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Chesmar v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 14, 2019

STEPHANIE EMILY CHESMAR
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL Security Administration[1]

          ORDER APPROVING STIPULATION FOR ALLOWANCE OF FEES UNDER THE EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE ACT [DOC. #39]

          Hon. Sarah A. L. Merriam United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on a joint stipulation requesting payment of attorney's fees to plaintiff's counsel under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA” or the “Act”). See Doc. #39. For the reasons set forth below, the Court APPROVES and SO ORDERS the parties' Stipulation for Allowance of Fees Under the Equal Access to Justice Act [Doc. #39], for the stipulated amount of $9, 020.00 in attorney fees and $17.00 in costs.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on March 11, 2014, alleging disability beginning August 17, 2012. See Certified Transcript of the Administrative Record, Doc. #17 and attachments, compiled on April 14, 2018, (hereinafter “Tr.”) at 297-305.

         Plaintiff's application was denied initially on July 9, 2014, see Tr. 236-240, and upon reconsideration on December 24, 2014, see Tr. 199-209.

         On August 11, 2016, plaintiff, represented by Attorney Meryl Anne Spat, appeared and testified before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Bruce H. Zwecker. See Tr. 133-186. On September 15, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. See Tr. 21-35. On December 18, 2017, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's September 15, 2016, decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See Tr. 1-7. After exhausting her administrative remedies, plaintiff filed the Complaint in this case on February 15, 2018. See Doc. #1.

         On April 23, 2018, the Commissioner (“defendant”) filed the official transcript. See Doc. #17 and attachments. On August 6, 2018, plaintiff filed a motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner. See Doc. #25. On October 5, 2018, defendant filed a motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner. See Doc. #29.

         On March 18, 2019, the undersigned issued a Ruling granting plaintiff's motion to reverse, to the extent plaintiff sought a remand for further administrative proceedings. See Doc. #33. Judgment entered in plaintiff's favor on March 18, 2019. See Doc. #34.

         On June 2, 2019, plaintiff filed a motion seeking attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act. See Doc. #35. The Commissioner filed a response, opposing plaintiff's motion. See Doc. #36. On July 5, 2019, the Court ordered:

ORDER Re: Doc. #35 Motion for Attorney Fees. The Standing Scheduling Order issued in this case (Doc. #5-1) requires that a party filing a “Motion for Attorney's Fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. §2412... must attest therein that he or she first attempted to settle the issue of attorney fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act with opposing counsel.” Doc. #5-1 at 1. Plaintiff has not included such an attestation with her motion, and defense counsel represents that plaintiff's counsel has not responded to defense counsel's attempts to settle this issue. See Doc. #36 at 9. Plaintiff's counsel shall contact defense counsel forthwith and discuss possible resolution of the attorney's fees issue. On or before July 17, 2019, plaintiff's counsel shall file a statement which complies with the scheduling order entered in this case, affirming that she has attempted to resolve the issue of attorney fees with counsel for the Commissioner, and reporting whether a resolution has been reached. It is so ordered.

Doc. #37. On August 4, 2019, plaintiff's counsel filed a joint Stipulation for Allowance of Fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“Stipulation”).[2] See Doc. #39. The Court TERMINATES plaintiff's original motion for fees [Doc. #35] in light of the stipulation.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A party who prevails in a civil action against the United States may seek an award of fees and costs under the EAJA, 28 U.S.C. §2412, the purpose of which is “to eliminate for the average person the financial disincentive to challenging unreasonable government actions.” Commissioner, I.N.S. v. Jean, 496 U.S. 154, 163 (1990) (citing Sullivan v. Hudson, 490 U.S. 877, 883 (1989)). In order for an award of attorney's fees to enter, this Court must find (1) that the plaintiff is a prevailing party, (2) that the Commissioner's position was without substantial justification, (3) that no special circumstances exist that would make an award unjust, and (4) that the fee petition was filed within thirty days of final judgment. See 28 U.S.C. §2412(d)(1)(B).

         Although the parties have reached an agreement as to the appropriate award of fees in this matter, the Court is obligated to review the fee application and determine whether the proposed fee award is reasonable. “[T]he determination of a reasonable fee under the EAJA is for the court rather than the parties by way of stipulation.” Pribek v. Sec'y, Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 717 F.Supp. 73, 75 (W.D.N.Y. 1989) (quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Rogers v. Colvin, No. 4:13CV945(TMC), 2014 WL 630907, at *1 (D.S.C. Feb. 18, 2014); Design & Prod., Inc. v. United States, 21 Cl. Ct. 145, 152 (1990) (Under the EAJA, “it is the court's responsibility to independently assess the appropriateness and measure of attorney's fees to be awarded in a particular case, whether or not an amount is offered as ...


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