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Martinez v. Astrue

March 8, 2010

CAROL MARTINEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Norman A. Mordue, Chief U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Carol Martinez moves for an award of attorneys' fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. (Dkt. No. 25). The Commissioner opposes plaintiff's motion arguing that special circumstances would make an award of the full amount requested unjust. (Dkt. No. 26).

II. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On October 18, 2004, plaintiff filed an application for Disabled Widow's Benefits. (T. 57).*fn1 Plaintiff's application was denied and an administrative hearing was held before an ALJ in Binghamton, New York. (T. 40). Plaintiff testified that she suffered from pain between her eyes, eye strain, headaches and low back pain. (T. 210-212). On November 22, 2006, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim for benefits. (T. 15-23). On December 20, 2007, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final determination of the Commissioner. (T. 5-8). On January 31, 2008, plaintiff brought the above-captioned action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision to deny her application for benefits. (Dkt. No. 1). At the time the complaint was filed, plaintiff was represented by Peter A. Groton, Esq. On February 15, 2008, Howard D. Olinsky, Esq. filed a Notice of Appearance on behalf of plaintiff. (Dkt. No. 6).

On May 12, 2008, defendant filed an answer and an Administrative Transcript. (Dkt. No. 13)*fn2. On June 26, 2008, counsel for plaintiff filed a memorandum of law in support of a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Dkt. No. 16)*fn3. In that memorandum of law, counsel argued that the claimant, Carol Martinez, was disabled due to chronic bilateral pleural effusion, hepatitis B and C, cirrhosis, pancreatitis, ascites, recurrent abdominal abscesses and hernia. According to the brief, Ms. Martinez's date of birth was July 7, 1959. The brief also indicated that Ms. Martinez appeared before an ALJ at a hearing in Louisiana and underwent extensive medical treatment in Louisiana.*fn4

On July 1, 2008, counsel for plaintiff wrote a letter to Magistrate Judge David Homer advising that:

"[t]he Administrative Transcript filed by the Defendant in this case and relied upon by the Plaintiff in writing and filing her brief did not pertain to this Plaintiff, but to a different individual of the same name".

Counsel advised the Court that the error was discovered by plaintiff on July 1, 2008 after she reviewed the memorandum of law.*fn5 With the consent of defendant, plaintiff requested a 60-day extension of time to file plaintiff's brief, commencing upon the filing and service of the correct Administrative Transcript. Counsel also requested that the erroneous Administrative Transcript and brief be removed from the docket. On July 1, 2008, Magistrate Judge Homer granted plaintiff's application.

On September 22, 2008, after defendant filed the Administrative Transcript (Dkt. No. 19), plaintiff moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Dkt. No. 20). Plaintiff, Carol Martinez (date of birth November 29, 1948), alleged disability due to eye impairments, migraines, lumbar degenerative disc disease and status post fractured right wrist. Upon review of the record, the Commissioner concurred with plaintiff's counsel that the ALJ's decision contained legal errors requiring reversal and remand. On October 10, 2008, the parties submitted a Proposed Order to Magistrate Judge Homer requesting that the final decision of the Commissioner be reversed and the matter be remanded to defendant for further administrative action. (Dkt. No. 22). On October 14, 2008, Magistrate Judge Homer ordered the matter remanded to defendant and judgment was entered in favor of plaintiff. (Dkt. Nos. 23, 24). On December 10, 2008, plaintiff filed the within motion seeking attorneys' fees in the sum of $8,886.24. (Dkt. No. 25).

III. DISCUSSION

The EAJA provides:

[A] court shall award to a prevailing party... 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 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). In order for a party to be awarded attorneys' fees under the EAJA, the plaintiff must demonstrate that he or she: 1) is the prevailing party; 2) eligible to receive an award; 3) enumerate the amount sought; 4) show the rate at which fees were computed; and 5) allege that the position of the United States was not substantially justified. See § 2412(d)(1)(B). However, even if an agency's position was not substantially justified, an award of fees may be denied or reduced pursuant to EAJA if "special circumstances" ...


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