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Hickle v. Astrue

March 19, 2008

TIMOTHY HICKLE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas W. Phillips United States District Judge

(Phillips/Guyton)

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

On January 31, 2008, the Honorable H. Bruce Guyton, United States Magistrate Judge, filed a twelve-page memorandum and order [Doc. 31] in which he granted Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees Under Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d) [Doc. 22] and ordered that $5,463.40 be paid to plaintiff's attorney, Eric Buchanan & Associates, PLLC.

This matter is presently before the court on defendant's objections to the memorandum and order [Doc. 32]. For the reasons that follow, defendant's objections will be OVERRULED, whereby plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees [Doc. 31] is granted and $5,463.40 is payable to plaintiff's counsel.

I. BACKGROUND

The following background was provided by Judge Guyton: Plaintiff originally filed a claim for Supplemental Security Income payments on June 4, 2002 and filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on July 2, 2002, claiming disability due to AIDS, depression, hepatitis A and C infection, toxoplasmosis, and neuropathy. After his claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, he filed a request for a hearing, which was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on March 10, 2004. In a decision issued on May 23, 2004, the ALJ found that the claimant was not disabled, and thus not entitled to disability benefits [or] supplemental security income payments. On July 16, 2004, plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision from the Appeals Council, which was granted. On October 8, 2004, the Appeals Council vacated the decision of the ALJ and remanded the case, stating further evaluation was necessary to determine the extent to which plaintiff's impairments limit his ability to function. On February 2, 2005, the ALJ held a supplemental hearing and after hearing additional evidence, found plaintiff was not disabled and [therefore] not entitled to benefits. After the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's subsequent decision to deny disability benefits, plaintiff filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision denying him disability benefits. [Doc. 31 at 2].

On July 18, 2007, Judge Guyton issued a report and recommendation [Doc. 17], recommending that plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings be granted and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment be denied. On September 11, 2007, this court accepted Judge Guyton's report and recommendation in whole, thereby granting plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings and denying defendant's motion for summary judgment.

On October 11, 2007, plaintiff moved for attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA") [Doc. 22]. On January 31, 2008, Judge Guyton issued a memorandum and order in which he granted plaintiff's motion [Doc. 31], awarding plaintiff $5,463.40 in attorney's fees. Defendant objected [Doc. 32], and plaintiff responded thereto [Doc. 33].

II. ANALYSIS

A. Judge Guyton's Issuance of a Memorandum and Order

Defendant first objects that Judge Guyton's opinion was in the form of a memorandum and order, as opposed to a report and recommendation. Defendant argues that the award of attorney's fees is a post-trial, dispositive matter, and therefore 28 U.S.C. § 626(b) (2006) dictates that the opinion be in the form of a report and recommendation to the court. The distinction is important, defendant argues, because the form of the opinion governs the standard of review this court applies.

This court, however, finds that the issuance of a memorandum and order in this case was appropriate. In King v. Commissioner of Social Security, the Sixth Circuit explicitly stated that "[a]attorney's fees under the EAJA are determined by magistrates." 230 F. App'x 476, 478 n.1 (6th Cir. 2007). Defendant, however, disputes the weight this court should accord this footnote and attempts to distinguish the case.

Such attempts are without merit. First, the Massey case on which defendant relies has to do neither with Social Security nor the Equal Access to Justice Act. Massey v. City of Ferndale, 7 F.3d 506 (6th Cir. 1993) (civil action where defendants moved for sanctions, attorneys fees, and costs under Rules 11 and 41 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure). Second, defendant's discussion of Jankovich v. Bowen, 868 F.2d 867 (6th Cir. 1989), to which the Sixth Circuit cited in King in support of its proposition that "[a]attorney's fees under the EAJA are determined by magistrates," King, 230 F. App'x at 478 n.1, is of little import. Tellingly, the citation simply employed the signal "see," and King now very clearly states that magistrates determine attorney's fees under the EAJA. Moreover, there is further Sixth Circuit support for a magistrate judge issuing a memorandum and order awarding attorneys fees under the EAJA in social security cases. See, e.g., Dixon v. Apfel, 1 F. App'x 281, 282 (6th Cir. 2001) (per curiam) ("[T]he order of the district court is affirmed upon the reasoning employed by the United States Magistrate Judge in his Memorandum Decision and Order ...."); McGaha v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 95-1063, 1995 U.S. App. LEXIS 35427, at * 2 (6th Cir. Oct. 18, 1995) ("The magistrate judge denied McGaha's application for EAJA attorney's fees .... The district court denied McGaha's objections to the magistrate judge's order ...." (emphasis added)); see also Anderson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 98-6284, 1999 U.S. App. LEXIS 29996, at *9 (6th Cir. Nov. 12, 1999) (magistrate judge denied motion for attorney's fees under EAJA without any indication of consent to magistrate jurisdiction). But see, e.g., Decker v. Apfel, 67 F. App'x 885 (6th Cir. 2003) (parties consented to magistrate jurisdiction); Cunningham v. Halter, 25 F. App'x 221 (6th Cir. 2001) (magistrate issued report and recommendation); Feliciano v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 99-3070, 1999 U.S. App. LEXIS 29634, at *2 (6th Cir. Nov. 4, 1999) (parties consented to magistrate jurisdiction); Marequez v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., No. 91-3703, 1992 U.S. App. LEXIS 3475 (6th Cir. Feb. 25, 1992) (magistrate issued report and recommendation).

Having determined that a memorandum and order was appropriate, this court reviews Judge ...


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