Shaft v. Social Security Administration Commissioner

Filing 27

ORDER that Plaintiff's 21 Motion for Attorney Fees is granted in part. Plaintiff is awarded $6,565.86 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2412. Signed by Judge David G Campbell on 8/1/2014.(LFIG)

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1 WO 2 3 4 5 6 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 FOR THE DISTRICT OF ARIZONA 8 9 Robert Shaft, No. CV-13-08206-PCT-DGC Plaintiff, 10 11 v. 12 ORDER Social Security Administration Commissioner, 13 14 Defendant. 15 16 Plaintiff brought this action for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) 17 after his application for disability benefits was denied. Doc. 1. The Court reversed 18 Defendant’s decision and remanded the case for an award of benefits. Doc. 19. 19 Plaintiff has filed a motion for attorney’s fees pursuant to the Equal Access to 20 Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412 (“EAJA”). Doc. 21. The motion is fully briefed and no 21 party has requested oral argument. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the 22 motion in part and award Plaintiff attorney’s fees in the amount of $6,565.86. 23 “The EAJA creates a presumption that fees will be awarded to prevailing parties.” 24 Flores v. Shalala, 49 F.3d 562, 567 (9th Cir. 1995). Plaintiff is a prevailing party 25 because this matter was remanded pursuant to sentence four of the Social Security Act, 26 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 27 Gutierrez v. Barnhart, 274 F.3d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 2001). The Court should award 28 reasonable attorney’s fees under the EAJA unless Defendant shows that her position in Doc. 26; see Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 301 (1993); 1 this case was “substantially justified or that special circumstances make an award unjust.” 2 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A); see Gutierrez, 274 F.3d at 1258. A position is substantially 3 justified “if it has a reasonable basis in fact and law.” Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 4 552, 566 n.2 (1988). 5 Defendant does not contend that an award of fees in this case would be unjust. 6 Nor has she shown that the positions taken in defense of the ALJ’s erroneous decision 7 were substantially justified. The Court found that the ALJ committed legal error by 8 failing to set forth “specific and legitimate reasons” based on substantial evidence for 9 rejecting work-related limitations in Dr. Jaume’s medical opinion. Doc. 19 at 4. The 10 Court found that the ALJ improperly discounted Dr. Jaume’s opinion by exaggerating 11 Plaintiff’s activities of daily living and by incorrectly stating that Dr. Jaume’s opinion 12 was inconsistent with his own clinical findings. Doc. 19 at 6. Because the ALJ’s 13 decision did not comport with the Ninth Circuit’s requirement for discounting medical 14 source opinions, Defendant’s position cannot be said to have a “reasonable basis in law” 15 and was not substantially justified. 16 Plaintiff has described the efforts of his counsel in his fee request. Doc. 21 at 4-7. 17 In addition, Plaintiff’s counsel, John E. Phillips, has filed an itemized statement of fees 18 showing that he worked 49.74 hours on this case.1 Doc. 22. Having reviewed Plaintiff’s 19 motion and the statement of fees, and having considered the relevant fee award factors, 20 see Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429-30 & n.3 (1983), the Court finds that the 21 amount of the requested fee award is unreasonable for two reasons. First, Plaintiff’s 22 counsel has billed an unreasonably large amount of time for certain tasks. For example, 23 counsel apparently spent seven hours preparing the fee petition. 24 counsel’s time entries are block billed, which makes it difficult to evaluate the Second, many of 25 26 27 28 1 Plaintiff’s counsel filed a second itemized statement of fees with the reply brief indicating that he had worked an additional six hours preparing Plaintiff’s reply to the Commissioner’s objection to the EAJA fee motion. Plaintiff has not, however, requested an award of fees for this additional time. -2- 1 reasonableness of time entries on their face.2 2 requested hours by 15 hours for a total award of $6,565.86.3 See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 3 433 (stating that the district court can “reduce” the fee award where the documentation is 4 inadequate); Fischer v. SJF-P.D. Inc., 214 F.3d 1115, 1121 (9th Cir. 2000) (finding that a 5 court may reduce an excessive fee request based on counsel’s lack of explanation and 6 specificity in documenting billing). The Court will therefore reduce the 7 IT IS ORDERED: 8 1. Plaintiff’s motion for attorney’s fees (Doc. 21) is granted in part. 9 2. Plaintiff is awarded $6,565.86 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2412. 10 Dated this 1st day of August, 2014. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 2 25 26 27 A reviewing court (or client) cannot determine from block billed entries how much time was devoted to any particular task and therefore cannot determine whether the time recorded was reasonable. As a result, this Court’s local rules do not permit fee applications that include block billing. They instead require lawyers to identify “[t]he time devoted to each individual unrelated task[.]” See LRCiv. 54.2(d) & (e). 3 28 Plaintiff’s petition is not sufficiently detailed for the Court to discern the hourly rate his counsel is charging for each task. The Court has calculated the total for 34.74 hours at $189.00 per hour, counsel’s average hourly rate. -3-

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