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Erica W. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

October 3, 2019

ERICA W., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION

          IRMA CARRILLO RAMIREZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE [1]

         Before the Court for recommendation is Plaintiff's EAJA Fee Application, filed July 7, 2019. (doc. 28). Based on the relevant findings, evidence, and applicable law, the application should be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On December 17, 2017, Erica W. (Plaintiff) filed a complaint seeking judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner)[2] that denied her claims for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. (doc. 1.)[3] On March 21, 2019, the Commissioner's decision was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. (docs. 23, 24, 25.) Plaintiff subsequently moved for an award of attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d) (EAJA). (doc. 28.) The Commissioner did not respond to the application and it is now ripe for determination.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Under the EAJA, a court must award attorney's fees and expenses if (1) the claimant is the “prevailing party”;[4] (2) the Government's position was not “substantially justified”; and (3) there are no special circumstances that make an award unjust. Murkeldove v. Astrue, 635 F.3d 784, 790 (5th Cir. 2011) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A)). The attorney's fees awarded under the EAJA must be reasonable, however. See 28 U.S.C. § 2412(b). “Because EAJA is a partial waiver of sovereign immunity, it must be strictly construed in the government's favor.” Tex. Food Indus. Ass'n v. USDA, 81 F.3d 578, 580 (5th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). “In determining the reasonableness of such fees, [the Fifth Circuit] has adopted the 12-factor ‘lodestar' test enunciated in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Exp., Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717 (5th Cir. 1974).”[5] Sanders v. Barnhart, No. 04-10600, 2005 WL 2285403, at *2 (5th Cir. Sept. 19, 2005) (per curiam). It is, however, “not necessary for a district court to examine each of the factors independently if it is apparent that the court has arrived at a just compensation based upon appropriate standards.” Id. (citing Cobb v. Miller, 818 F.2d 1227, 1232 (5th Cir. 1987). The claimant has the burden of demonstrating that the hours claimed were reasonably expended on the prevailing claim. Von Clark v. Butler, 916 F.2d 255, 259 (5th Cir. 1990) (noting that the burden “does not shift to the opposing party merely because that party does not show that the hours are unreasonable or that it did not make specific objections to the hours claimed”).

         Here, as the prevailing party, Plaintiff has requested a total of $12, 298.40 in attorney's fees based on 59.4 hours of attorney work for litigating this appeal in federal court and 3 hours of attorney work for defending the EAJA application.[6] (doc. 28 at 7.) She has submitted a billing summary, which consists of detailed time entries for legal services rendered by counsel.[7] (doc. 28-2.) The entries show the amount of time expended for each activity and are organized by the date the legal services were rendered in this case between October 25, 2017 and June 23, 2019. (Id.) The billing summary reflects, after a voluntary reduction of more than 20% “per counsel's billing judgment, ” 2.7 hours at a rate of $193.00, 55.6 hours at a rate of $197.00, and 4.1 hours at a rate of $201.00.[8] (Id. at 3.) Plaintiff has also requested a total of $250.00 in expenses for the expert fee paid on this appeal and has submitted a copy of the expert's billing invoice. (doc. 28 at 5; doc. 28-3.)

         “[I]t is well established that the most critical factor in determining an award of attorney's fees is the degree of success obtained by the victorious plaintiff [ ].” Northwinds Abatement, Inc. v. Empl'rs. Ins. of Wausau, 258 F.3d 345, 354 (5th Cir. 2001) (internal quotations omitted); see also Hensley, 461 U.S. at 440 (“[T]he extent of a plaintiff's success is a crucial factor in determining the proper amount of an award of attorney's fees under” the EAJA.). In view of Plaintiff's success and considering all of the work performed, the hours requested are reasonable and should not be reduced. See, e.g., Goin v. Colvin, No. 3:12-CV-2471-B, 2013 WL 1797862, at *6 (N.D. Tex. Apr. 28, 2013) (approving 79.2 hours of attorney work on a social security appeal); Bentley v. Astrue, No. 3:10-CV-00032-L BF, 2011 WL 2923970, at *2 (N.D. Tex. June 15, 2011) (awarding 57.5 hours “that counsel reasonably and necessarily expended in th[e] case”), recommendation adopted as modified on other grounds, 2011 WL 2938223 (N.D. Tex. July 20, 2011); Sweat v. Barnhart, No. 3:05-CV-0329-M, slip op. at 4 (N.D. Tex. Aug. 27, 2007) (approving of 66.1 hours that counsel “reasonably and necessarily expended . . . on the [claimant's] successful appeal”). Accordingly, Plaintiff's request for a total of $12, 548.40 in attorney's fees and expenses should be granted, and the award should be made payable directly to Plaintiff and mailed to Plaintiff's counsel.[9]

         III. RECOMMENDATION

         Plaintiff's motion should be GRANTED, and she should be awarded $12, 548.40 in attorney's fees and expenses as follows:

(1) 2.7 hours of attorney work for litigating Plaintiff's appeal in 2017 at an hourly rate of $193.00 ($521.10);
(2) 55.6 hours of attorney work for litigating Plaintiff's appeal in 2018 at an hourly rate of $197.00 ($10, 953.20);
(3) 1.1 hours of attorney work for litigating Plaintiffs appeal in 2019 at an hour rate of $201.00 ($221.10);
(4) 3 hours of attorney work for defending Plaintiffs EAJA attorney's fees application in 2019 at an hourly rate ...

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