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Quinn v. Astrue

December 15, 2008

PHYLLIS R. QUINN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe U.S. District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Phyllis R. Quinn ("Quinn") moves for an award of attorneys' fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). The Commissioner opposes the motion on grounds that the fee award sought is excessive. For the reasons that follow, Quinn's motion for attorney's fees is granted in part and denied in part.

II. Background

On October 14, 2003, Quinn filed an application for social security disability benefits. Her application was initially denied, and she requested an administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). On August 10, 2005, ALJ Reana K. Sweeney ("ALJ Sweeney") issued a decision denying Quinn's application for benefits. This ruling became the final determination of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Quinn's request for review. Quinn then brought the above captioned action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the Commissioner's determination. (See Dkt. No. 1.)

In April 2007, after Quinn had filed her district court brief, the Commissioner offered to vacate ALJ Sweeney's decision and remand the action for further proceedings. (See Dkt. Nos. 12 & 13.) Quinn rejected the offer upon her insistence that the Commissioner remand the matter to a different ALJ, because ALJ Sweeney had misapplied controlling Circuit caselaw. (See Dkt. No. 16.)

Subsequently, in July of 2008, the parties stipulated to vacate ALJ Sweeney's decision and remand the action pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (See Dkt. Nos. 28, 29, 30.) Notably, the Commissioner retained the discretion to decide which ALJ would hear the matter upon remand. (See Dkt. No. 30.) Ultimately, the Appeals Council's order instructed that on remand the ALJ should "provide appropriate rationale with specific references to the evidence of record to support her assessment of the claimant's residual functional capacity," and to "incorporate the claimant's mental limitations into the hypothetical questions posed to the vocational expert." (See Dkt. No. 42:2.) In August 2008, Quinn timely moved for an award of attorney's fees under the EAJA. (See Dkt. No. 35.)

III. Discussion

A. The EAJA

In pertinent part, the EAJA provides:

[A] court shall award to a prevailing party ... fees and other expenses, ... incurred by that party in any civil 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). A party seeking attorney's fees under the EAJA must: 1) establish that she is the prevailing party; 2) show she is eligible to receive an award; 3) set forth the fee award sought; 4) show the rate at which the fee is computed; and 5) allege that the position of the United States was not substantially justified. See § 2412(d)(1)(B).

In the present instance, there is no dispute that the above elements have been met, thus making an EAJA award appropriate. Rather, the parties' disagreement centers on the ...


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