United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
ATTORNEY FEES AND EXPENSES PURSUANT TO THE EQUAL ACCESS TO
JUSTICE ACT (Doc. 19)
K. OBERTO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
successfully obtaining reversal of an Administrative Law
Judge's (“ALJ”) decision denying her
application for Social Security disability benefits,
Plaintiff filed an application for an award of attorney fees
and costs pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”) in the amount of $5, 087.40.
(See Doc. 19, seeking an award of $5, 081.06 in
total fees (25.85 hours in attorney time and $6.34 in
March 5, 2018, Defendant filed an opposition asserting
Plaintiff is not entitled to fees under the EAJA because
Defendant's position was substantially justified.
(See Doc. 21.) Alternatively, Defendant contends
that the number of hours sought is unreasonable and should be
reduced accordingly. (Id.)
reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs application for EAJA fees
and expenses is GRANTED IN PART.
filed this action on March 2, 2016, seeking judicial review
of a final administrative decision denying her application
for Social Security disability benefits. (Doc. 1.) On October
18, 2017, the Court issued an order reversing the ALJ's
decision and remanding the case for award or benefits based
on the ALJ's failure to fully and fairly develop the
record. (Doc. 18.)
January 16, 2018, Plaintiff filed a motion for EAJA fees and
expenses, contending she is the prevailing party in this
litigation and seeking a total award of $6, 017.63 payable to
her attorney Kelsey Mackenzie Brown. (See Doc. 19 at
8, seeking an award of $5, 081.06 in total fees (25.85 hours
in attorney time and $6.34 in costs).) Defendant filed an
opposition asserting that Plaintiffs fee request should be
denied because Defendant's position was substantially
justified. (See Doc. 21 at 3-4.) Defendant asserts
that the treatment records from Plaintiffs treating physician
that the ALJ failed to obtain are dated more than a year
after the March 1, 2011 cessation date, and therefore are not
material to the question of Plaintiffs residual functional
capacity on or before that date. (See id.) Thus,
Defendant contends there was a “genuine dispute”
as to whether remand for the ALJ's failure to fully and
fairly develop the record was warranted. (Id.)
Defendant contends that Plaintiff spent an unreasonable
number of hours on this case and impermissibly billed her
time in “large and unexplained block-billing
entries.” (Doc. 21 at 6.) Specifically, Defendant
asserts that Plaintiffs counsel should not be compensated for
7.0 hours of time spent researching and drafting Plaintiffs
opening brief because it is largely duplicative of Plaintiff
s confidential letter brief. (See Id. at 5-6.)
Defendant also contends that the Court should order any fees
awarded be paid to Plaintiff, rather than his attorney,
pursuant to Astrue v. Ratliff, 560 U.S. 586 (2010).
(See Id. at 7-8.)
Plaintiffs motion for attorney fees and expenses under the
EAJA that is currently pending before the Court.
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.