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Long v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 24, 2015

LISA LONG, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES Re: Dkt. No. 18

SUSAN ILLSTON, District Judge.

Before the court is plaintiff Lisa Long's motion for attorneys' fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). Having considered the papers submitted, the Court hereby GRANTS plaintiff's motion.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Lisa Long filed an application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act on November 30, 2010. Dkt. 10, Administrative Record at 12. The Social Security Administration denied her claim initially and again upon reconsideration. Id. at 79, 83. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). See id. at 95. The hearing was held on April 19, 2012. Id. at 102. The ALJ issued a decision on September 7, 2012, finding that plaintiff was not disabled and denying her claim for disability benefits. Id. at 9.

On October 30, 2013, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. Id. at 1. Plaintiff then filed this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Dkt. 1 at ¶ 3. Plaintiff moved for summary judgment, seeking an order of remand for immediate payment of benefits or, in the alternative, to remand for further proceedings. Dkt. 11 at 28. Defendant ("the Commissioner") filed a cross-motion to remand for further proceedings, conceding that the ALJ had committed reversible error by failing to explain her reason for discounting the testimony of plaintiff's examining physician, Dr. Flavin. Dkt. 12 at 6. However, the Commissioner opposed plaintiff's request for an order to remand for immediate payment of benefits. Id. Plaintiff filed a reply and opposition to the Commissioner's cross-motion on May 23, 2014. Dkt. 13.

On March 3, 2015, this Court reversed the decision of the Commissioner and remanded the case, finding that the ALJ (1) failed to explain why she departed from Dr. Flavin's opinion; (2) improperly discounted the opinions of plaintiff's treating physicians, Drs. Cheng and Besana; and (3) rejected the credibility of plaintiff's testimony based on insufficient grounds. Dkt. 15. The Court entered final judgment on March 3, 2015. Dkt. 16. On May 29, 2015, plaintiff timely filed the current application for attorneys' fees and costs under the EAJA, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). Dkt. 18. Plaintiff filed her reply brief on June 2, 2015, in which she requested $855.27 in additional fees for litigating the current motion. Dkt. 20. The Commissioner argues that plaintiff's fee award should be reduced because the number of hours requested is excessive and unreasonable. Dkt. 19.

LEGAL STANDARD

Under section 2412(d) of the EAJA, reasonable attorneys' fees and costs may be awarded to the prevailing party in a civil action against the United States, including a proceeding for judicial review of an agency action. See 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). The plaintiff is entitled to attorneys' fees and costs unless the Court finds that the position of the United States was substantially justified. See id. The Supreme Court has defined "substantially justified" as "justified in substance or in the main-that is, justified to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable person, " or having a "reasonable basis both in law and fact." Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988). The language of the EAJA creates a presumption in favor of awarding attorneys' fees, and therefore the burden of establishing substantial justification is placed with the government. Gutierrez v. Barnhart, 274 F.3d 1255, 1258 (9th Cir. 2001); United States v. 313.34 Acres of Land, More or Less, Situated in Jefferson County, State of Wash., 897 F.2d 1473, 1477 (9th Cir. 1989).

An award of attorneys' fees under the EAJA should include only the hours "reasonably expended on the litigation." Sorensen v. Mink, 239 F.3d 1140, 1145 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)). A district court may reduce the award if time spent on the appeal obtained only limited results. See Atkins v. Apfel, 154 F.3d 986, 990 (9th Cir. 1998) (finding that the district court abused its discretion in failing to consider the results obtained). However, a plaintiff who has achieved success should normally recover a full fee, even if the court rejected some of the claims raised in the lawsuit. Sorensen, 239 F.3d at 1147. EAJA fees for a successful action should also include the reasonable costs of litigating the fee award. Commissioner, INS v. Jean, 496 U.S. 154, 166 (1990).

DISCUSSION

I. The Government Was Not Substantially Justified

The Commissioner does not claim that the government's position was substantially justified. Plaintiff is thus entitled to an award as a prevailing party under 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). See Gutierrez, 274 F.3d at 1258 ("It is the government's burden to show that its position was substantially justified."). The only dispute between the parties is whether the number of hours expended on the appeal was reasonable. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that plaintiff is entitled to the full amount of fees and costs requested.

II. The Requested Hours Are ...


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