Presley v. Colvin

Filing 39

Order by Hon. James Donato granting in part plaintiff's 35 Motion for EAJA Fees. (jdlc2S, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 5/10/2016)

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 7 MELANIE CAROL PRESLEY, Plaintiff, 8 9 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 Case No. 14-cv-01814-JD v. CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendant. ORDER GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR EAJA FEES Re: Dkt. No. 35 In this social security appeal, plaintiff has requested an award of attorney’s fees and costs 13 under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). The request is granted 14 with some modifications by the Court. 15 Defendant does not deny that plaintiff is a “prevailing party” but contends that no fees are 16 warranted because defendant’s legal position was “substantially justified” under 28 U.S.C. 17 § 2412(d)(1)(A). The problem with this argument is that it focuses only on the legal positions the 18 government took during the defense of the case. Under the EAJA, the “position of the United 19 States” which must be “substantially justified” “means, in addition to the position taken by the 20 United States in the civil action, the action or failure to act by the agency upon which the civil 21 action is based.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). Our Circuit has expressly stated that “[i]n the social 22 security context, we have consistently treated the ALJ’s decision as the ‘action or failure to act by 23 the agency upon which the civil action is based.’” Meier v. Colvin, 727 F.3d 867 (9th Cir. 2013). 24 It is the government’s burden to show that its position was substantially justified, and it has 25 failed to do so in this case with respect to the ALJ’s decision upon which this action is based. The 26 February 5, 2016 order of the SSA Appeals Council remanding this case back to the 27 administrative law judge points out certain errors in the ALJ’s September 12, 2012 decision. 28 These include the ALJ’s failure to properly weigh “the medical opinion evidence pertaining to the 1 claimant’s psychological impairments,” and the ALJ’s improper reliance on the vocational expert 2 evidence for the reasons stated in the Appeals Council’s remand order. Dkt. No. 37-1 at 1-2. The 3 Court finds that these errors, which were identified by the Social Security Administration itself, 4 preclude the government from showing here that the ALJ’s decision was “substantially justified,” 5 or that it had “a reasonable basis in both law and fact.” Meier, 727 F.3d at 870 (quoting Pierce v. 6 Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988)). The Court consequently finds that plaintiff is entitled to 7 an award of attorney’s fees and costs under the EAJA. 8 9 10 For the specific amount to be awarded, the government has argued that the amount sought by plaintiff -- $13,769.70 -- should be reduced. Dkt. Nos. 35, 36. The Court in its discretion rejects the government’s arguments about the fees that were United States District Court Northern District of California 11 allegedly excessive, unreasonable or duplicative. Dkt. No. 36 at 5-7. The Court generally finds 12 the fees and costs challenged by defendant to be reasonable and sufficiently documented. 13 The government has also made arguments about specific fees that are not properly 14 compensable under the EAJA, Dkt. No. 36 at 7-8, and plaintiff has made no reply about those 15 items. Dkt. No. 37. The Court consequently subtracts from the amount requested the fees for time 16 spent before the complaint was filed, as well as for time spent on plaintiff’s subsequent application 17 for benefits after the filing of this case. These result in a subtraction of $519.51 from the 18 $13,769.70 sought by plaintiff. 19 The Court consequently orders defendant to pay $13,250.19 of EAJA fees and costs to 20 plaintiff, Melanie Presley, as soon as practicable. The government may make the amount payable 21 to plaintiff’s counsel instead, should it determine that it can properly do so under the applicable 22 rules and regulations. Dkt. No. 36 at 8-9. The Court declines to set a time limit for the payment 23 and orders the government to make the payment as soon as practicable. Plaintiff may, however, 24 request the Court’s further assistance in the event no payment has been made within 120 days. 25 26 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: May 10, 2016 27 JAMES DONATO United States District Judge 28 2

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