United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Schneider, for Plaintiff.
Gregory G. Booker, Assistant United States Attorney, for
FRANKLIN L. NOEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
MATTER came before the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge on Plaintiff's motion for attorney's
fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (ECF No. 22).
Plaintiff seeks $9, 576.73 in attorney's fees for a total
of 47.8 hours of work at an enhanced rate of $200.35 per
hour. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion
for attorney's fees (ECF No. 22) is
initiated this action seeking judicial review of the final
decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her claim for social
security benefits. See Compl., ECF No. 1. The Court
reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded the matter for
further proceedings. See Order, ECF No. 20. The
Court held that the ALJ erred in failing to explain the
weight given to Harles-Wilson's treating physician, and
erred in failing to consider the factors outlined in SSR
06-03p with regard to the weight given to Pam Thompson, a
licensed clinical social worker. Id. In doing so,
the Court remanded on two of Plaintiff's seven
challenges. Id. Counsel for Plaintiff now seeks
attorney's fees under 28 U.S.C. § 2412(a), and asks
the Court to award her $9, 576.73 for 47.8 hours at an
enhanced rate of $200.35. ECF No. 23, Ex. 3. The Commissioner
opposes an award of attorney's fees and argues that she
was substantially justified in defending the ALJ's
decision. ECF No. 26. Alternatively, the Commissioner asks
the Court to adjust the amount of fees awarded to Plaintiff
to reflect that Plaintiff only achieved partial success on
her seven assertions of error. Id. at 5-6.
Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) requires a
court to award costs, fees, and other expenses incurred by a
party that prevails against the United States in any
non-tort-related civil action “including proceedings
for judicial review of agency action . . . unless the court
finds the position of the United States was substantially
justified or that special circumstances make an award
unjust.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). The Government
bears the burden of proving that its position was
substantially justified or that special circumstances make an
award unjust. Bah v. Cangemi, 548 F.3d 680, 684 (8th
“prevails” under 28 U.S.C. § 2412 if she
secures a judgment that reverses the Commissioner's
denial of disability benefits and remands the case for
further proceedings. Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S.
292, 301-02 (1993). Here, there is no dispute that Plaintiff
was the prevailing party, nor does the Commissioner challenge
the requested hourly rate. See ECF No. 26. Instead,
the Commissioner asks the Court to deny Plaintiff's
request for attorney's fees because the
Commissioner's position was substantially justified.
position of the Commissioner is “substantially
justified” if it is “justified to a degree that
could satisfy a reasonable person, ” meaning that it
has a “reasonable basis both in law and fact.”
Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 566 (1988); 28
U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). “A ‘substantially
justified' position is one that is ‘clearly
reasonable, well-founded in law and fact, and solid, though
not necessarily correct.'” Strom v.
Astrue, No. 07-150 (DWF/RLE), 2008 WL 2098107, at *2 (D.
Minn. Apr. 28, 2008) (quoting Lauer v. Barnhart, 321
F.3d 762, 764 (8th Cir. 2003)).
Commissioner argues that her position was substantially
justified because the Court did not find that the ALJ erred
with regard to each of Plaintiff's seven asserted
challenges. ECF No. 26. The Court rejects this argument. In
its Order, the Court specifically found that the ALJ's
decision was not supported by substantial evidence in the
record, and the ALJ erred in failing to explain the weight
given to Harles-Wilson's treating physician, and in
assessing the factors in SSR 06-03p with regard to
Harles-Wilson's licensed clinical social worker.
See ECF No. 19. In doing so, the Court held that the
ALJ's decision overall was not within a reasonable zone
of choice. Therefore, the Court finds that the
Commissioner's position was not substantially justified,
and Plaintiff is entitled to an award of attorneys fees.
Court also rejects the Commissioner's argument that
Plaintiff's requested EAJA fees should be reduced. Where
a party has prevailed on the merits and obtained complete
relief, her attorney is entitled to recover all hours
reasonably expended, even if the court has rejected certain
grounds raised by the party. See Hensley v.
Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 432-36 (1983); see also
Commissioner, INS v. Jean, 496 U.S. 154, 154 (1990) (the
district court has the discretion to adjust the amount of
fees awarded to a prevailing party). As the Commissioner has
acknowledged, the social security record in this matter was
extensive. Having reviewed the billing records, the Court is
satisfied that the amount of time expended and the fees are
reasonable. See Halverson v. Astrue, No. 08-784
(JNE/SRN), 2009 WL 2256380 (D. Minn. 2009). Accordingly, the
Court finds that Plaintiff is entitled to attorney's fees
in the amount of $9, 576.73.
upon the foregoing and all of the files, records, and
proceedings herein, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED
that Plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees (ECF No.
22) is GRANTED. Plaintiff ...