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Minor v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 22, 2017



          JANET T. NEFF United States District Judge

         This Social Security case is before the Court following remand by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on the issue of Plaintiff s Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) (Dkt 41), in which Plaintiffs counsel seeks $30, 975.05 in fees and $712.16 in costs.[1] This Court adopted the Report and Recommendation (R&R) of the Magistrate Judge, denying in part and granting in part Plaintiff s motion, and awarding Plaintiff $8, 080.00 in fees and costs ($7, 625.00 in fees and $455.00 in costs), to be paid directly to Plaintiff (ECF No. 53). The Sixth Circuit vacated this Court's decision and remanded the case with instructions for this Court "to reconsider the EAJA fee award and to provide clear and reasonably specific explanations of its reasoning with respect to determining reasonable hourly rates for Minor's attorneys and the hours that they reasonably expended on Minor's behalf in this case." Minor v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 826 F.3d 878, 884 (6th Cir. 2016).

         Following remand, the matter was referred back to the Magistrate Judge, who issued a detailed Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 66), again recommending that Plaintiffs Motion for Attorneys Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act (ECF No. 41) be granted in part and denied in part: specifically, that Plaintiff be awarded $9, 392.50 in fees and costs ($8, 937.50 in fees and $455.00 in costs) to be paid directly to Plaintiff (ECF No. 66 at PageID.1481-1482). The matter is now before the Court on Plaintiff s Objections to the Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 67). Defendant has filed a Response (ECF No. 73), and Plaintiff has filed a Reply (ECF No. 74). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3), the Court has performed de novo consideration of those portions of the Report and Recommendation to which objections have been made. The Court finds the detailed reasoning and explanations of the Magistrate Judge in accord with the Sixth Circuit's instructions on remand. The Court denies Plaintiff s objections and issues this Opinion and Order.

         I. Plaintiffs Objections

         Although Plaintiff enumerates 33 objections to the Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 66 at PagelD. 1483-1494), she presents only three main legal arguments for rejecting the Report and Recommendation (id. at 1497, 1505-1506). Plaintiffs arguments encompass the repetitive bases of her objections. As well stated in Defendants' Response, and for the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs arguments are without merit.


         Plaintiff primarily argues that this Court must reject the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation because this Court would again abuse its discretion if the Report and Recommendation were adopted (ECF No. 67 at PagelD. 1497). Plaintiff states that the Sixth Circuit held that this Court, along with the Magistrate Judge, "abused its discretion in calculating fees under the EAJA by substantially reducing the requested hourly rate and number of hours without adequately explaining their [sic] reasoning" (id at PageID.1499). Plaintiff asserts that the Magistrate Judge's drastic reduction of the EAJA fee and lack of explanation was an abuse of discretion in the previous Report and Recommendation, and the Magistrate Judge has committed the same abuse of discretion in this Report and Recommendation (id at PagelD. 1500).

         The Court disagrees. In its decision remanding this case, the Sixth Circuit observed:

The only question before this panel is whether the district court abused its discretion in calculating the lodestar with respect to determining the applicable hourly rate and the number of attorney hours reasonably expended in this case. A "district court's calculation of the lodestar value ... deserves substantial deference, but only when the court provides a 'clear and concise explanation of its reasons for the fee award.'" Put another way, "[a]lthough the trial court's discretion in fee award cases sweeps broadly, it is not absolute. Among other things, the district court 'must provide a clear and concise explanation of its reasons for the fee award.'" Accordingly, "we have found an abuse of discretion where a district court fails to explain its reasoning adequately or to consider the competing arguments of the parties." "Failure to provide such an explanation requires us to remand the case for further consideration."

Minor, 826 F.3d at 882-83 (citations omitted).

         On remand, the Magistrate Judge has properly considered the competing arguments of the parties and has provided "a clear and concise explanation" of its reasons for the recommended fee award. See id at 883. Contrary to Plaintiffs arguments, the Magistrate Judge has provided the specific reasons for rejecting Plaintiff s claimed number of hours and hourly rate, as well as claimed costs. And the Magistrate Judge has explained the basis for the alternative number of hours suggested where appropriate.

         In recommending an overall drastic reduction in the claimed hours reasonably expended, the court must explain "why the rejected hours were not reasonable or why the recommended hours were." Minor, 826 F.3d at 884. The Magistrate Judge has done so. "Such explanation may, of course, be concise but it must be sufficiently specific to provide a clear picture of the reasoning supporting such minimal suggested hours" to permit proper appellate review. Id.

         Plaintiff insists that the Magistrate Judge has repeated its previous error by engaging in the same reasoning and analysis and by placing requirements on Plaintiff that are not based in the law to establish attorney' fees under the EAJA, and simply disagreeing with Plaintiff without explaining why her recommendations are reasonable (ECF No. 67 at PagelD. 1501). Plaintiff objects that the Magistrate Judge does not cite any law or authority for imposing requirements on Plaintiff concerning evidentiary and legal support for the claimed hourly rate (id at PagelD. 1501). Plaintiff cites, for example, the Magistrate Judge's comments that Plaintiffs affidavits "fail to advance counsels' positions" and that Plaintiffs "[c]ounsel do not assert that they work exclusively in the realm of Social Security appeals" (id). Plaintiff likewise states that the Magistrate Judge cites no case law or authority establishing that Plaintiffs counsel must present certain evidence to support fee awards and hourly rates approved in other circuits, e.g., the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (id at PagelD. 1502).

         These arguments are unavailing. As Defendant points out, Plaintiffs arguments disregard that "Plaintiff bears the burden of 'producing appropriate evidence to support the requested increase'" in the $125 per hour statutory cap (ECF No. 73 PageID.1522, quoting Bryant v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec,578 F.3d 443, 450 (6th Cir. 2009); see R&R, ECF No. 66 at PageID.1465, 1469). "Plaintiff must 'produce satisfactory evidence . . . that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation.'" Id. The Magistrate Judge's comments properly addressed the evidence in light ...

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