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Kiser v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 25, 2018

Ronald W. Kiser, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PHILLIP J. GREEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that plaintiff was not entitled to disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. On July 13, 2017, Chief Judge Robert J. Jonker issued an opinion finding that the Administrative Law Judge's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. (ECF No. 14). Judgment was entered vacating the Commissioner's decision and remanding the case for further administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (ECF No. 15).

         The matter is now before the Court on plaintiff's unopposed motion (ECF No. 16), which is supported by the parties' stipulation (ECF No. 18) for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. For the reasons set forth herein, I recommend that plaintiff's unopposed motion be dismissed as moot and that the joint stipulation be granted, and that a judgment be entered in plaintiffs favor in the amount of $4, 156.25.

         Discussion

         The EAJA provides in relevant part:

Except as otherwise specifically provided by statute, 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 . . ., 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); see Astrue v. Ratliff, 560 U.S. 586, 591-93 (2010). A district court's decision granting or denying a motion for attorney's fees under the EAJA is reviewed on appeal under a deferential Aabuse of discretion" standard. DeLong v. Commissioner, 748 F.3d 723, 725 (6th Cir. 2014).

         The Sixth Circuit has identified three conditions that must be met to recover attorney's fees under the EAJA: (1) the claimant must be a prevailing party; (2) the government's position must be without substantial justification; and (3) there are no special circumstances that would warrant a denial of fees. See DeLong v. Commoner, 748 F.3d at 725.

         Plaintiff is a prevailing party under this Court's judgment remanding this matter to the Commissioner. See Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 298 (1993); 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(H). Plaintiff is a financially eligible person under the EAJA. See 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(B). Through her stipulation, the Commissioner concurs that there is no special circumstance that would warrant denial of fees, and that the government's position was not substantially justified. (ECF No. 18, PageID.863). Accordingly, plaintiff is entitled to an award of attorney's fees under the EAJA. See 28 U.S.C. § 2412(a)(1), (b).

         1. Hours Claimed

         “Once a court makes a threshold determination that a party is eligible for EAJA fees, it looks to the lodestar amount as a starting point for calculating a reasonable fee award.” Minor v. Commissioner, 826 F.3d 878, 881(6thCir. 2016). The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has cautioned lower courts against “rubber stamping” EAJA fee applications. See Begley v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 966 F.2d 196, 200 (6th Cir. 1992).

         The EAJA requires “an itemized statement from [the] attorney . . . representing or appearing in behalf of the party stating the actual time expended and the rate at which fees and other expenses were computed.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B). Plaintiff seeks compensation for 23.75 hours in attorney time. (ECF No. 18, PageID.863).

         Generally, a reasonable expenditure of time for representation of a party seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final administrative decision denying claims for DIB and SSI benefits is in the range of 15 to 30 hours. See Flamboe v. Commissioner, No. 1:12-cv-606, 2013 WL 1914546, at *2 (W.D. Mich. May 8, 2013); see also Fredericks v. Commissioner, No. 1:12-cv-1234, 2014 WL 4057794, at *2 (W.D. Mich. Aug. 14, 2014); Nichols v. Commissioner, No. 1:09-cv-1091, 2012 WL 1189764, at *2 (W.D. Mich. Mar. 19, 2012) (collecting cases). “Unlike other types of civil cases in which the amount of discovery alone often creates wide variability in litigation hours, the vast majority of social security appeals conform to a relatively narrow range of hours because they involve a largely settled area of law, require no discovery, and follow a precise briefing schedule[.]” Flamboe v. Commissioner, 2013 WL 1914546, at * 2 (quoting Crim v. Commissioner, No. 1:11-cv-137, 2013 WL1063476, at *4 (S.D. Ohio Mar. 14, 2013)). Having reviewed the record, I find that 23.75 hours is a reasonable amount of time expended on the work performed in this case.

         2. ...


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