United States District Court, E.D. California
L. NunleyJ11 United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff David Paul Hill's
(“Plaintiff) Motion for Attorney's Fees, Costs, and
Expenses pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). (ECF No. 33.)
Defendant Commissioner of Social Security
(“Defendant”) filed an opposition to the Motion,
(ECF No. 34), and Plaintiff submitted a reply (ECF No. 35.)
For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS in part and
DENIES in part Plaintiffs Motion and awards Plaintiff $21,
988.53 in attorney's fees and $232.45 in costs and
Factual and Procedural Background
filed an action on July 18, 2016, seeking judicial review of
a final administrative decision denying his application for
Social Security disability benefits. (ECF No. 1.) On April
26, 2018, the Court issued an order determining the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in
evaluating the medical record - specifically regarding the
inclusion of the opinion of Plaintiff s medical providers -
and remanded the matter for further administrative hearings.
(ECF No. 27.)
16, 2018, Plaintiff filed this Motion, seeking an award of
attorney's fees, costs, and expenses pursuant to the EAJA
in the amount of $20, 226.31. (ECF No. 33.) Defendant filed
an opposition on July 21, 2018, arguing Plaintiff is not
entitled to an award, and in the alternative, the award
requested is unreasonable. (ECF No. 34 at 1.) Shortly
thereafter, Plaintiff submitted a reply with modifications to
the amount requested. (ECF No. 35.)
Standard of Law
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). The term “fees
and other expenses” includes “reasonable attorney
fees.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A). “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).
eligible to receive an award of attorney's 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).
A “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). A party 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). “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.
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 (1983); see also Atkins
v. Apfel, 154 F.3d 986 (9th Cir. 1998). 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. See Hensley,
461 U.S. at 433, 436-47.
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, 154 F.3d at 987 (citing 28 U.S.C.
§§ 2412(d)(1)(C) & 2412(d)(2)(D)). Where
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.
seeks attorney's fees in the amount of $22, 585.72 and
costs and expenses in the amount of $232.45.(ECF No. 35 at 1.)
Plaintiff has assigned any award to his attorney, Barbara
Marie Rizzo (“Plaintiffs Counsel”), and requests
the award be paid directly to Plaintiffs Counsel. (ECF No. 33
at 2.) Plaintiff contends he is entitled to the requested
award as the prevailing party in this action and because
Defendant's position at the administrative level and in
District Court was not substantially justified. (ECF No. 33
at 3, 7.) Defendant argues Plaintiff is not entitled to
attorney's fees and costs under the EAJA because
Defendant's position was substantially justified. (ECF
No. 34 at 4-8.) Alternatively, Defendant argues that if the
Court finds EAJA fees are warranted, the amount Plaintiff
requests is not reasonable. (ECF No. 34 at 8.) Plaintiffs
reply addresses Defendant's various arguments. (ECF No.
Court will first evaluate whether Defendant's position
was substantially justified and determine if Plaintiff is
entitled to an award. Then, the Court will address the
reasonableness of the requested award and the assignment of
any fees awarded.
Defendant's Position was not Substantially
EAJA provides that a prevailing party other than the United
States should be awarded 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). “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. Here,
Plaintiff is an individual whose net worth did not exceed two
million dollars at the time this action was filed.
(See ECF No. 33 at 3.) On April 26, 2018, the Court
ordered Plaintiffs case be remanded to the SSA for additional
administrative proceedings. (See ECF No. 27.)
Consequently, Plaintiff is considered a prevailing party for
the purposes of the instant motion.
burden of proof that the position was substantially justified
rests on the government. See Pierce v. Underwood,
487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988); Gutierrez, 274 F.3d at
1258 (9th Cir. 2001). The question of whether the position of
the government is substantially justified includes
“both the government's litigation position and the
underlying agency action giving rise to the civil
action.” Meier v. Colvin, 727 F.3d 867, 870
(9th Cir. 2013). A position is “substantially
justified” if it has a reasonable basis in law and
fact. Pierce, 487 U.S. at 565-66; United States
v. Marolf, 277 F.3d 1156, 1160 (9th Cir. 2002).
Substantially justified has been interpreted to mean
“justified to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable
person” and “more than merely undeserving of
sanctions for frivolousness.” Pierce, 487 U.S.
at 565; see also Marolf, 277 F.3d at 1161.
purposes of this motion, the ALJ's decision is treated as
the underlying agency action. See Meier, 727 F.3d at
870. The Court previously found that the ALJ committed legal
error by failing to provide “clear and
convincing” reasons supported by substantial evidence
for rejecting the opinion of Plaintiff s treating physician
and physician's assistant. (ECF No. 27 at 3.) Therefore,
the Court remanded the case back to the agency for further
proceedings. (ECF No. 27 at 6.) Defendant argues Plaintiff is
not entitled to EAJA fees merely because he prevailed in
court when the Court remanded the matter for additional
administrative proceedings. (ECF No. 34 at 2.) Defendant
further asserts that substantial justification exists for the
underlying ALJ decision and the government's litigation
position. (ECF No. 34 at 4-5.) Having reviewed the pleadings
and the arguments made by the parties, the Court finds
Defendant's position in the underlying agency action was
not substantially justified.
outset, the Court will address and dismiss one of the
arguments Defendant alludes to. Defendant argues that of the
six issues Plaintiff raised, Plaintiff prevailed on only one,
and therefore the totality of the ruling demonstrates the
reasonableness of Defendant's position. (ECF No. 34 at
5.) This fact in itself is irrelevant to the instant motion.
For the purposes of the EAJA, the Court must decide whether
Defendant's position was substantially justified based
upon the issue on which the case was overturned, not every
issue Plaintiff raised. See Hardisty v. Astrue, 592
F.3d 1072, 1078 (9th Cir. 2010).
the Court does agree that the mere fact that a court reversed
and remanded a case for further proceedings “does not
raise a presumption that [the government's] position was
not substantially justified.” Kali v. Bowen,854 F.2d 329, 335 (9th Cir. 1988). However, when the
government violates its own regulations, fails to acknowledge
settled circuit case law, or fails to adequately develop the
record, its position is not substantially justified. See
Gutierrez, 274 F.3d ...