United States District Court, E.D. California
matter is before the court on plaintiff's unopposed
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 plaintiff's application
for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the
Social Security Act. On August 31, 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. 21.) //// On November 28, 2017,
plaintiff filed the pending motion for attorney's fees.
(ECF No. 23.) Defendant has not filed an opposition to
BARNES, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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).
“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. 2.) Moreover, the court
finds that the position of the United States was not
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”). “In determining
whether a party is eligible for fees under EAJA, the district
court must determine whether the government's position
regarding the specific issue on which the district court
based its remand was ‘substantially justified'-not
whether the ALJ would ultimately deny disability
benefits.” Gardner v. Berryhill, 856 F.3d 652,
656 (9th Cir. 2017).
articulated in the August 31, 2017 order, the Administrative
Law Judge erred at step two of the sequential evaluation by
finding that plaintiff's carpal tunnel syndrome and
mental impairments were non-severe. The ALJ also erred by
failing to offer specific and legitimate reasons for
rejecting the opinion of an examining physician. (ECF No.
21.) Moreover, the government has failed to argue that its
position was substantially justified. Accordingly, the court
cannot find that the government's position had a
reasonable basis in law and fact.
Plaintiff's Fee Request
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 ...