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Keller v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 31, 2019

LORI KELLER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          Honorable Laurie J. Michelson

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO GRANT PETITIONER'S APPLICATION FOR ATTORNEY FEES [ECF NO. 21]

          ELIZABETH A. STAFFORD, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Daley Disability Law, P.C., counsel for Plaintiff Lori Keller, seeks an award of $4, 165.40 for attorney fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. §2412. [ECF No. 21]. The requested amount represents 19.2 hours of attorney work on Keller's behalf at a proposed hourly rate of $184.50, and 6.23 hours of legal assistant work on her behalf at a proposed hourly rate of $100.00. The Commissioner did not respond to the application for fees. The Court RECOMMENDS that the application for attorney fees be GRANTED.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A.

         Under the EAJA, a “prevailing party” in a civil action “brought by or against the United States” is entitled to reasonable attorney fees incurred in that action unless “the position of the United States was substantially justified or … special circumstances make an award unjust.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A); § 2412(d)(2)(A); DeLong v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 748 F.3d 723, 725 (6th Cir. 2014). The Court has broad discretion in determining whether to award fees under the EAJA. Fisher v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 2015 WL 4944385, at *1 (E.D. Mich. Aug. 19, 2015) (Drain, J.). But the Sixth Circuit has cautioned lower courts against “rubber stamp[ing]” EAJA fee applications, especially where a party requests an increased hourly rate based on inflation. Begley v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 966 F.2d 196, 200 (6th Cir. 1992).

         B.

         A claimant is entitled to attorney fees under EAJA if (1) she is a prevailing party; (2) the Commissioner's opposing position was without substantial justification; and (3) there are no special circumstances that warrant denial of fees. Cantu v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 2019 WL 2314863, at *1 (E.D. Mich. May 31, 2019). “The application must also be filed within thirty days of a court's final judgment. Only reasonable attorney fees will be permitted.” Id. (internal citations omitted). This application meets all these requirements.

         By stipulation of the parties, the Court remanded for further agency action pursuant to sentence four of § 405(g). Keller is thus a prevailing party. Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 301-02 (1993).

         And “the government's position…was without substantial justification. ‘[T]he relevant inquiry concerning the government's position was whether it was reasonable for the Commissioner to defend the ALJ's decision to deny benefits.'” Cantu, 2019 WL 2314863, at *1 (quoting Ratliff v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 465 Fed.Appx. 459, 460 (6th Cir. 2012)). A position is substantially justified if it could satisfy a reasonable person that it was reasonable under both law and fact. Id. The government carries the burden of showing that its position was substantially justified. Delong, 748 F.3d at 725-26 (citing Scarborough v. Principi, 541 U.S. 401, 414-15 (2004)). Because the Commissioner did not respond to the application for fees, it has not met this burden. Cantu, 2019 WL 2314863, at *1. (collecting cases). The Commissioner's stipulation to remand evidences the government's lack of substantial justification in defending the ALJ's decision to deny benefits.

         The application was timely filed, and the Commissioner has not advanced any special circumstance warranting denial. See id.

         C.

         The amount of the fees requested is reasonable. In contemplating what constitutes “reasonable ...


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