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Herrera Sanchez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 3, 2017

JOSE LUIS HERRERA SANCHEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY FEES PURSUANT TO THE EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE ACT (ECF No. 28)

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Jose Luis Herrera Sanchez filed a complaint challenging the denial of his application for supplemental security income benefits on April 1, 2015. (ECF No. 1.) On November 2, 2016, this Court[1] issued an order reversing the ALJ's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. (ECF No. 26.) The Court entered judgment in Plaintiff's favor. (ECF No. 27.)

         Plaintiff now seeks attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act (28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)) (“EAJA”) in the amount of $6, 946.85, and $7.85 in costs.[2] (ECF No. 28.) Defendant opposes the motion and contends the attorney fees request should be denied because the Commissioner's position was substantially justified. Alternatively, Defendant argues that the amount of fees should be reduced by $2, 606.84 because the number of hours expended by Plaintiff was unreasonable. Based on the pleadings and attachments submitted by the parties, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's motion. Plaintiff shall be awarded fees in the amount of $6, 946.85 and $7.85 in costs.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

         Under 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 expenses:

Except as otherwise specifically provided by statute, a court shall award to a prevailing party other than the United States fees and other expenses, in addition to any costs awarded pursuant to subsection (a), 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.

28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A).

         When a claimant wins a remand based on an incorrect decision by the Commissioner, attorney fees are to be awarded unless the Commissioner shows that she was “substantially justified” in her position or that special circumstances make an award unjust. Meier v. Colvin, 727 F.3d 867, 870 (9th Cir. 2013) (“It is the government's burden to show that its position was substantially justified.”).

         B. Analysis

         In the underlying litigation, Plaintiff challenged the ALJ's decision by arguing that the ALJ: (1) failed to reconcile conflicts between the vocational expert's testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles; (2) found Plaintiff not credible; and, (3) failed to consider all of Plaintiff's impairments when formulating Plaintiff's residual functional capacity. On the appeal of the ALJ's decision, the Court found that the ALJ did not commit error in finding Plaintiff not credible. The ALJ did err, however, in failing to explain the discrepancy between the vocational expert's testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. To the extent that the ALJ's failure to account for all of Plaintiff's impairments contributed to this discrepancy, the ALJ was also mistaken in creating Plaintiff's residual functional capacity.[3] The Court remanded the case to the Social Security Administration for further consideration and entered judgment in favor of Plaintiff.

         Plaintiff argues that he is the prevailing party in this litigation and is entitled to attorney's fees. Moreover, the request for $6, 954.70 is reasonable because it represents payment for the number of hours actually expended on this case.

         Defendant argues that the request should be denied because Defendant's position was substantially justified. Put simply, Plaintiff originally sought remand based on three issues and the Court found in Defendant's favor on at least one of those issues. Thus, Defendant argues, there was a genuine dispute as to whether remand was warranted.

         Alternatively, Defendant argues that Plaintiff spent an unreasonable number of hours on this case. Specifically, Defendant contends that Plaintiff's counsel should not be compensated for 13.7 hours of time spent researching and drafting Plaintiff's opening brief because it is largely duplicative of Plaintiff's confidential letter brief.[4] Defendant also argues that the Court should order any ...


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