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Coursey v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

December 14, 2016

Bobby J. Coursey, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky at Bowling Green. No. 1:15-cv-00005-H. Brent Brennenstuhl, Magistrate Judge.

         ON BRIEF:

          Paul B. Eaglin, OLINSKY LAW GROUP, Syracuse, New York, for Appellant.

          Brian J. Alesia, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Chicago, Illinois, for Appellee.

          Before: BOGGS, GILMAN, and DONALD, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          RONALD LEE GILMAN, Circuit Judge.

         Following the successful reversal of the Social Security Administration's denial of his Social Security benefits, Bobby J. Coursey sought attorney fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. Coursey requested an hourly rate of $185.18, which exceeds the EAJA's presumptive statutory cap of $125 per hour. The district court granted Coursey's request in part by allowing the rate of $140 per hour. Coursey appeals, seeking the full requested rate. For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         When Coursey's application for Social Security benefits was denied by the Social Security Administration, he sought judicial review of the Administration's decision in the district court. The case was resolved when the court granted a joint motion to reverse the Administration's decision. Judgment in favor of Coursey was entered in September 2015.

         Coursey then filed a motion for attorney fees. Although the EAJA sets the presumptive maximum hourly rate an attorney may recover at $125, see 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A), Coursey sought $185.18 per hour. Coursey submitted the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the Midwest, which documents that the EAJA's statutory cap amount would, when adjusted for the cost of living in the Midwest in 2015, be the equivalent of $185.18.

         The Commissioner opposed the motion on the ground that the evidence Coursey produced in support of his motion was insufficient to justify an increased hourly rate. Citing this court's decision in Bryant v. Commissioner of Social Security, 578 F.3d 443 (6th Cir. 2009), the Commissioner argued that a party must put forward evidence that the requested rate is "in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation" in order to obtain attorney fees in excess of the EAJA cap. Id. at 450 (quoting Blum v. Stetson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11 (1984)). Coursey responded by citing to cases outside this circuit and referring to Glenn v. Commissioner of Social Security, 763 F.3d 494, 497 n.3 (6th Cir. 2014), in which this court commented that fees of $171.06 and $173.01 per hour requested by Coursey's counsel, Howard Olinsky, for work in 2012 and 2013, respectively, were "modest" and "reasonable." Id. The response included an affidavit by Olinsky that described his qualifications and stated his normal contingent hourly rate in Syracuse, New York.

         In March 2016, the district court granted in part Coursey's motion for attorney fees. The court concluded that the CPI and Olinsky's affidavit were insufficient to justify the requested hourly rate. Ultimately, however, the court approved an award of $140 per hour, consistent with other recent cases in that district awarding that amount for EAJA attorney-fee requests in Social Security cases. This timely appeal followed.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. ...


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