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Ruth Stairs v. Michael J. Astrue

July 21, 2011

RUTH STAIRS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dennis L. Beck United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER REGARDING PETITION FOR FEES (Document 22)

This matter is before the Court on a petition for attorneys' fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d), filed on April 21, 2011, by Plaintiff Ruth Stairs ("Plaintiff"). Defendant filed an opposition on May 31, 2011, arguing that the fee requested is unreasonable and should be reduced. Plaintiff filed a reply on June 6, 2011.

The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted to the Honorable Dennis L. Beck, United States Magistrate Judge.*fn1

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint challenging the denial of benefits on January 14, 2010.

On February 1, 2011, the Court issued an order remanding the action for further proceedings. The Court ordered the ALJ to (1) gather sufficient facts about the sitting and standing requirements of Plaintiff's past relevant work; (2) analyze the medical evidence and the testimony of Plaintiff and Mr. Stairs; (3) formulate a supported RFC; and (4) make a determination at step four, or step five, if necessary.

The Court entered judgment in Plaintiff's favor on February 1, 2011.

By this motion, Plaintiff seeks $8,577.94 in attorneys' fees for 49 hours of attorney time. Plaintiff indicates that attorneys Sengthiene Bosavanh and Ralph Wilborn actually billed a total of 62.5 hours (for a total of $10,941.25), but in an effort to compromise, they offered to cut their hours down to 49. In opposition, Defendant argues that even the reduced 49 hours is unreasonable and argues for specific reductions based on the original fee declarations (which total 62.5 hours). Defendant then subtracts the reductions, however, from the 49 hours. Defendant cannot, however, both reject the offer to compromise and use it as a starting point for the suggested reductions. The Court will therefore use the original hours billed as a starting point for this analysis.

DISCUSSION

Under the EAJA, a prevailing party will be awarded reasonable attorney fees, unless the government demonstrates that its position in the litigation was "substantially justified," or that "special circumstances make an award unjust." 28 U.S.C. § 2412 (d)(1)(A). An award of attorney fees must be reasonable. Sorenson v. Mink, 239 F.3d 1140, 1145 (9th Cir. 2001). "[E]xcessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary" hours should be excluded from a fee award, and charges that are not properly billable to a client are not properly billable to the government. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 (1983). A court has wide latitude in determining the number of hours reasonably expended. Cunningham v. County of Los Angeles, 879 F.2d 481, 484 (9th Cir. 1988).

Plaintiff requests a total of $10,935.90*fn2 for attorney time spent in litigating this action. This breaks down to a total of 62.5 attorney hours billed at 2009 and 2010 rates. In support of her request, Plaintiff submits itemizations of time spent by (1) Mr. Wilborn, from August 9, 2010, through April 19, 2011; and (2) Ms. Bosavanh, from November 20, 2009, through March 7, 2011.

A. Ms. Bosavanh's Time

1. Clerical Tasks

Defendant objects to time spent in reviewing Court documents (.3), reviewing service documents (.2) and notifying Mr. Wilborn of a new due date (.1). The Court also notes that Ms. Bosavanh billed .1 on additional occasions for review of Court and service documents and the Court will address the total amount of time (1.0 hour total billed on January 15, 22 and 27, February 23, March 16 and 23 and June 10). While reviewing Court documents is an attorney task, the method of billing resulted in 1.0 hour for simply glancing at documents. This time is excessive and the Court finds that .3 hours is ...


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