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Williams v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division

January 7, 2015

KIM ANTOINETTE WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

LAWRENCE R. LEONARD, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Kim Antoinette Williams' ("Plaintiff') Petition for Attorney Fees. ECF No. 18. This case was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), and Eastern District of Virginia Local Civil Rule 72. ECF No. 22. For the following reasons, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the Court GRANT Plaintiffs Petition for Attorney Fees, ECF No. 18, as modified.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On December 18, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Complaint pursuant 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision of Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Defendant"). ECF No. 1. Defendant answered on March 5, 2013, ECF No. 3, and thereafter, the parties each filed Motions for Summary Judgment, ECF Nos. 7, 9. In her Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff alleged that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") failed to properly develop the record by ordering a consultative examination to evaluate Plaintiff's Intelligence Quotient ("IQ") and the ALJ incorrectly evaluated Plaintiff's claim under Listing 12.02 instead of Listing 12.05. ECF No. 8 at 2-3. On July 10, 2014, the undersigned recommended that the Court grant Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment, and reverse and remand the decision of the Acting Commissioner. ECF No. 12. Subsequently, the Chief United States District Judge adopted in whole the undersigned's recommendation. ECF No. 14. On October 29, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Petition for Attorney Fees. ECF No. 18. Defendant filed a brief in opposition on November 12, 2014, ECF No. 20, and Plaintiff timely replied on November 14, 2014, ECF No. 21. Accordingly, this matter is ripe for recommended disposition.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA") provides that a district "court shall award to a prevailing party other than the United States fees and other expenses, in addition to costs awarded... incurred by that party in any civil action, " other than tort actions. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). As outlined by the Supreme Court of the United States, to obtain an attorney's fee award under the EAJA, the claimant must meet four requirements:

(1) that the claimant be a prevailing party; (2) that the Government's position was not substantially justified; (3) that no special circumstances make an award unjust; and (4) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B), that any fee application be submitted to the court within 30 days of final judgment in the action and be supported by an itemized statement.

Comm'r, I.N.S. v. Jean, 496 U.S. 154, 158 (1990) (citations and quotation marks omitted). "The district court is accorded substantial discretion in fixing the amount of an EAJA award, ' but is charged with the duty to ensure that the final award is reasonable." Hyatt v. Barnhart, 315 F.3d 239, 254 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Jean, 496 U.S. at 163).

III. ANALYSIS

At issue, here, is only the reasonableness of the attorney's fees sought by Plaintiff. See ECF No. 20 at 1 (arguing that Defendant "does not dispute that Plaintiff is entitled to attorney['s] fees... [rather] the [Defendant] opposes Plaintiff's Petition on the ground that Plaintiff seeks an unreasonable amount of attorney['s] fees for this case"). Indeed, Plaintiff is eligible for an award of fees as she meets all four requirements outlined in Jean, and this is not contested by Defendant. First, Plaintiff is the prevailing party in this litigation as the "party who w[on] a sentence-four remand order." Shala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 302 (1993). Second, Defendant's position was not substantially justified, as was previously outlined in the undersigned's Report and Recommendation. See ECF No. 12 at 12 ("[T]he ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence."). Third, no special circumstances bar an award of attorney fees entirely; Defendant merely argued that Plaintiffs request should be reduced, not eliminated completely. See ECF No. 20 at 1 (requesting that the Court "award Plaintiff's attorney fees of no more than $4, 000, plus costs of $400"); Faircloth v. Colvin, No. 2:13-cv-156, 2014 WL 5488809, at *5 (E.D. Va. Oct. 29, 2014) (discussing Jean's third requirement and holding that because the defendant only "argued that special circumstances justified] a reduction in the requested EAJA.... Plaintiff ha[d] satisfied the special circumstances' prong.") (emphasis in original). Finally, Plaintiff's Petition was timely filed. The Chief United States District Judge adopted the undersigned's Report and Recommendation by order dated August 4, 2014, and Plaintiff had sixty days to appeal the order. 28 U.S.C. § 2107(b)(2). After the expiration of the sixty days, Plaintiff then had thirty days in which to file a Petition for Fees. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B). Plaintiff's Petition, filed on October 29, 2014, was within that required deadline. Accordingly, although it is undisputed that Plaintiff is entitled to fees under the EAJA, the Court still must determine a reasonable fee award. Jean, 496 U.S. at 161.

A. Reasonableness of Plaintiff's Requested Attorney's Fees

To calculate an appropriate attorney's fees award, the Court evaluates the reasonableness of the fees by comparing the requested amount to the lodestar amount, which is defined as a "reasonable hourly rate multiplied by hours reasonably expended." Grissom v. The Mills Corp., 549 F.3d 313, 320-21 (4th Cir. 2008). The burden is on the party requesting fees to establish their reasonableness. Plyler v. Evatt, 902 F.2d 273, 277 (4th Cir. 1990); Cook v. Andrew, 7 F.Supp.2d 733, 736 (E.D. Va. 1998). In determining what constitutes a reasonable number of hours and rate, the Court looks to the following factors:

(1) the time and labor expended; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions raised; (3) the skill required to properly perform the legal services rendered; (4) the attorney's opportunity costs in pressing the instant litigation; (5) the customary fee for like work; (6) the attorney's expectations at the outset of the litigation; (7) the time limitations imposed by the client or circumstances; (8) the amount in controversy and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation and ability of the attorney; (10) the undesirability of the case within the legal community in which the suit arose; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship between the attorney and client; and (12) attorney's fees awards in similar cases.

Robinson v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 560 F.3d 235, 243-44 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Barber v. Kimbrell's Inc., 577 F.2d 216, 226 n.28 (4th Cir. 1978)).[1] Finally, it is within the sound discretion of the Court to fix the amount of a ...


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