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Julio Garcia v. Michael J. Astrue

April 11, 2012

JULIO GARCIA,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila K. Oberto United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S APPLICATION FOR AN AWARD OF ATTORNEY'S FEES PURSUANT TO THE EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE ACT (Doc. 22)

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Julio Garcia ("Plaintiff") filed a complaint on March 25, 2010, seeking reversal of the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision denying Plaintiff's application for Social Security disability benefits. (Doc. 1.) On September 1, 2011, the Court issued an order reversing and remanding the ALJ's decision and entered judgment in favor of Plaintiff. (Docs. 20, 21.)

On November 30, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for an award of fees and expenses pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA") in the amount of $10,691.84. (Doc. 22.) On January 30, 2012, the Commissioner filed an opposition to Plaintiff's request asserting that the total number of hours expended by Plaintiff's counsel was unreasonable. (Doc. 28.)

For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's EAJA application is GRANTED in the amount of $7,695.36

II. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A), claimants who successfully challenge an agency decision in a civil action are entitled to reasonable fees and other expenses:

[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.

Any application for an award of EAJA fees and other expenses must be made within thirty days of final judgment in the action and "must include an itemized statement from any attorney representing or appearing in behalf of the party stating the actual time expended and the rate at which fees and other expenses were computed." 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B). The party submitting the application is also required to allege that the position of the United States was not substantially justified. Id. Further, the party applying for an award of EAJA fees must have an individual net worth not greater than $2,000,000 at the time the civil action was filed. Id. § 2412(d)(2)(B).

B. Plaintiff is Entitled to An Award of EAJA Fees and Other Expenses

As an initial matter, Plaintiff has met the statutory criteria to be eligible for an EAJA award of fees and other expenses. A remand pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) has been found to constitute a final, appealable judgment. Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 296-302 (1993). A party who obtains a sentence-four remand in a social security appeal is a prevailing party for purposes of the EAJA. Schaefer, 509 U.S. at 302. Here, Plaintiff asserts that he was a prevailing party for purposes of the appeal because the ALJ's decision was reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four and judgment was entered in Plaintiff's favor. (Doc. 22-1, 2:15-19.) The Commissioner does not dispute this. Plaintiff further asserts that his net worth as an individual was not more than $2,000,000 at the time the civil action was filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(D)(2)(B), which is also undisputed by the Commissioner. (Doc. 22-1, 2:20-22.)

Plaintiff's assertion that the Commissioner's position was not substantially justified is also undisputed. (Doc. 22-1, 3:15-4:21.) The Court finds that Plaintiff is entitled to an award of his reasonable attorney's fees and expenses.

C. Reasonableness of the Fees

The Court must determine what constitutes a reasonable award of attorney's fees. See 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A); Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392, 1401 (9th Cir. 1992) (district court has an independent duty to review plaintiff's fee request to determine its reasonableness). "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); Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 897 (1984). "The [Court] must determine not just the actual hours expended by counsel, but which of those hours were reasonably expended in the litigation." Ramos v. Lamm, 713 F.2d 546, 553 (10th Cir. 1983). "'Hours that are not properly billed to one's client are not properly billed to one's adversary pursuant to statutory authority.'" Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434 (quoting Copeland v. Marshall, 641 F.2d 880, 891 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (en banc)). The applicant bears the burden of demonstrating the reasonableness of the fee request. Blum, 465 U.S. at 897.

1. Hourly Rates

Plaintiff requests $175.06 per hour for work performed by his counsel in 2010 and $179.51 per hour for work performed in 2011, which are the applicable statutory maximum hourly rates under EAJA for attorney work performed in 2010 and 2011, adjusted for increases in the cost of living, as published by the Ninth Circuit on its website pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A), Thangaraja v. Gonzales, 428 F.3d 870, 876-77 (9th Cir. 2005), and Ninth Circuit Rule 39-1.6. These rates are unopposed and have been considered reasonable in other social security cases in this district, see, e.g., Roberts v. Astrue, No. 1:09-cv-1581-DLB, 2011 WL 2746715, at * 4 (E.D. Cal. July 13, 2001); the Court does not find any basis to recommend a reduction to the hourly rates requested.

2. Hours Expended

As to hours expended, Plaintiff's application for an award of EAJA fees seeks attorney's fees for 41.9 hours of work performed by Ms. Bosavanh in 2010 and 18.7 hours of work performed by Ms. Bosavanh in 2011.The Commissioner asserts that the 60.6 hours expended by Plaintiff's counsel "are patently high." (Doc. 28, 2:15.) Specifically, the Commissioner contends that Plaintiff's counsel spent time on clerical or administrative tasks that are not compensable under the EAJA, many time entries lack any specificity and appear unreasonable, and the ...


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