United States District Court, D. Arizona
Neil M. Heggem, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.
A. TEILBORG SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is Plaintiff Neil M. Heggem’s motion
for attorneys’ fees pursuant to the Equal Access to
Justice Act (“EAJA”). (Doc. 33). The Court now
rules on the motion.
24, 2013, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
denied Plaintiff’s request for social security
benefits. (Doc. 13 at 1). The Social Security Appeals Council
denied review of the ALJ’s decision on August 31, 2013.
(Id.) After Plaintiff filed an appeal for judicial
review of the ALJ’s decision, this Court affirmed the
ALJ’s decision. (Doc. 24). On March 23, 2015, Plaintiff
filed an appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the
Ninth Circuit challenging this Court’s affirmance of
the ALJ’s decision. (Doc. 26). On June 1, 2016, the
Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded for supplemental
proceedings upon the Commissioner’s request for
voluntary remand. (Doc. 30).
Ninth Circuit has succinctly stated the legal standard for an
award of attorneys’ fees under the EAJA as follows:
EAJA provides that a court shall award to a prevailing party
other than the United States fees and other expenses incurred
by that party in any civil action unless the court finds that
the position of the United States was substantially justified
or that special circumstances make an award unjust. It is the
government’s burden to show that its position was
substantially justified. Substantial justification means
justified in substance or in the main-that is, justified to a
degree that could satisfy a reasonable person. Put
differently, the government’s position must have a
reasonable basis both in law and fact. The position of the
United States includes both the government’s litigation
position and the underlying agency action giving rise to the
civil action. Thus, if the government’s underlying
position was not substantially justified, we must award fees
and need not address whether the government’s
litigation position was justified.
Tobeler v. Colvin, 749 F.3d 830, 832 (9th Cir. 2014)
(citations, quotation marks, and alterations omitted).
awarding attorneys’ fees under the EAJA, the Court
should reimburse the prevailing party only for those fees
which are reasonably expended by that party’s counsel.
See 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A). The prevailing
party bears the burden of proving the reasonableness of his
request through sufficiently detailed accounts of hours
expended on particular tasks so that the Court can evaluate
his application. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S.
424, 437 (1983); see Neil v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec., 495 F. App’x 845, 846 (9th Cir. 2012)
(“A fee applicant should maintain billing records in a
manner that enables a reviewing court to easily identify the
hours reasonably expended.” (quotation omitted)).
Generally, if the Court reduces a fee application it must
provide a reason, however, “a district court can impose
a reduction of up to 10 percent-a ‘haircut’-based
purely on the exercise of its discretion and without more
specific explanation.” Costa v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec., 690 F.3d 1132, 1135 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing
Moreno v. City of Sacramento, 534 F.3d 1106, 1111
(9th Cir. 2008)).
the Commissioner concedes that her position was not
substantially justified, see (Doc. 34 at 1),
Plaintiff is entitled to an award of his reasonable
attorneys’ fees pursuant to the EAJA.
the reasonableness of Plaintiff’s fee request, the
Commissioner argues that Plaintiff should only be reimbursed
for fees related to legal work and not fees involving
clerical or secretarial work. (Doc. 34). The Commissioner
identifies several instances in Plaintiff’s itemized
statement of attorney hours in which Plaintiff’s
counsel billed for “filing and docketing pleadings,
receiving and/or reviewing notices or standard orders, and
filing extensions of time.” (Id. at 3). The
Commissioner further points out that Plaintiff’s
counsel “block billed” on multiple occasions,
“making it difficult to evaluate the reasonableness of
the time entries on their face.” (Id.) As a
result, the Commissioner requests that Plaintiff’s fee
application be reduced “by at least $665.00 to account
for clerical time that cannot be billed at an attorney
rate.” (Id. at 3-4).
reply, Plaintiff asserts that the Commissioner’s
opposition to his motion for attorneys’ fees “is
a waste of judicial resources” and suggests that the
Court “should not opt to get involved in such
minutia.” (Doc. 37 at 2). Plaintiff posits-without
citing to any legal authority-that his “EAJA petition
should have proceeded unopposed simply due to the amount in
controversy.” (Id.) Accordingly, Plaintiff
refused to “go into detail over every line item put in
issue by the agency” because doing so would “not
[be] a good use of the Court’s time.”
(Id.) Plaintiff also postulates that “[f]ull
briefing [on a motion for attorneys’ fees under the
EAJA] is not a good use of resources, and the lack of full
briefing is not a reflection of a lack of merit.”
(Id. at 3). Ultimately, Plaintiff contends that
should the Court reduce the amount of requested fees, it
should “split the disputed amount between the
parties” rather than “combing the record.”
Plaintiff’s advice to the contrary, the Court
“combed through the record” as is required for
all fee applications brought pursuant to the EAJA. See,
e.g., Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433 (stating that a
district court has an independent duty to determine whether
an attorneys’ fee award is reasonable);
Moreno, 534 F.3d at 1111 (“A district court .
. . awards only the fee that it deems reasonable.”).
This task was not as daunting as Plaintiff inferred, as the