United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
OPINION AND ORDER
E. MARTIN, MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for
Attorney's Fees Under the Equal Access to Justice Act [DE
29], filed by Plaintiff on June 27, 2016. On March 29, 2016,
the Court issued an Opinion and Order remanding this matter
for further proceedings. Plaintiff now requests that the
Court award her $11, 995.49 in attorney fees under the Equal
Access to Justice Act (EAJA). On July 5, 2016, Defendant
filed her response [DE 30] to the Motion, conceding that
Plaintiff is entitled to a fee award but arguing that the
award should not exceed $6, 328.68. Plaintiff filed a reply
[DE 31] on July 12, 2016, and requested an additional $402.42
in attorney fees for preparing the reply.
EAJA allows a prevailing plaintiff to recoup reasonable
attorney fees incurred in litigation against the Commissioner
of Social Security “unless the court finds that the
position of the [Commissioner] was substantially justified or
that special circumstances make an award unjust.” 28
U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A); see also Commissioner,
I.N.S. v. Jean, 496 U.S. 154, 154 (1990);
Golembiewski v. Barnhart, 382 F.3d 721, 723-24 (7th
Cir. 2004). Under 28 U.S.C. section 2412(d)(1)(B), a fee
application must be filed within thirty days of a court's
final judgment and must satisfy the following requirements:
(1) a showing that the applicant is a “prevailing
party;” (2) a showing that the applicant is
“eligible to receive an award;” (3) a showing of
“the amount sought, including an itemized statement
from any attorney or expert witness representing or appearing
on behalf of the party stating the actual time expended and
the rate at which fees and other expenses were
computed;” and (4) an “alleg[ation] that the
position of the [Commissioner] was not substantially
justified.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B); see
also Scarborough v. Principi, 541 U.S. 401, 405 (2004);
United States v. Hallmark Constr. Co., 200 F.3d
1076, 1078-79 (7th Cir. 2000) (setting forth the elements of
§ 2412(d)(1)(A) & (B)).
obtaining a remand, Plaintiff is considered a
“prevailing party.” See Bassett v.
Astrue, 641 F.3d 857, 859 (7th Cir. 2011). There is no
dispute that Plaintiff's net worth does not exceed two
million dollars. See 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(B).
Plaintiff filed the instant fee application within the period
in which to file a petition for fees. See 28 U.S.C.
§§ 2412(d)(1)(B), (d)(2)(G). Furthermore, the
Commissioner “acknowledge[d] that Plaintiff is entitled
to recovery of fees under the Equal Access to Justice
Act.” DE 30 at 3. As a result, the Court finds that
Plaintiff is entitled to an attorney fee award under the
limited issue before the Court, as raised in Defendant's
response, is the reasonableness of Plaintiff's fee
request. The Commissioner asserts that both the hours worked
and the hourly rate used in Plaintiff's request are
unjustified. The Commissioner requests that the Court lower
Plaintiff's overall fee request by reducing the number of
hours upon which the fee calculation is based and by reducing
the hourly rate used in the calculation.
Reasonableness of Hours Expended
Commissioner argues that Plaintiff's counsel spent too
many hours working on this case.
Commissioner contends that the administrative record was not
long or complicated and that the arguments raised in the
opening brief were standard. Defendant requests that the
Court reduce the attorney time by at least 27.3 hours,
deducting 15 hours from the time spent on the opening brief,
8 hours from the time spent on the reply brief, and 4.3 hours
spent editing and revising the opening brief. Plaintiff
argues that the hours expended by her attorney were
reasonable because the opening and reply briefs brief
included extensive citations to cases, regulations, rulings,
and medical treatises. Furthermore, Plaintiff asserts that
the stated hours worked, 62.2, is near the standard range for
Social Security cases in the Seventh Circuit.
reviewing counsel for Plaintiff's time itemization, the
Court finds that the hours worked in this case were
reasonably expended. The standard range for hours worked on
Social Security litigation in the Seventh Circuit is 40-60
hours. See Ruiz v. Colvin, No. 2:14-CV-69-JEM, 2016
WL 2908287, at *2 (N.D. Ind. May 18, 2016) (citation
omitted). The number of hours worked in this case, 62.2, is
slightly higher than the standard range. However, both
Plaintiff's opening and reply briefs made significant and
in-depth citations to the record below. Furthermore,
attorneys in this district have frequently been awarded fees
based on hours significantly higher than the 40-60 range.
See Ruiz, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65761 at *8-9
(collecting cases). Even though Plaintiff's counsel is an
experienced Social Security attorney and the issues raised in
Plaintiff's briefs are frequently raised in Social
Security appeals, those facts alone do not justify decreasing
Plaintiff's fee request. Each case requires new research
and investigation, which is often time consuming. See
Ruiz, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65761 at *11 (N.D. Ind. May
the hours Plaintiff's attorney worked are reasonable.
Reasonableness of Hourly Rate
also argues that the hourly rate used in Plaintiff's fee
request is too high. Defendant asserts that this Court should
rely on the regional Consumer Price Index (CPI) rather than
the national CPI in determining the appropriate hourly fee.
Using the national CPI, the hourly fee is $191.33. Using the
regional CPI, the hourly fee is $186.08, $5.25 lower.
asserts that the Northern District of Indiana routinely uses
the national CPI in setting the hourly rate, citing to this
Court's order in Ruiz v. Colvin, No.
2:14-CV-69-JEM, 2016 WL 2908287, at *2 (N.D. Ind. May 18,
2016). Plaintiff also attached declarations from six
attorneys who routinely work on Social Security cases in the
Seventh Circuit. These declarations demonstrate that the
going rate for similar services performed by experienced
Social Security attorneys is typically $250 to $500 per hour.