United States District Court, N.D. Indiana
DEBBIE A. STAGE o/b/o, BRIAN C. McCARTY DECEASED Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
S. VAN BOKKELEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Debbie Stage moves the Court for attorneys' fees pursuant
to the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. §
2412. For the reasons stated below, the Court FINDS
Plaintiff's fee application presumptively reasonable and,
accordingly, ACCEPTS it in its entirety; GRANTS
Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees (Docket No.
33); and AWARDS Plaintiff $33, 265.35.
Overview of the Case
filed an application for Supplemental Security Income,
Disability Insurance Benefits, and Widow's Insurance
Benefits. Her application was denied, both initially and upon
reconsideration. She then proceeded to a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who found she was not
disabled. Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request to review the ALJ's decision,
thereby solidifying the denial into final agency action
reviewable by the courts under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
next appealed the denial to district court, where the
Commissioner's denial was affirmed. See Stage v.
Colvin, 2015 WL 1402149 (2015). Plaintiff appealed to
the Seventh Circuit, which vacated the judgment of the
district court and remanded the case back to the Social
Security Administration. See Stage v. Colvin, 812
F.3d 1121 (2016). The Seventh Circuit instructed the ALJ to
obtain medical testimony regarding Plaintiff's hip
replacement and to give more reasoned assessments of
Plaintiff's credibility, residual functional capacity,
and the proper weight to be afforded to the opinion of
Plaintiff's treating physician. See Stage, 812
F.3d at 1126-27.
uncontestedly assumed the classification of a
“prevailing party, ” Plaintiff now seeks an award
of attorneys' fees for litigation before the district and
appellate courts under the Equal Access to Justice Act
(EAJA). 28 U.S.C. § 2412.
general “American” rule requires each litigant to
pay his own attorney's fees and expenses. See Hensley
v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429. The Equal Access to
Justice Act (EAJA), however, reverses this general approach
to fees when certain qualifications are met. The EAJA
entitles a civil litigant prevailing against the United
States to attorneys' fees “unless the court finds
that the position of the United States was substantially
justified.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). A party
must meet several conditions to be eligible for fees under
the EAJA. Comm'r, I.N.S. v. Jean, 496 U.S. 154,
158-61 (1990). Once he meets these conditions, however,
it is the task of the District Court to determine what fees
are reasonable. Id. at 161.
exists no precise rule or formula for determining what fees
are reasonable. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 436. A
reasonable fee is a fee which is sufficient to induce a
capable attorney to undertake the representation of a
meritorious case. See Perdue v. Kenny, 559 U.S. 542,
552 (“A reasonable attorney's fee is one that is
adequate to attract competent counsel, but that does not
produce windfalls to attorneys.”) (quoting Blum v.
Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 897 (1984)). A district court
hearing an EAJA claim may accept the Plaintiff's fee
application, may attempt to identify specific hours that
should be eliminated, or may simply reduce the award to
account for limited success in the underlying litigation.
See Id. Such a determination is an equitable
judgment in which the court must necessarily exercise its
absence of a precise formula for calculating reasonable fees
does not, however, grant a district court boundless
discretion. See Montanez v. Simon, 755 F.3d 547, 553
(7th Cir. 2014). A district court must provide “a
concise but clear explanation of its reasons for the fee
award.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437; see also
Montanez, 755 F.3d at 553 (emphasizing that a district
court “must apply the correct [legal] standard”
and “bears the responsibility of justifying its
conclusions”) (quoting Fox v. Vice, 563 U.S.
826, 838 (2011) and Sottoriva v. Claps, 617 F.3d
971, 975 (7th Cir. 2010)). A district court must also provide
a “reasonably specific explanation for all aspects of a
fee determination.” Perdue, 559 U.S. at 559.
This explanation may be “concise, ” but must
remain an “explanation, ” i.e., “a
rendering of reasons in support of a judgment”; not a
conclusory statement. Sottoriva, 617 F.3d at 976.
most useful starting point for determining the amount of a
reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on
the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.
Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. This is referred to as the
lodestar. Perdue, 559 U.S. at 546. “[T]he
lodestar figure includes most, if not all, of the relevant
factors constituting a ‘reasonable' attorney's
fee.” Id. at 553 (quoting Pennsylvania v.
Delaware Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478
U.S. 546, 566 (1986)). As such, the lodestar method yields a
fee which is presumptively reasonable. See Id. This
presumption is strong. City of Burlington v. Dague,
505 U.S. 557, 562 (1992).
the lodestar amount should not be adjusted on the basis of a
factor subsumed in the lodestar calculation. See
Perdue, 559 U.S. at 546 (“[F]actors subsumed in
the lodestar calculation cannot be used as a ground for
increasing an award above the
lodestar”). For example, the novelty and complexity
of a case may not be used to enhance an award because,
presumably, these factors are fully reflected in the number
of billable hours recorded by counsel. Id. at 553.
Similarly, the quality of an attorney's performance
should not be used to adjust the lodestar because such
considerations are normally reflected in the reasonable
hourly rate. Id.
request for attorney's fees should not, however, result
in a second major litigation. Hensely, 461 U.S. at
437. Where the parties are unable to reach a settlement
regarding fees, the fee applicant bears the burden of
establishing entitlement to an award and documenting the
appropriate hours expended along with hourly rates.
Id. The applicant should exercise billing judgment
with respect to hours worked and should maintain billing time
records in a manner that will enable a reviewing court to
identify distinct claims. Id. The fee applicant must
submit appropriate documentation to meet “the burden of
establishing entitlement to an award.”
Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437. “But trial courts
need not, and indeed should not, become green-eyeshade
accountants. The essential goal in fees (to either party) is
to do rough justice, not to achieve auditing
perfection.” Fox v. Vice, 563 U.S. 826, 838
while the fee-applicant bears the burden of establishing
entitlement to an award and of adequately documenting the
appropriate hours expended and their corresponding rates, the
government bears the burden of overcoming the strong
presumption of reasonableness ...