United States District Court, E.D. California
DEBORAH BARNES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the court on plaintiff's fully briefed
motion for attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access
to Justice Act (“EAJA”).
brought this action seeking judicial review of a final
administrative decision denying her applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) and for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Act. On January 9, 2017, following the filing of a
motion for summary judgment by plaintiff and a cross-motion
for summary judgment by defendant, the court granted
plaintiff's motion in part, reversed the decision of the
Commissioner and remanded this action for further
proceedings. (ECF No. 30.)
April 2, 2017, plaintiff filed this motion for attorney's
fees, seeking an award of $3, 750. (ECF No. 31.) On April 17,
2017, defendant filed an opposition to plaintiff's
motion. (ECF No. 32.) Plaintiff filed a reply on May 8, 2017.
(ECF No. 33.)
EAJA provides that “a court shall award to a prevailing
party . . . fees and other expenses . . . incurred by that
party in any civil 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); see also Gisbrecht v.
Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 796 (2002). “It is the
government's burden to show that its position was
substantially justified or that special circumstances exist
to make an award unjust.” Gutierrez v.
Barnhart, 274 F.3d 1255, 1258 (9th Cir. 2001).
justification means ‘justified in substance or in the
main-that is, justified to a degree that could satisfy a
reasonable person.'” Tobeler v. Colvin,
749 F.3d 830, 832 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Meier v.
Colvin, 727 F.3d 867, 870 (9th Cir. 2013)). “Put
differently, the government's position must have a
‘reasonable basis both in law and fact.'”
Meier, 727 F.3d at 870 (quoting Pierce v.
Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988)).
“‘[T]he position of the United States includes
both the government's litigation position and the
underlying agency action.'” Campbell v.
Astrue, 736 F.3d 867, 868 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting
Meier, 727 F.3d at 870); see also Shafer v.
Astrue, 518 F.3d 1067, 1071 (9th Cir. 2008) (“the
relevant question is whether the government's decision to
defend on appeal the procedural errors committed by the ALJ
was substantially justified”).
“party” under the EAJA is defined as including
“an individual whose net worth did not exceed $2, 000,
000 at the time the civil action was filed[.]” 28
U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(B)(i). The term “fees and
other expenses” includes “reasonable attorney
fees.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A). “The
statute explicitly permits the court, in its discretion, to
reduce the amount awarded to the prevailing party to the
extent that the party ‘unduly and unreasonably
protracted' the final resolution of the case.”
Atkins v. Apfel, 154 F.3d 986, 987 (9th Cir. 1998)
(citing 28 U.S.C. §§ 2412(d)(1)(C) &
who obtains a remand in a Social Security case is a
prevailing party for purposes of the EAJA. Shalala v.
Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 300-01 (1993) (“No holding
of this Court has ever denied prevailing-party status . . .
to a plaintiff who won a remand order pursuant to sentence
four of § 405(g) . . ., which terminates the litigation
with victory for the plaintiff.”). “An applicant
for disability benefits becomes a prevailing party for the
purposes of the EAJA if the denial of her benefits is
reversed and remanded regardless of whether disability
benefits ultimately are awarded.” Gutierrez,
274 F.3d at 1257.
the court finds that plaintiff is the prevailing party, that
plaintiff did not unduly delay this litigation, and that
plaintiff's net worth did not exceed two million dollars
when this action was filed. (ECF No. 4.) Defendant argues,
however, that the government's position was substantially
justified. (ECF No. 32 at 3-9.) In this regard, defendant
argues that “the ALJ's findings had a reasonable
basis in law and fact.” (Id. at 4.) The court
finds defendant's argument unpersuasive.
articulated in the January 9, 2017 order, the ALJ rejected
the opinion of an examining physician for legally
impermissible reasons. See generally Garrison v.
Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1012-13 (9th Cir. 2014) (“an
ALJ errs when he rejects a medical opinion or assigns it
little weight while doing nothing more than ignoring it,
asserting without explanation that another medical opinion is
more persuasive, or criticizing it with boilerplate language
that fails to offer a substantive basis for his
conclusion”); Ryan v. Commissioner of Social
Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1199-200 (9th Cir. 2008)
(“[A]n ALJ does not provide clear and convincing
reasons for rejecting an examining physician's opinion by
questioning the credibility of the patient's complaints
where the doctor does not discredit those complaints and
supports his ultimate opinion with his own
observations.”); Vertigan v. Halter, 260 F.3d
1044, 1050 (9th Cir. 2001) (“This court has repeatedly
asserted that the mere fact that a plaintiff has carried on
certain daily activities, such as grocery shopping, driving a
car, or limited walking for exercise, does not in any way
detract from her credibility as to her overall
disability.”); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821,
832 (9th Cir. 1995) (“The Secretary may not assume that
doctors routinely lie in order to help their patients collect
disability benefits.”); Embrey v. Bowen, 849
F.2d 418, 421-22 (9th Cir. 1988) (“To say that medical
opinions are not supported by sufficient objective findings
or are contrary to the preponderant conclusions mandated by
the objective findings does not achieve the level of
specificity . . . required, even when the objective factors
are listed seriatim.”).
the court finds that the position of the government was not
substantially justified. The EAJA expressly provides for an
award of “reasonable” attorney fees. 28 U.S.C.
§ 2412(d)(2)A). Under the EAJA, hourly rates for
attorney fees have been capped at $125.00 since 1996, but
district courts are permitted to adjust the rate to
compensate for an increase in the cost of
living. See 28 U.S.C. §
2412(d)(2)(A); Sorenson v. Mink, 239 F.3d 1140,
1147-49 (9th Cir. 2001); Atkins v. Apfel, 154 F.3d
986, 987 (9th Cir. 1998). Determining a reasonable fee
“‘requires more inquiry by a district court than
finding the product of reasonable hours times a reasonable
rate.'” Atkins, 154 F.3d at 988 (quoting
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 (1983)
(internal citations omitted)). The district court must
consider “‘the relationship between the amount of
the fee awarded and the results obtained.'”
Id. at 989 (quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at
after drafting a thorough motion for summary judgment, and
opposition to defendant's motion for summary judgment,
plaintiff successfully obtained a new hearing.
Plaintiff's counsel expended 22.75 hours of attorney
time. (ECF No. 31 at 4.) The court finds the amount of
attorney hours expended to be reasonable, especially when
compared to the time devoted to similar tasks by counsel in
like social security appeals coming before this
court. See Stamper v. Colvin, No.
2:12-cv-0192 AC, 2013 WL 6839691, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Dec. 23,
2013) (finding 51 hours to be a reasonable amount of time);
Boulanger v. Astrue, No. CIV S-07-0849 DAD, 2011 WL
4971890, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 19, 2011) (finding 58 hours to
be a reasonable amount of time); Watkins v. Astrue,
No. CIV S-06-1895 DAD, 2011 WL 4889190, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Oct.
13, 2011) (finding 62 hours to be a reasonable amount of
time); Vallejo v. Astrue, No. 2:09-cv-03088 KJN,
2011 WL 4383636, at *5 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 20, 2011) (finding
62.1 hours to be a reasonable amount of time); see also
Costa v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 690 F.3d
1132, 1137 (9th Cir. 2012) (“District courts may not
apply de facto caps limiting the number of hours attorneys
can reasonably expend on ‘routine' social security
cases.”). See generally Moreno v. City of
Sacramento, 534 F.3d 1106, 1112 (9th Cir. 2008)
(“By and large, the court should defer to the winning
lawyer's professional judgment as to how much time he was
required to spend on the case; after all, he won, and might
not have, had he been more of a slacker.”).
after carefully reviewing the record and the pending motion,
the court declines to conduct a line-by-line analysis of
counsel's billing entries. See, e.g.,
Stewart v. Sullivan, 810 F.Supp. 1102, 1107 (D. Haw.
1993); Knowles v. Colvin, Case No. 1:14-cv-1657-SKO,
2016 WL 3407594, at *3 (E.D. Cal. June 20, 2016); Duran
v. Colvin, No. 2:11-cv-2978 DAD, 2013 WL 5673415, at *2
(E.D. Cal. Oct. 17, 2013); Vallejo v. Astrue, No.
2:09-cv-03088 KJN, 2011 ...