United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
JEFFREY L. WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Michael T. Mason United States Magistrate Judge.
Jeffrey L. Wright's motion for attorney's fees under
the Equal Access to Justice Act  is granted in part. For
the reasons set forth below, the Court awards $12, 462.39 in
fees and costs.
Procedural History and Legal Standard
October 17, 2014, plaintiff Jeffrey Wright
(“plaintiff”) filed this action challenging the
June 28, 2013 decision of the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) denying his claim for disability
benefits. On February 16, 2017, this Court remanded the case
to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings
. The Court found that the ALJ's finding that the
plaintiff suffered from chronic regional pain syndrome was
inconsistent with her findings on credibility, that the ALJ
did not properly evaluate plaintiff's subjective symptoms
related to irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulitis, and
that the ALJ did not properly explain why she rejected a
medical opinion. (Id.)
now seeks to recover his attorney's fees and costs in the
amount of $14, 699.94,  pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice
Reform Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d).
Under the EAJA, a party who prevails against the United
States in a civil action is entitled to an award of
reasonable attorney's fees and other expenses accrued in
the process of the litigation. Trump v. Colvin, No.
12 CV 6194, 2015 WL 970111, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 2, 2015). A
plaintiff is eligible to recover attorney's fees if: (1)
he is the prevailing party; (2) the government's position
was not substantially justified; (3) no special circumstances
make an award unjust; and (4) he filed a timely and complete
fee application. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A).
argues that he is entitled to fees and costs because the
Commissioner's position was not substantially justified.
He also argues that he is entitled to recover attorney's
fees above the statutory rate of $125 per hour because of an
increase in the cost of living. The Commissioner does not
dispute that its position was not substantially justified;
instead, the Commissioner argues that plaintiff's
proposed hourly rate is too high and that the number of
attorney hours spent on plaintiff's case is excessive.
The Commissioner, therefore, requests that plaintiff's
fee award be lower than what he is requesting.
to the EAJA, an award of attorney's fees “shall be
based upon the prevailing market rates for the kind and
quality of services furnished, except that...attorney fees
shall not be awarded in excess of $125.00 per hour unless the
court determines that an increase in the cost of
living...justifies a higher fee.” 28 U.S.C. §
2412(d)(1)(A)(ii). The EAJA compensation arrangement was last
modified in 1996, when Congress set the current $125 maximum
hourly rate. The Seventh Circuit has determined that
“given the passage of time since the establishment of
the [$125] hourly rate, a cost-of-living adjustment is
warranted.” Trump, 2015 WL 970111, at *2
(citing Tchemkow v. Mukasey, 517 F.3d 506, 512 (7th
Seventh Circuit has since clarified the appropriate means for
calculating the cost-of-living adjustment for EAJA petitions.
In Sprinkle v. Colvin, 777 F.3d 421 (7th Cir. 2015),
the Court determined that the Consumer Price Index
(“CPI”) is sufficient “proof of an increase
in the cost of living” and the court “should
generally award the inflation-adjusted rate according to the
CPI, using the date on which the legal services were
performed.” Trump, 2015 WL 970111, at *2
(citing Sprinkle, 777 F.3d at 423). The
Sprinkle decision does not necessarily create an
automatic entitlement to a fee enhancement. Instead, in order
to justify a higher rate, “claimants must still produce
satisfactory evidence that the rate they request is in line
with those prevailing in the community for similar services
by lawyers of comparable skill and experience.”
Sprinkle, 777 F.3d at 428. Moreover, “courts
may not award claimants inflation-adjusted rates that are
higher than prevailing market rates.” Trump,
2015 WL 970111, at *3; see also Sprinkle, 777 F.3d
at 429 (“to avoid the possibility of a ‘windfall,
' courts may not award an inflation-adjusted rate that is
higher than the prevailing market rate in the community for
comparable legal services”).
plaintiff seeks to recover fees based on an hourly rate of
$188.44. This amount was based on the national CPI,
rather than the regional CPI. Plaintiff explains that the
national measure yields a slightly higher result. He further
contends that this is the more appropriate index to use
because it is more in line with the prevailing market rates,
which are established in the affidavits plaintiff has
attached to his motion. The Commissioner argues that the
regional CPI is a more appropriate measure of the
inflation-adjusted rate in this case because it is specific
to attorneys in the Chicago region, where the case was
Sprinkle, the Seventh Circuit left it to the
court's discretion whether to use the national or the
regional CPI rate when calculating the inflation-adjusted
hourly rate. 777 F.3d at n.2. (“We ...leave to the
discretion of the district courts whether to adopt the
national or regional index in specific cases.”).
District courts have utilized the regional index in published
decisions in this Circuit since the Sprinkle
decision. See, e.g., Trump, 2015 WL 970111, at *3
and n.3 (“This case was filed in the Chicago
metropolitan area. The Court finds it appropriate to
calculate claimant's attorney's fees using the
Chicago-Gary-Kenosha regional CPI-U.”); Adams v
Colvin, No. 14 CV 1680, 2015 WL 1780144, at *2 (N.D.
Ind. Apr. 20, 2015) (utilizing the Midwest urban region CPI);
Vasquez v. Colvin, No. 13 CV 6222, 2016 WL 68700, *2
(N.D. Ill. Feb. 19, 2016). As a result, we will utilize the
regional index as well. This yields an hourly rate of $183.17
for the month of February 2015, the month in which a majority
of the legal work was performed by plaintiff's counsel.
Additionally, the Court notes that plaintiff has provided
affidavits demonstrating that a cost-of living adjustment is
appropriate in this case. Sprinkle, 777 F.3d at
428-29 (noting that “a court may find, in its
discretion, a single sworn statement from a claimant's
attorney, setting forth the prevailing market rate, to be
sufficient in some cases). Accordingly, we adopt the
Commissioner's proposed hourly rate.
Reasonableness of Number of Hours
turn to the Commissioner's remaining argument regarding
the number of hours worked on the case. Plaintiff seeks to
recover attorney fees for 77 hours of time (plus two hours of
work by a legal assistant) worked on the case to date. Under
the EAJA, the prevailing party has the burden of proving that
the number of hours worked was reasonable. Large vs.
Colvin, 12 CV 50101, 2014 WL 117174, at *2 (N.D. Ill.
Jan. 13, 2014). The court should not grant a fee request that
is “excessive, redundant, or otherwise
unnecessary.” Id. (citing Hensley v.
Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)). “While no
precise rule or formula for determining what fees are
reasonable exists, courts should avoid ...