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Battista v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division

October 27, 2016

DOMINIC MICHAEL BATTISTA PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          ORDER

          HON. ERIN L. SETSER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Dominic Michael Battista, appealed the Commissioner's denial of benefits to this Court. On March 3, 2016, judgment was entered remanding Plaintiff's case to the Commissioner pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 13). Plaintiff now moves for an award of $4, 464.00 in attorney's fees and expenses under 28 U.S.C. § 2412, the Equal Access to Justice Act (hereinafter “EAJA”), requesting compensation for 24.80 attorney hours of work before the Court at an hourly rate of $180.00 for work performed in 2015, and 2016. (Docs. 14-16). Defendant filed a response to Plaintiff's application, objecting to certain hours claimed. (Doc. 17).

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A), the Court must award attorney's fees to a prevailing social security claimant unless the Commissioner's position in denying benefits was substantially justified. The burden is on the Commissioner to show substantial justification for the government's denial of benefits. Jackson v. Bowen, 807 F.2d 127, 128 (8th Cir. 1986). Under Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 302 (1993), a social security claimant who obtains a sentence-four judgment reversing the Commissioner's denial of benefits and remanding the case for further proceedings is a prevailing party. After reviewing the file, the Court finds that Plaintiff is a prevailing party in this matter.

         In determining a reasonable attorney's fee, the Court will in each case consider the following factors: time and labor required; the novelty and difficulty of questions involved; the skill required to handle the problems presented; the preclusion of employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; the customary fee; whether the fee is fixed or contingent; time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; the amount involved and the results obtained; the attorney's experience, reputation and ability; the “undesirability” of the case; the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; and awards in similar cases. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 430 (1983).

         However, the EAJA is not designed to reimburse without limit. Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 573 (1988). The Court can determine the reasonableness and accuracy of a fee request, even in the absence of an objection by the Commissioner. Clements v. Astrue, 2009 WL 4508480 (W.D. Ark. Dec. 1, 2009); see also Decker v. Sullivan, 976 F.2d 456, 459 (8th Cir. 1992) (“Although the issue was not raised on appeal, fairness to the parties requires an accurately calculated attorney's fee award”).

         The EAJA further requires an attorney seeking fees to submit “an itemized statement...stating the actual time expended and the rate at which fees and other expenses were computed.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B). Attorneys seeking fees under federal fee-shifting statutes such as the EAJA are required to present fee applications with “contemporaneous time records of hours worked and rates claimed, plus a detailed description of the subject matter of the work.” Id. Where documentation is inadequate, the Court may reduce the award accordingly. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433 (1983).

         Plaintiff's attorney requests an award under the EAJA for 24.80 hours of attorney work performed in 2015, and 2016, at an hourly rate of $180.00. The party seeking attorney fees bears the burden of proving that the claimed fees are reasonable. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437. Attorney fees may not be awarded in excess of $125.00 per hour - the maximum statutory rate under § 2412(d)(2)(A) - unless the court finds that an increase in the cost of living or a special factor such as the limited availability of qualified attorneys justifies a higher fee. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A).

         Pursuant to General Order 39, [1] which references the Consumer Price Index (CPI) - South, the Court finds that an enhanced hourly rate based on a cost of living increase is appropriate, and counsel will be compensated at $180.00 per hour in 2015, and 2016.

         The Court will next address the number of hours requested by Plaintiff's counsel. Defendant argues that the following time submitted by Plaintiff's counsel should be deducted as it is clerical in nature:

10/02/15 Read and review Electronic Notice confirming Complaint and Summons filing…0.10 hour,
10/02/15 Read and review Electronic Notice confirming Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis filing...0.10 hour,
10/02/15 Read and review Electronic Notice confirming Civil Cover Sheet filing…0.10 hour,
10/02/15 Read and review Electronic Notice of Order Granting Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis…0.10 hour,
10/08/15 Read and review Electronic Notice of Direct Assignment to U.S. Magistrate along with Consent to ...

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