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Moreno v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 25, 2018

LIZA LUCERO MORENO, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING PETITION FOR ATTORNEY FEES, COSTS, AND EXPENSES UNDER THE EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE ACT(ECF 15, 19)

         Currently before the Court is Petitioner Stephen Rosales petition for attorney fees, costs, and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”).

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On October 21, 2016, Plaintiff Liza Lucero Moreno (“Plaintiff”) filed a complaint seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denying her application for disability benefits pursuant to the Social Security Act. Pursuant to the stipulation of the parties, this action was remanded for further administrative proceedings on January 22, 2018. On April 20, 2018, a petition was filed for attorney fees pursuant to the EAJA and costs pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1920. On May 15, 2018, an order was issued requiring Defendant to file an opposition or statement of non-opposition. Defendant filed a statement of non-opposition on May 17, 2018.[1]

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS FOR EAJA MOTIONS

         A party that prevails against the United States in a civil action is entitled, in certain circumstances, to an award of attorney's fees, court costs, and other expenses under the EAJA. Flores v. Shalala, 49 F.3d 562, 566, (9th Cir. 1995). The Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d), states, in pertinent part:

(d)(1)(A) 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.

         The EAJA defines a party as “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). Fees and expenses include 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 8 U.S.C. §§ 2412(d)(1)(C), 2412(d)(2)(D)).

         The Court is required to provide a concise but clear explanation for the reasons for the fee award. Sorenson v. Mink, 239 F.3d 1140, 1145 (9th Cir. 2001). Hours that are inadequately documented and hours that were not reasonably expended may reduce the fee award. Id. at 1146.

         Fee shifting under EAJA is not mandatory. Flores, 49 F.3d at 567. Attorneys' fees and expenses are not awarded under EAJA where the government's position was substantially justified. Id. “A position is ‘substantially justified' if it has a ‘reasonable basis in law and fact.'” Hardisty v. Astrue, 592 F.3d 1072, 1079 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988)). “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). The government must establish first, whether the underlying conduct of the ALJ was “substantially justified” and second, that its litigation position defending the ALJ's error was “substantially justified.” Id. at 1259. As the Ninth Circuit described:

Substantial justification does not mean “justified to a high degree, ” but simply entails that the government must show that its position meets the traditional reasonableness standard-that is “justified in substance or in the main, ” or “to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable person.”

Corbin v. Apfel, 149 F.3d 1051, 1052 (9th Cir. 1998).

         Under EAJA, attorney fees are capped at $125.00 per hour “unless the court determines that an increase in the cost of living or a special factor, such as the limited availability of qualified attorneys for the proceedings involved, justifies a higher fee.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A); Sorenson, 239 F.3d at 1145.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Petitioner is seeking $4, 344.00[2] in attorney fees for 20 hours expended by an attorney, and 3.4 hours expended by two paralegals in representing Plaintiff in this action. Petitioner ...


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