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Santana v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

August 31, 2017

ROBERT K. SANTANA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION TO GRANT IN PART AND DENY IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES

          KENNETH J. MANSFIELD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Robert K. Santana (“Plaintiff”) filed a Motion for Attorneys' Fees (“Motion”) on June 23, 2017. See ECF No. 23. On July 20, 2017, Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration (“Defendant”), filed an Opposition to the Motion. See ECF No. 26. On July 24, 2017, Plaintiff filed her Reply. See ECF No. 27.

         The Court finds this matter suitable for disposition without a hearing pursuant to Rule 7.2(d) of the Local Rules of Practice for the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii (“Local Rules”). After carefully reviewing the filings and the record in this case, the Court FINDS and RECOMMENDS that the district court GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Plaintiff's Motion.

         BACKGROUND

         This matter arises from Plaintiff's appeal of the Social Security Administration Commissioner's denial of Social Security disability insurance benefits to Plaintiff. On April 3, 2017, the district court issued its Order Reversing the Decision of the Commissioner of Social Security and Remanding for Further Proceedings (“4/3/17 Order”). See ECF No. 20. On April 20, 2017, the Clerk of Court entered judgment in favor of Plaintiff. See ECF No. 21.

         Plaintiff timely filed his Motion on June 23, 2017. In the Motion, Plaintiff seeks to recover attorneys' fees he incurred in this action. On July 6, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Statement of Consultation, indicating that the parties' counsel had met and conferred pursuant to Local Rule 54.3, but were unable to reach a settlement as to the Motion.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Entitlement to Fees

         Plaintiff requests an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to, among other things, the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412.[1] See ECF No. 23 at 2. Under the EAJA, a prevailing party is entitled to an award of attorneys' fees absent special circumstances:

[A] court shall award to a prevailing party other than the United States fees and other expenses . . . incurred by that party in any civil action . . . brought by or against the United States in any court having jurisdiction of that action, unless the court finds that 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). Defendant does not dispute that Plaintiff is a prevailing party or that the position of the United States was not substantially justified in opposition to this action. Instead, Defendant only disputes the reasonableness of Plaintiff's fee request.

         B. Calculation of Award

         Courts use the lodestar method set forth in Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983), to calculate an award of reasonable attorneys' fees in cases brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has previously applied the Hensley lodestar method to attorneys' fee requests under the EAJA. See Costa v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 690 F.3d 1132, 1135 (9th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted) (“This court applies the principles set forth in Hensley- and other cases interpreting 42 U.S.C. § 1988-to determine what constitutes a reasonable fee award under the EAJA.”); Atkins v. Apfel, 154 F.3d 986, 989 (9th Cir. 1998). “Under the lodestar method, the district court multiplies the number of hours the prevailing party reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate.” Gonzalez v. City of Maywood, 729 F.3d 1196, 1202 (9th Cir. 2013).

         Plaintiff requests the following lodestar amount for work performed in this case:

Attorney
Hours
Rate
Lodestar
Diane C. Haar, Esq. (“Ms. Haar”)
75.3
$192.68
$14, 508.80

ECF No. 23-3 at 3. Ms. Haar submitted a Declaration in support of the Motion (“Haar Declaration”). See ECF No. 23-2. According to the Haar Declaration, Ms. Haar graduated from law school in 2003, and has been practicing social security law since 2008. See Id. at ¶ 5. Ms. Haar also states that she has “pursued approximately 1, 000 cases before the Social ...


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