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Harding v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

July 12, 2017

Patrick Dooley Harding, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          James A. Teilborg, Senior United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Patrick Harding's Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs Under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“Motion”), (Doc. 20). Plaintiff has also filed a Memorandum in Support of Motion for Attorney Fees (“Memorandum”), (Doc. 21). After reviewing the Commissioner of Social Security Administration's (the “Commissioner's”) Response, (Doc. 22), and Plaintiff's Reply, (Doc. 23), the Court grants in-part and denies in-part Plaintiff's Motion.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff originally filed an application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) before the Social Security Administration. (Doc. 21 at 2). Plaintiff's application was denied by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id.). The Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Id.). Plaintiff filed an appeal before this Court and counsel filed a complaint on February 15, 2016. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff and counsel entered into a fee agreement for counsel's work before the Court. (Doc. 21-3 at 2).

         On November 9, 2016, the Court vacated the Commissioner's decision and remanded Plaintiff's claim for further proceedings. (Doc. 18). On February 8, 2017 Plaintiff filed the pending Motion. (Doc. 20).

         II. Legal Standard

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has succinctly stated the legal standard for an award of attorneys' fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“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).

         When 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) (2012). 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 marks 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, 1112 (9th Cir. 2008)).

         III. Analysis

         The Commissioner concedes that her position was not substantially justified. (See Doc. 22 at 2 (“As procedural errors by the [ALJ] below rendered the government's position not substantially justified, the Commissioner does not object to the motion for EAJA fees on this basis.”)). Because the Commissioner concedes this point, the Court next determines the measure of reasonable attorney's fees to which Plaintiff is entitled under the EAJA.

         Plaintiff originally requested $8, 291.34 in attorneys' fees and costs for 30.5 hours of attorney time, 19.5 hours of paralegal time, and $470 in costs. (Doc. 21-2 at 2). Plaintiff seeks attorneys' fees at a rate of $190.28 per hour for work in 2015 and $192.68 per hour for work in 2016.[1] The Commissioner objects to the amount of fees and costs requested, and seeks reductions for (1) Plaintiff's counsels' pro hac vice fee; (2) Plaintiff's billing of clerical and secretarial tasks; (3) Plaintiff's quarter-hour increment billing; and (4) ten percent of the EAJA award. (Doc. 22 at 3-9); see also Moreno, 534 F.3d at 1112. In his Reply, Plaintiff concedes to certain reductions, [2] adds fees for litigating this Motion, and updates the requested amount to $8, 801.21. (Doc. 23 at 2-5). The parties still dispute (1) reductions for three entries that were billed as quarter-hours; and (2) a reduction of ten-percent of all of Plaintiff's fees and costs.

         A. Reduction for ...

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