United States District Court, E.D. California
MARIE E. LULE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
ATTORNEY'S FEES PURSUANT TO THE EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE
ACT, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(D) (DOC. 21)
JENNIFER L. THURSTON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
E. Lule seeks an award for attorney's fees and expenses
pursuant to the Equal Access for Justice Act under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2412(d). (Doc. 21) Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Defendant”), opposes the motion. (Doc. 22)
the Administrative Law Judge's decision was contrary to
established standards set forth by the Regulations and the
Ninth Circuit, the Commissioner fails to show the decision,
or the defense thereof, was substantially justified.
Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion for attorney fees under
the EAJA is GRANTED in the amount of $4, 677.50.
Relevant Procedural History
initiated the action before this Court on October 26, 2015,
seeking judicial review of the decision denying her
application for benefits under the Social Security Act. (Doc.
1) The Court found the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical
evidence and rejecting the opinions of Plaintiff's
treating physician. (Doc. 19 at 8-11) Therefore, the Court
remanded the action for further proceedings pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Id. at
the entry of judgment, Plaintiff filed the application for
fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”) now pending before the Court on March
21, 2017. (Doc. 21) Defendant filed an opposition to the
motion on April 5, 2017 (Doc. 22), to which Plaintiff filed a
reply on April 21, 2017 (Doc. 23). Including time spent on
the reply, Plaintiff seeks a total award of $4, 905.
(Id. at 6)
Requests for EAJA Fees
EAJA provides that a court shall award fees and costs
incurred by a prevailing party “in any civil action . .
. including proceedings for judicial review of agency action,
brought by or against the United States . . . 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). A party
eligible to receive an award of attorney fees under the EAJA
must be the prevailing party who received a final judgment in
the civil action. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(H).
party seeking the award of EAJA fees has the burden of proof
that fees requested are reasonable. See Hensley v.
Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434, 437 (1983); see also
Atkins v. Apfel, 154 F.3d 988 (9th Cir. 1998)
(specifically applying these principles to fee requests under
the EAJA). As a result, “[t]he fee applicant bears the
burden of documenting the appropriate hours expended in the
litigation, and must submit evidence in support of those
hours worked.” Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d
1392, 1397 (9th Cir. 1992); see also 28 U.S.C.
§ 2412(d)(1)(B) (“A party seeking an award of fees
and other expenses shall . . . submit to the court an
application for fees and other expenses which shows . . . the
amount sought, including an itemized statement from any
attorney . . . stating the actual time expended”). The
court has an independent duty to review the evidence to
determine the reasonableness of the hours requested in each
case. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433, 436-47.
documentation of the expended time is inadequate, the court
may reduce the requested award. Hensley, 461 U.S. at
433, 436-47. Further, “hours that were not
‘reasonably expended” should be excluded from an
award, including “hours that are excessive, redundant,
or otherwise unnecessary.” Id. at 434. A
determination of the number of hours reasonably expended is
within the Court's discretion. Cunningham v. County
of Los Angeles, 879 F.2d 481, 484-85 (9th Cir. 1988).
Discussion and Analysis
claimant who receives a sentence four remand in a Social
Security case is a prevailing party for EAJA purposes.
Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 301-02 (1993);
Flores v. Shalala, 49 F.3d 562, 568 (9th Cir. 1995).
Consequently, Plaintiff was the prevailing party because the
Court ordered a remand of the matter for further proceedings
pursuant 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 19) Defendant does
not dispute that Plaintiff is a prevailing party, but argues
the position of the Commissioner was substantially justified.
(Doc. 22 at 2-3)
burden of proof that the position was substantially justified
rests on the government. Scarborough v. Principi, 54
U.S. 401, 403 (2004); Gonzales v. Free Speech
Coalition, 408 F.3d 613, 618 (9th Cir. 2005). The
Supreme Court has defined “substantially
justified” as “justified to a degree that could
satisfy a reasonable person.” Pierce v.
Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988). In addition,
“[a] substantially justified position must have a
reasonable basis in both law and fact.” Gutierrez
v. Barnhart, 274 F.3d 1255, 1258 (9th Cir. 2001).
that the government's position was substantially
justified is a two-step process. 28 U.S.C. §
2412(d)(2)(D). First, Defendant must demonstrate “the
action or failure to act by the agency” was
substantially justified. Second, Defendant must establish the
position taken in the civil action was substantially
justified. Id. Thus, the Court must find that both
the ALJ's decision and the Commissioner's
arguments to this Court in defense of the administrative
decision must have been substantially justified. Kali v.
Bowen, 854 F.2d 329, 332 (9th Cir. 1998); see also
Meier v. Colvin, 727 F.3d 867, 870 (9th ...