opp'n 8.) Defendant insists, however, that the requested fees and costs are not reasonable because (1) the hours billed are excessive, (2) the hourly rate at which Plaintiff billed is excessive, and (3) Plaintiff has not properly documented costs. (Opp'n 2--9.) Defendant also insists that any fees awarded should be made payable to Plaintiff, not Plaintiff's attorney, Ms. Manbeck. (Id. at 9.) The Court addresses each contention in turn.

1. Hours Billed

Under the EAJA, a plaintiff may recover attorney's fees for hours "reasonably expended on the litigation." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). Ms. Manbeck claims she spent sixty-nine hours working on this case.*fn2 (P. & A. 15.) Defendant offers several reasons why this total is unreasonable. (Opp'n 4--8.)

Defendant initially relies on caselaw suggesting that "routine" social security cases such as this one can be reasonably litigated in fifteen to thirty hours. (Opp'n 4.) But those cases hardly establish a consensus, and several of them hail from outside the Ninth Circuit. More persuasive is Plaintiff's citation to Ninth Circuit cases that have found fifty hours or more to be a reasonable time in which to litigate social security cases. See, e.g., Mendoza v. Bowen, 701 F. Supp. 1471, 1472 (N.D. Cal. 1988) (50 hours). The Court's independent research also discloses cases upholding as reasonable sixty hours or more spent litigating social security cases. See, e.g., Steen v. Astrue, 2009 WL 1468791, at *1 (N.D. Cal. May 26, 2009) (69 hours); Sanfilippo v. Astrue, 2009 WL 528926, at *3 (S.D. Cal. Mar. 2, 2009) (72 hours); Nayab v. Astrue, 2008 WL 4748172, at *3 (S.D. Cal. Oct. 28, 2008) (73 hours).

Defendant also contends that Ms. Manbeck simply spent too much time on this routine case. (Opp'n 5--8.) Although Defendant variously attempts to color the time billed as excessive, the entries themselves are not inherently unreasonable. Any argument to the contrary ignores the size of the record (over 500 pages), Ms. Manbeck's thorough briefing of the issues, and the complete success that Ms. Manbeck achieved for her client. The ...


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