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Rugless v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. New York

June 13, 2014

DARRYL L. RUGLESS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

DECISION AND ORDER

MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Represented by counsel, Darryl L. Rugless ("Plaintiff") brought this action challenging the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying his application for Supplemental Security Income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. In a Decision and Order (Docket #12) dated November 20, 2012, this Court affirmed the Commissioner's decision and dismissed Plaintiff's complaint with prejudice. Judgment (Docket #13) was entered on November 21, 2012.

Plaintiff's counsel appealed this Court's decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In a summary order and judgment issued December 19, 2013, the Second Circuit vacated this Court's decision and remanded Plaintiff's case to the Commissioner for further administrative proceedings. See Docket #77 in Rugless v. Commissioner of Social Sec., No. 13-0295 (2d Cir. Dec. 19, 2013). The Second Circuit's order was filed as a mandate (Docket #16) in this Court on February 10, 2014.

Plaintiff has filed a motion (Docket #17) seeking attorney's fees, administrative fees, and costs pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A), in the amount of $19, 028.57 for time spent representing Plaintiff before this Court, prosecuting Plaintiff's appeal to the Second Circuit, and preparing the instant EAJA application. The Commissioner has opposed the motion (Docket #18), arguing that her position was "substantially justified" and therefore a fee award is not permitted under the EAJA. The Commissioner alternatively argues that should the Court find a fee award to be appropriate, it also should find that Plaintiff's request is excessive and should be reduced. Plaintiff has filed a reply (Docket #20).

The matter is now fully submitted and ready for decision. For the reasons set forth below, I grant in part and deny in part Plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees, administrative fees, and costs, and award Plaintiff a total of $16, 020.26 in attorney's fees, $304.00 in administrative fees, and $94.12 in costs.

DISCUSSION

I. An Award of Attorney's Fees Under the EAJA

The EAJA "provides that a court shall award attorney's fees to a prevailing party in a suit 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." Aston v. Secretary of Health and Human Servs. , 808 F.2d 9, 10 (2d Cir. 1986) (citing International Woodworkers of Am. v. Donovan , 769 F.2d 1388, 1390 (9th Cir. 1985)). Thus, to qualify for an award of attorney's fees under the EAJA, a claimant must demonstrate that (1) he is a "prevailing party;" (2) the government's position in the underlying action was not "substantially justified;" (3) no "special circumstances" make the award of fees unjust; and (4) the fee application was submitted to the court within 30 days of the final judgment in the action. 28 U.S.C.A. § 2412(d)(1)(A). The Commissioner has placed component (2) at issue but has not challenged the other components.

A. Timeliness

EAJA applications must be filed within 30 days of a judgment becoming "not appealable." 28 U.S.C. §§ 2412(d)(1)(B), (d)(2)(G). In cases in which the final judgment has been rendered by a court of appeals, EAJA applications must be filed within 120 days of the day the court of appeals enters judgment. See Myers v. Sullivan , 916 F.2d 659, 671 (11th Cir.1990). The difference is due to the longer 90 day time frame provided for litigants to file petitions for writs of certiorari to the Supreme Court. See 28 U.S.C. § 2101(c). In this case, Plaintiff filed his application 62 days of the day the Second Circuit issued its order vacating this Court's judgment and remanding the case for further administrative proceedings.

B. Prevailing Party

The first requirement of the EAJA is that the party seeking the fee award be the "prevailing party." E.g., Garcia v. Sullivan , 781 F.Supp. 969, 971 (S.D.N.Y. 1991) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A)). Plaintiff argues that he is a "prevailing party" because the Second Circuit remanded the case for further administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Shalaha v. Schaefer , 509 U.S. 292, (1993) (distinguishing between sentence four and sentence six remands under § 405(g) and providing that only a sentence four remand amounts to a final judgment entitling plaintiff to EAJA fees). The Court agrees. See id. at 301 (noting ...


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