Hill v. Astrue (CONSENT)

Filing 30

ORDER granting 25 Motion for Attorney Fees to the extent that the plaintiff be and is hereby AWARDED fees and expenses in the amount of $1843.75; it is further ORDERED that to the extent that plaintiffs counsel requests that fees be awarded directly to counsel, the motion be and is hereby DENIED. Signed by Honorable Charles S. Coody on 7/16/10. (scn, )

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H i l l v. Astrue (CONSENT) D o c . 30 IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA S O U T H E R N DIVISION R A N D Y HILL, P l a in tif f , v. M IC H A E L J. ASTRUE, C o m m is s io n e r of Social Security, D e f e n d a n t. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) C I V IL ACTION NO. 1:09cv01-CSC (WO) ORDER N o w pending before the court is the plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees pursuant to 2 8 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A) filed on June 18, 2010 (doc. # 25). On June 28, 2010, the d e f en d a n t filed a response to the plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees (doc. # 27) objecting to an award of fees in this case. The plaintiff has filed a reply to the defendant's response (do c. # 29). T h e plaintiff seeks an award of attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (" E A J A ), 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A), in the amount of $1,843.75 which represents 14.75 h o u rs of work at an hourly rate of $125.00. The defendant asserts that "special circumstances m a k e an award unjust" in this case. Relying on Contreras v. Barnhart, 79 Fed. App'x 708 (5 th Cir. 2003) (unpublished), the defendant argues that [b ]ec au se Plaintiff did not brief the principal issues on which the Court re v e rse d and remanded, Plaintiff's attorney fees "were thus expended `efforts th a t achieved no appreciable advantage;' the attorney `made no contribution' to the claim upon which [the claimant's] case was remanded; and the attorney is not entitled to fees for simply keeping the case alive to allow the district c o u r t to reverse and remand" on other issues. Dockets.Justia.com (D ef 's Res. to Pl's Application for Attorney's Fees, doc. # 27 at 4). U n d e r the EAJA, the court may award reasonable attorney's fees to a prevailing p lain tiff in a social security case. The EAJA specifically provides that "a court shall award to a prevailing party other than the United States fees and other expenses, in addition to any c o sts awarded pursuant to subsection (a), incurred by that party in any civil action (other than c a se s sounding in tort), including proceedings for judicial review of agency decision, brought b y or against the United States . . . unless the court finds that the position of the United States w a s substantially justified or that special circumstances make an award unjust." 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A) (emphasis added). According to the defendant, because the court reversed and remanded this matter on an issue not briefed, the plaintiff should not be awarded any fees. If, however, the court c h o o se s to award fees, the defendant argues that the fee request should be "significantly re d u c ed ." See Doc. # 27. T h e plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social S e c u rity Act, 42 U.S.C. 401 et seq., and for supplemental security income benefits under T itle XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 1381 et seq., alleging that he was unable to work because of a disability. After he was denied at the administrative level, the plaintiff s o u g h t review by this court. On April 15, 2010, the court reversed the decision of the C o m m is s io n e r and remanded this matter for further proceedings concluding that the ALJ (1) (2 ) (3 ) fa iled to fully and fairly develop the record regarding the plaintiff's in te lle c tu a l functioning; f a ile d to secure the plaintiff's mental health records or secure a c o n su lta tiv e psychological examination; f a ile d to articulate clear and adequate reasons for discrediting the 2 (4 ) (5 ) (6 ) p la in tif f , rendering his credibility analysis deficient as a matter of law; f a ile d to properly develop the record regarding the plaintiff's financial situ a tio n as it related to the plaintiff's failure to secure treatment; fa iled to make the proper findings regarding the consultative physician's a ss e ss m e n t of the plaintiff's residual functional capacity; and failed to resolve the ambiguities and inconsistencies in the record re g a rd in g the plaintiff's abilities to sit, stand and carry. S e e Memorandum Opinion and Order, Doc. # 23. T h e defendant argues that because the plaintiff's attorney did not brief the issues re g a rd in g his intellectual functioning or mental impairments, the attorney `achieved no a p p re c ia b le advantage,' for the plaintiff and he merely `kept the case alive' until the district c o u rt reversed and remanded the action. The court disagrees. In brief, the plaintiff c h a lle n g e d the ALJ's credibility analysis and the ALJ's failure to properly consider the o p in io n of the consultative physician, Dr. Crawford. See Doc. # 21, Pl's Br. at 3. The court d e c id e d these issues in favor of the plaintiff on remand. Moreover, the mere fact that the plaintiff did not brief all the issues upon which he was s u c c es s f u l does not make an award of fees unjust in this case. [ I]t is well established that a party need not obtain relief on every claim or legal th e o ry it propounds in order to be considered "prevailing" under a fee-shifting s ta tu te . In the context of the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Act, 42 U.S.C. 1 9 8 8 ) (section 1988), the Supreme Court has made clear that a plaintiff is " p re v a ilin g " if he proves "his entitlement to some relief on the merits of his c la im s , either in the trial court or on appeal." Hanrahan v. Hampton, 446 U.S. 7 5 4 , 757, 100 S.Ct. 1987, 1989, 64 L.Ed.2d 670 (1980) (per curiam) (emphasis a d d e d ). He or she need not prevail on all legal issues. Id. Our court has applied th e s e standards in the EAJA context. See Haitian Refugee Center v. Meese, 791 F .2 d 1489, 1495-96 (11th Cir.) (interim EAJA award where plaintiffs prevailed o n a central issue), vacated in part on other grounds, 804 F.2d 1573 (11th C ir.1 9 8 6 ); Ray v. Florida Cabinet, 845 F.2d 311, 313 (11th Cir.1988). J e a n v. Nelson 863 F.2d 759, 766 (11 th Cir. 1988) 3 A c c o rd in g ly, for the reasons as stated, and for good cause, it is O R D E R E D that the motion for attorney's fees (doc. # 25) be and is hereby G R A N T E D to the extent that the plaintiff be and is hereby AWARDED fees and expenses in the amount of $1843.75. It is further O R D E R E D that to the extent that plaintiff's counsel requests that fees be awarded d ire c tly to counsel, the motion be and is hereby DENIED.1 Astrue v. Ratliff, -- S.Ct. --, 2 0 1 0 WL 2346547 (2010); Reeves,526 F.3d 732, 738 (11 th Cir. 2008); 28 U.S.C. 2 4 1 2 (d )( 1 )( A ). Done this 16 th day of July, 2010. /s/Charles S. Coody CHARLES S. COODY U N IT E D STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE On June 14, 2010, the United States Supreme Court decided Astrue v. Ratliff, -- S.Ct. --, 2010 WL 2346547 (2010) in which the Court unambiguously held that attorney's fees are awarded to the prevailing litigant, not to prevailing litigant's attorney. See also Reeves v. Astrue, 526 F.3d 732, 738 (11th Cir. 2008) ("attorney's fees are awarded to the prevailing party, not to the prevailing party's attorney.") 1 4

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