Wilson v. Social Security, Commissioner of
ORDER granting 23 plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees. Signed by District Judge George Caram Steeh (MBea)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
DEBRA SUE WILSON,
Case No. 13-CV-10158
HON. GEORGE CARAM STEEH
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S APPLICATION FOR ATTORNEY FEES
Plaintiff Debra Sue Wilson moves to recover $6,727.15 in attorney fees and
costs, following entry of this court's November 19, 2013 Order remanding this matter for
further administrative proceedings pursuant to the fourth sentence of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). Attorney fees are recoverable by a "prevailing party" against the United States
under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA") unless the position of the United States
was “substantially justified." 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A); Howard v. Barnhart, 376 F.3d
551, 553 (6th Cir. 2004). To be found reasonably justified, the Government's position
must have been justified, in both fact and law, to a degree that would satisfy a
reasonable person. Howard, 376 F.3d at 554 (citing Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S.
552, 569 (1988)).
In the case at bar, the ALJ discounted Dr. Quines’ opinion on the basis he “did
not provide any information regarding the nature, frequency and length of contact” he
had with plaintiff. However, the Report and Recommendation points out, “The record
shows that before he [Dr. Quines] rendered his opinion, Plaintiff had visited Dr. Quines
from May of 2010 through January of 2011.” This observation by the Magistrate Judge
addresses the length of the relationship between plaintiff and Dr. Quines. The Report
also lists the following treatment from Dr. Quines: x-ray referrals, prescriptions for
medications, follow-ups with Dr. Quines, and the fact plaintiff viewed Dr. Quines as her
primary care physician and family doctor. Therefore the frequency and nature of the
contact Dr. Quines had with plaintiff could have been evaluated. The Magistrate Judge
asserted “the ALJ should have applied the treating physician rule to determine how
much weight to give to the opinion.” As a further example of record support of the
treating physician relationship, plaintiff directs the court to the psychiatric evaluation
from Tuscola Behavioral Health Systems, which states: “[Plaintiff] to discuss with her
PCP any health issues and inform PCP of mental status and any psychotropic
medications she may be taking . . . . PCP, Dr. Quines.”
The Report and Recommendation was not objected to, and was adopted by the
court. Based on the analysis conducted by the Magistrate Judge, plaintiff argues that
the Commissioner’s defense of the ALJ’s lack of evaluation of the treating relationship,
and failure to apply the treating physician rule, was legally and factually erroneous.
In response to the Government’s argument that the ALJ committed a mere
“articulation error,” which would support a finding that the Commissioner was
reasonably justified, the plaintiff points out that the Magistrate Judge considered a
scenario where the ALJ found that Dr. Quines did not qualify as a treating source. In
that instance, the ALJ still would be in error because the discounting of Dr. Quines’
opinion would mean that the ALJ improperly relied on raw medical data in formulating
the RFC determination instead of opinion evidence. The ALJ’s failure to properly
evaluate Dr. Quines’ opinion led to the rejection of an opinion from a treating physician
without proper basis.
The Government argues that its position meets the substantial justification
standard because the court remanded the matter for further consideration of the opinion
of Dr. Quines. However, based on the evidence discussed above, as well as in the
Report and Recommendation, this court finds that the Commissioner did not act
reasonably in law or in fact in defending the ALJ’s evaluation of the treating relationship
and failure to apply the treating physician rule.
The Government does not contest the number of hours claimed to have been
worked by plaintiff’s counsel, only that plaintiff’s request for fees is in excess of the rate
of the statutory cap. The EAJA provides that the amount of attorney’s fees awarded
“shall not be awarded in excess of $125.00 per hour unless the court determines that an
increase in the cost of living or a special factor, such as the limited availability of
qualified attorneys for the proceedings justifies a higher fee.” 28 U.S.C. §
The Sixth Circuit has held that plaintiffs do not meet their burden for increased
attorney fees by merely submitting the Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index
(“CPI”) to justify a cost of living increase. Bryant v. Comm’s of Soc. Sec., 578 F.3d 443,
450 (6th Cir. 2009). In this case, plaintiff attaches the CPI for the Midwest urban region
of the country, showing a cost of living increase which yields an hourly rate of $171.06
for work performed in 2012 and $173.01 for work performed in 2013. Plaintiff’s
attorney, Howard Olinsky, also attaches his affidavit which describes his professional
qualifications, including the fact that he has practiced Social Security law for the past 28
years. He calculates his fees in this case at 1.6 hours of work performed in 2012 and
36.7 hours of work performed in 2013, for a total of $6,623.15. In addition, Mr. Olinsky
seeks $80.00 an hour for 1.3 hours of administrative work, for a total of $104.00. The
total EAJA fees sought are $6,727.15. The court finds that the CPI and Mr. Olinsky’s
affidavit are sufficient documentation to support an increased attorney fee in this case.
Plaintiff seeks an additional $692.04 for work done by counsel on its reply brief.
The court finds that plaintiff’s counsel is amply compensated for his work on this case
and will disallow recovery of this additional attorney fee.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that plaintiff’s motion for attorney fees pursuant to the
EAJA is GRANTED in the amount of $6,727.15.
Dated: March 3, 2014
s/George Caram Steeh
GEORGE CARAM STEEH
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
Copies of this Order were served upon attorneys of record on
March 3, 2014, by electronic and/or ordinary mail.
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