Phillips v. Colvin

Filing 21

ORDER GRANTING 18 Motion for Attorney Fees signed by Hon. Brian A Tsuchida.(AE)

Download PDF
1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 6 7 KAREN PHILLIPS, 8 Plaintiff, 9 ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR ATTORNEY FEES v. 10 11 12 13 CASE NO. C16-1819-BAT NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant. Prevailing party, Karen Phillips, moves for EAJA fees of $3,180.17. Dkt. 18. The 14 Commissioner argues the Court should deny fees because the government’s position is 15 substantially justified, and the fees requested are unreasonable. Dkt. 19. The Court rejects these 16 arguments and GRANTS plaintiff’s motion. 17 The Court may award attorney’s fees to a prevailing party in an action against the United 18 States, unless the court finds the government’s position on the merits in the litigation was 19 “substantially justified.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). To show its position was “substantially 20 justified” the government must demonstrate its position had a reasonable basis in both law and 21 fact at each stage of the proceedings, including both the government’s litigation position, and the 22 underlying agency action giving rise to the civil action. Tobeler v. Colvin, 749 F.3d 830, 832–34 23 (9th Cir. 2014). Deviating from this standard, the Commissioner argues the issue is “whether the ORDER GRANTING EAJA FEES- 1 1 Commissioner was substantially justified in defending the errors identified by the Court.” Dkt. 2 19. But the “position of the United States” includes both the government’s litigation position and 3 the underlying agency action giving rise to the civil action. Meier v. Colvin, 727 F.3d 867, 870 4 (9th Cir. 2014). Thus to assess whether the government’s position is substantially justified, a 5 Court first considers the underlying agency action. Id. at 872. A court need not address whether 6 the government’s subsequent litigation position is justified when the underlying agency position 7 was not substantially justified. Id. at 872–73. 8 9 Here the Court found the ALJ erred as matter of law. The ALJ gave great weight to Ms. Phillips’ providers but harmfully erred by failing to account for all limitations in determining 10 Ms. Phillips’ RFC, and in making step five findings. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a). The 11 Commissioner’s position accordingly was not substantially justified in the underlying agency 12 action. 13 Relying heavily on Blair v. Colvin, 619 Fed. Appx. 583 (9th Cir. 2015), the government 14 also argues the fee request is unreasonable “given the limited nature of her success.” Dkt. 19 at 4. 15 Blair did not hold a court must reduce EAJA fees where the plaintiff fails to prevail on all claims 16 presented to the district court. Rather Blair found the district court did not abuse its discretion in 17 reducing Blair’s fee request. Id. at 586. In Blair, the Court did not grant the relief the plaintiff 18 sought. In contrast, the Court granted the exact relief Ms. Phillips requested: “that the Court 19 remand this case to the Commissioner for further administrative proceedings with instructions to 20 re-evaluate the medical evidence, reassess her RFC, and make new step five finding.” Dkt. 13 at 21 14; Dkt. 16 at 6. The Court accordingly finds it inappropriate to reduce the fee request on the 22 grounds Ms. Phillips achieved “limited success.” 23 ORDER GRANTING EAJA FEES- 2 1 In sum, the Court GRANTS Ms. Phillip’s motion. Dkt. 18. The Court has reviewed Ms. 2 Phillip’s motion and supporting declarations and the record, and finds the amount requested is 3 reasonable. 4 The Court accordingly ORDERS the Commissioner to pay plaintiff’s attorney fees of 5 $3,180.17. If the EAJA fees are not subject to any offset allowed under the Department of 6 Treasury’s Offset Program, then the check should be made payable to Ms. Phillip’s attorney, 7 Victoria B. Chhagan, based upon Ms. Phillip’s assignment to these amounts to counsel. Any 8 check for EAJA fees shall be mailed to Douglas Drachler McKee & Gilbrough, 1904 Third 9 Avenue, Seattle WA 98101. 10 DATED this 6th day of September, 2017. 11 A 12 BRIAN A. TSUCHIDA United States Magistrate Judge 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 ORDER GRANTING EAJA FEES- 3

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?