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Valencia v. Saul

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 18, 2019

REGINA F. VALENCIA, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR EAJA FEES

          KEVIN R. SWEAZEA, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court upon Plaintiff's Petition and Memorandum for Attorney Fees Under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) (Doc. 23), filed September 17, 2019. Having reviewed the motion, Defendant's response in opposition (Doc. 24), and Plaintiff's subsequent reply (Doc. 25), the Court FINDS and CONCLUDES that Plaintiff's motion should be granted as set forth below.

         The EAJA was enacted on the premise that some individuals “may be deterred from seeking review of…unreasonable governmental action” due to the resource and expertise disparity between these individuals and the government. H.R. Rep. 96-1148, p. 5. To reduce these deterrents, the Act permits certain prevailing parties to recover attorney fees and other expenses unless the government can establish that its position was substantially justified or the Court finds that special circumstances make the award unjust. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). Neither exception applies in this case.

         On January 3, 2019, Plaintiff initiated a civil action against Defendant in this Court to contest Defendant's denial of her claim for disability benefits. (Doc. 1). Per the Court's scheduling order, as extended following Plaintiff's unopposed request (Doc. 17), Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse or Remand Agency Decision with a Supporting Memorandum of Law was due on or before June 27, 2019. (Doc. 18). On June 14, 2019, thirteen (13) days before Plaintiff's deadline, Defendant filed an Unopposed Motion to Remand for Further Proceedings. (Doc. 20). The Court granted Defendant's motion on June 19, 2019 (Doc. 21), and entered a judgment in favor of Plaintiff. (Doc. 22).

         As the prevailing party in the civil action, Plaintiff filed the instant motion requesting EAJA fees in the amount of $2, 362.40 for 11.6 hours of work.[1] Plaintiff's attorney, Karl Osterhout, itemizes his time as follows:

Receipt and review of Appeals Council decision; Review of file; conference w client re appeal to district court: 2.0
Review of prepared complaint and related service documents: .3
Receipt and preliminary review of Defendant's Answer and the Administrative Transcript: 1.0
Review of file; issue identification: 7.3 Conference with Defendant re voluntary remand: .2
Receipt and review of Defendant's Motion to Remand for Reconsideration: .2
Receipt and review of Memorandum Order remanding case; Telephone conference with client re: same: .1
Preparation of Plaintiff's Itemization of Time: .5

(Doc. 23-2).

         Defendant, however, asks the Court to reduce the fee amount requested, arguing that Plaintiff's “billed” hours are excessive. Here, Defendant explains that the “relatively short [administrative] record (554 pages, which included only 200 pages of medical records), ” coupled with “the fact that none of Plaintiff's attorney's time entries indicate that he actually started drafting…the opening brief, ” make Plaintiff's request “excessive.” (Doc. 24, p. 3). Defendant concludes his argument with a request that the Court reduce Plaintiff's hours to five (five); two (2) hours for the review of the Appeals Council ...


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