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 application for
Supplemental Security Income under Title II of the Social
Security Act. On March 9, 2016, 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, reversed the decision of the
Commissioner and remanded this action for further
proceedings. (Dkt. No. 19.)
6, 2016, plaintiff filed this motion for attorney’s
fees. (Dkt. No. 22.) Plaintiff’s motion seeks an award
of $11, 636.92 in attorney’s fees. On July 6, 2016,
defendant filed an opposition to plaintiff’s motion.
(Dkt. No. 24.)
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 her
net worth did not exceed two million dollars when this action
was filed. (Dkt. No. 3.) Defendant argues that the
government’s position was substantially justified,
citing Campbell v. Covlin, 736 F.3d 867 (9th Cir.
2013). Campbell, however, was “one of the
‘unusual’ cases where attorneys’ fees
should not be awarded under the EAJA, ” because the ALJ
was tasked with “extrapolating from medical records to
make a decision about a past condition, ” as opposed to
examining current medical records. Id. at 869. Here,
this action is not one of those unusual cases.
regard, in granting plaintiff’s motion for summary
judgment, the court found that the ALJ gave a “vague
and conclusory” summation of the treatment of three
medical opinions, gave an incorrect and insufficient reason
for “set[ting] aside” one of those opinions, and
rejected another opinion as simply “too restrictive for
the objective findings in the record.” (Dkt. No. 19 at
4, 7 & 9.) Such actions clearly constituted error.
See 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.”); Tommasetti v. Astrue,
533 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2008) (“The ALJ must
consider all medical opinion evidence.”).
the ALJ also erred by rejecting “plaintiff’s
testimony by stating simply that although plaintiff’s
medically determinable impairments could reasonably be
expected to cause the alleged symptoms plaintiff’s
statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting
effects of those symptoms [were] not credible to the extent
they [were] inconsistent with the ALJ’s residual
functional capacity assessment.” (Dkt. No. 19 at 12.)
Such an action also clearly constituted error. See
Valentine v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d
685, 693 (9th Cir. 2009) (“The ALJ must specifically
identify what testimony is credible and what testimony
undermines the claimant’s complaints.”).
the court finds that the position of the government was not
substantially justified. See Martin v. Commissioner of
Social Sec. Admin., 598 Fed.Appx. 485, 486 (9th Cir.
2015) (“Because the ALJ failed to provide specific and
legitimate reasons for rejecting the examining
physician’s opinion and the RFC failed to incorporate
this physician’s four-hour standing and walking
limitation, the ALJ’s decision was not substantially
justified.”); Meier v. Colvin, 727 F.3d 867,
870 (9th Cir. 2013) (position of the government
“includes both the government’s litigation
position and the underlying agency action giving rise to the
civil action.”); Shafer v. Astrue, 518 F.3d
1067, 1069-72 (9th Cir. 2008) (reversing the district
court’s denial of EAJA fees where the ALJ erred in
rejecting, without explanation, a non-examining
doctor’s opinion, in contravention of governing
regulations requiring ALJ to evaluate every medical opinion
received); Thangaraja v. Gonzales, 428 F.3d 870, 874
(9th Cir. 2005) (“Our holding that the agency’s
decision . . . was unsupported by substantial evidence is . .
. a strong indication that the position of the United States
. . . was not substantially justified”).
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. In this
regard, after carefully reviewing the record and the pending
motion, the court finds the claimed 75.25 hours of attorney
and paralegal time to be a reasonable amount of time to have
expended on this matter and 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 WL 4383636, at *4
(E.D. Cal. Sept. 20, 2011); Destefano v. Astrue, No.
05-CV-3534, 2008 WL 623197, *4 (E.D. N.Y. Mar. 4, 2008).
although plaintiff’s counsel expended 75.25 hours of
time on this action, plaintiff is only seeking compensation
for 68.05 hours of time, which includes the amount of time
plaintiff expended on the motion for attorney’s fees.
(Dkt. No. 23-1.) That is not an unreasonable amount of time
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 Costa, 690 F.3d at
1136 (“we question the usefulness of reviewing the
amount of time spent in other cases to decide how much time