United States District Court, D. Arizona
D. Fultz, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
G. CAMPBELL SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
has made an application to the Court for attorneys' fees
under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”),
28 U.S.C. § 2412. Doc. 19. The Commissioner opposes the
motion. Doc. 21. The Court will grant the motion in part and
reduce the award to exclude time spent on unsuccessful
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) denied
Plaintiff's application for social security benefits,
finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of
the Social Security Act. Doc. 20-5 at 3. That decision became
the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals
Council denied review. Id. at 2. Plaintiff then
brought an action for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). On July 17, 2018, the Court ruled in
Plaintiff's favor and remanded the case to re-weigh the
opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician. See
Doc. 20-5 at 14.
attorney, Mark Caldwell, requests $10, 192.84 in
attorneys' fees. See Doc. 22 at 10. This
includes $9, 088.55 for hours he and contracted attorney
Robin Larkin incurred on Plaintiff's appeal (Doc. 20-2 at
3), and $1, 104.29 for time spent on fee-request litigation.
Doc. 22 at 10.
Except as otherwise specifically provided by statute, 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 (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.
28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1). Under this provision, courts
routinely award attorneys' fees to claimants who
successfully challenge the Social Security
Administration's denial of disability benefits. See,
e.g., Tobeler v. Colvin, 749 F.3d 830 (9th Cir.
2014). Where a successful claimant seeks attorneys' fees,
“[i]t is the government's burden to show that its
position was substantially justified, ” id. at
832, or that special circumstances make an award unjust.
Commissioner does not dispute that Plaintiff was a prevailing
party in this case. Nor does the Commissioner argue that its
position was substantially justified. Rather, the
Commissioner argues that Plaintiff's position is
unreasonable because (1) Plaintiff achieved only partial
success; (2) Plaintiff's hours represent duplicative
efforts by two attorneys; and (3) Plaintiff's hours
contain records of excessive tasks that more experienced
attorneys would not have performed. Doc. 21 at 2. The
Commissioner requests that Plaintiff's fee request be
reduced by fifty percent commensurate with Plaintiff's
limited success in this Court. Id. Because the
Commissioner addresses an across-the-board reduction to cover
all of the argued insufficiencies in Plaintiff's fee
request, the Court will address each of Commissioner's
arguments before addressing any specific fee reductions.
United States Supreme Court has identified twelve factors to
consider when evaluating the reasonableness of an
attorneys' fees request:
(1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and
difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill requisite to
perform the legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of
employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; (5)
the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or
contingent; (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the
circumstances; (8) the amount involved and the results
obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the
attorneys; (10) the ‘undesirability ...