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LaPointe v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

October 31, 2017

DAVID JAMES LAPOINTE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES

          JOHN JOHNSTON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. Synopsis

         After judicial review by the undersigned, Mr. LaPointe's case was remanded to the Commissioner of Social Security for calculation of an award of benefits, after the Court concluded that the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) determination denying benefits was not supported by substantial evidence. (Doc. 17). Mr. LaPointe now requests attorney's fees and costs under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). (Doc. 19). Mr. LaPointe is entitled to attorney's fees and costs by statute. Mr. LaPointe will be awarded $4, 500.00 in fees and $400.00 in costs, to be paid directly to Mr. LaPointe.

         II. Jurisdiction and Venue

         The District Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This case is assigned to the undersigned by consent of the parties. (Doc. 5). Venue is proper in the Great Falls Division of the District of Montana because Mr. LaPointe resides in Cascade County, Montana. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e); Local Rule 1.2(c)(2).

         III. Status

         On June 8, 2017, the Court remanded the case to the Commissioner for calculation of benefits. (Doc. 17). On September 5, 2017, Mr. LaPointe filed an Motion for Attorney Fees under the EAJA, requesting $4, 500.00 in attorney's fees and $400.00 in costs, to be paid directly to his attorney. (Doc. 19). The Commissioner does not oppose the award of fees or costs in Mr. LaPointe's motion, but does argue that such amounts must be paid directly to Mr. LaPointe. (Doc. 20). The motion is ripe for decision.

         IV. Standards

         A. Equal Access to Justice Act

         The EAJA provides that “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 . . . 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). It is the burden of the government to prove its position was substantially justified. Meier v. Colvin, 727 F.3d 867, 870 (9th Cir. 2013).

         B. Calculation of fees and costs

         The proper method of calculating an award of attorney's fees is the “lodestar” method. Morales v. City of San Rafael, 96 F.3d 359, 363 (9th Cir. 1996). The “lodestar” method multiplies the hours reasonably expended by the prevailing party on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate. Id. An attorney's hourly rates “are to be calculated according to the prevailing market rates in the relevant community.” Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 (1984). Finally, the party seeking fees bears the burden of submitting detailed time records justifying the hours claimed. Chalmers, 796 F.2d at 1210. Contemporaneous records of hours worked are preferred in the Ninth Circuit. Fischer v. SJB-P.D., Inc., 214 F.3d 1115, 1121 (9th Cir. 2000).

         V. Facts

         On March 10, 2011, Mr. LaPointe applied for disability benefits and supplemental security income. (Tr. 197-209). The Administration denied his claim on November 9, 2011. (Tr. 80-92). Upon reconsideration, the Administration affirmed its ...


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