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Stachura v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

January 7, 2015

ROBERT R. STACHURA, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

LAWRENCE P. ZATKOFF, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's application for attorney fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act [dkt. 25]. Defendant filed a response, and Plaintiff did not file a reply. The Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the parties' papers such that the decision process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Therefore, pursuant to E.D. Mich. L.R. 7.1(f)(2), it is hereby ORDERED that the motion be resolved on the briefs submitted, without oral argument. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's application for attorney fees is GRANTED.

II. BACKGROUND

On July 12, 2012, Plaintiff Robert Stachura ("Plaintiff") filed the underlying complaint seeking judicial review of the unfavorable decision denying benefits made by the Social Security Commissioner ("Defendant") [dkt. 1].[1] On July 13, 2012, the Court referred Plaintiff's complaint to Magistrate Judge Michael J. Hluchaniuk [dkt. 3]. After the parties had filed cross motions for summary judgment, Magistrate Hluchaniuk issued a Report and Recommendation [dkt. 20]. On October 17, 2013, the Court adopted the Report and Recommendation, and entered judgment in accordance with it [dkt. 23-24].

Based on the analysis contained in the Report and Recommendation, the Court ordered that the parties' motions for summary judgment be granted in part and denied in part. The Report and Recommendation found that the ALJ erred by failing to properly consider whether Plaintiff's impairments satisfied the Listing for a Central Nervous System Vascular Accident ("Listing 11.04"). In doing so, the Report and Recommendation stated that:

The ALJ... provided no analysis whatsoever or even mentioned this Listing, let alone any evaluation and explanation sufficient for meaningful review. While the Commissioner's motion contains some discussion as to why Plaintiff does not not [sic] meet the criteria of Listing 11.04, the ALJ did not engage in that same analysis... [t]hus, this matter should be remanded for further consideration under Listing 11.04.

On January 15, 2014, Plaintiff filed a motion for attorney fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), [2] seeking $5, 406.00 in fees for 31.8 hours of work performed by his attorney and $105.40 in expenses incurred [dkt. 25].

III. LEGAL STANDARD

Pursuant to the EAJA:

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... including proceedings for judicial review of agency 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). Thus, Plaintiff must establish that: (1) he is a prevailing party; (2) Defendant's position lacked substantial justification; and (3) no special circumstances exist that would warrant a denial of fees. See Ratliff v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 465 F.Appx. 459, 460 (6th Cir. 2012); Willis v. Sullivan, 931 F.2d 390, 401 (6th Cir. 1991). Only after these elements are established should the Court consider the amount of fees that may be properly awarded.

"Whether or not the position of the United States was substantially justified shall be determined on the basis of the record (including the record with respect to the action or failure to act by the agency upon which the civil action is based) which is made in the civil action for which fees and other expenses are sought." 28 U.S.C.A. § 2412(d)(1)(B). The Supreme Court has determined that a position is "substantially justified" if it is "justified to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable person." Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988). The Sixth Circuit has interpreted this requirement to find that a "position is substantially justified when it has a reasonable basis both in law and fact." Howard v. Barnhart, 376 F.3d 551, 554 (6th Cir. 2004) (internal citations omitted). Defendant bears the burden of proving its position was substantially justified. See Scarborough v. Principi, 541 U.S. 401, 403 (2004).

The EAJA directs courts to award a prevailing party "fees and other expenses... incurred by that party[.]" 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(a); see also Richlin Sec. Service Co. v. Chertoff, 553 U.S. 571, 576 (2008). The EAJA indicates that "[f]ees and other ...


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