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Forrester v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division

June 22, 2015

Amy C. Forrester, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ORDER AND OPINION

J. MICHELLE CHILDS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Amy C. Forrester ("Plaintiff") filed this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("the Acting Commissioner") regarding Plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). (ECF No. 1.) The court rejected the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation ("Report") and reversed and remanded the Acting Commissioner's final decision. (ECF No. 39.)

This matter is before the court on Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412, seeking attorney's fees in the amount of $7, 606.19 and costs in the amount of $350.00 for a total of $7, 956.19. (Id. at 1.) For the reasons set forth below, the court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees with respect to attorney's fees in the amount of $7, 890.74, and GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees with respect to costs in the amount of $350.00. (ECF Nos. 41, 43).

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND TO THE PENDING MOTION

Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on June 19, 2008. (ECF No. 7-2 at 17.) The administrative law judge ("ALJ") found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 14-31.) Although Plaintiff had severe impairments of cervical and lumbar degenerative disk disease, depression, and anxiety, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff had a residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work with some specifications.[1] (Id. at 21.) Plaintiff filed this action to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner, denying her claim for DIB. (ECF No. 1.)

The Magistrate Judge's Report recommended the court affirm the Acting Commissioner's final decision, specifically recommending that the ALJ's decision to accord little weight to Dr. Richardson's opinion was supported by substantial evidence and that the ALJ reached appropriate credibility determinations. (ECF No. 26 at 25, 29-30.) On March 31, 2014, the court rejected the Magistrate Judge's Report and reversed and remanded the Acting Commissioner's final decision. (ECF No. 39.)

Plaintiff filed a Motion for Attorney's Fees pursuant to the EAJA on April 30, 2014. (ECF No. 41.) The Acting Commissioner filed a Response in Opposition on May 19, 2014, (ECF No. 42) to which Plaintiff replied on May 30, 2014. (ECF No. 43.)

II. LEGAL STANDARD AND ANALYSIS

A. Motions for Attorneys' Fees, Costs, and Expenses under the EAJA

The EAJA allows for a party who prevails in litigation against the United States to be awarded attorneys' fees and costs upon timely petition, as long as the Commissioner's position was not "substantially justified" and no special circumstances make such an award unjust. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1); see Crawford v. Sullivan, 935 F.2d 655, 656 (4th Cir. 1991). In evaluating a request for attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to EAJA, the Commissioner bears the burden of proving that the agency's position was substantially justified, and to meet that burden, the Commissioner must establish that the agency's position has a reasonable basis in both law and fact. Thompson v. Sullivan, 980 F.2d 280, 281 (4th Cir. 1992). "In other words, favorable facts will not rescue the [Commissioner] from a substantially unjustified position on the law; likewise, an accurate recital of law cannot excuse a substantially unjustified position on the facts." Id.

The standard to be applied in determining whether the Commissioner was "substantially justified" for purposes of determining whether award of attorneys' fees under the EAJA is warranted, is whether there was arguably substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's position, not whether there was some evidence to support the position. Anderson v. Heckler, 756 F.2d 1011, 1013 (4th Cir. 1984). Where the Commissioner's position was a result of the failure to perform a certain analysis required by the law and its regulations, the Commissioner's position was not substantially justified. Etheredge v. Astrue, C/A No. 4:08-3167-SB, 2010 WL 2926171, at *1 (D.S.C. July 23, 2010) (citing Randolph v. Sullivan, 738 F.Supp. 305, 306 (C.D. Ill. 1990)).

B. The Parties' Arguments

Plaintiff moves for an award of a total of $7, 606.19 in attorney's fees plus costs of $350.00 for a total of $7, 956.19, along with any additional services rendered by counsel or expenses incurred as a result of this motion.[2] (ECF No. 41 at 1-2.) Plaintiff contends that the Acting Commissioner's position was not "substantially justified" under the definition of the term in the EAJA, causing Plaintiff to retain counsel and entitling Plaintiff to an award for reasonable attorney's fees. (Id.) Plaintiff requests if the court awards attorney's fees that the checks, payable to Plaintiff, are delivered to the offices of Plaintiff's attorneys. (Id. at 2.)

The Acting Commissioner opposes the awarding of attorney's fees as she contends that her position was substantially justified since both the ALJ's decision and the Acting Commissioner's defense of that decision were reasonable. (ECF No. 42 at 1, 5). She does not oppose the request for costs of $350.00 (Id. at 1.) The Acting Commissioner contends that since "reasonable people can disagree whether the [ALJ's] decision in this case was appropriate, the Commissioner was substantially justified...." (Id. at 3.) The Acting Commissioner supports her contention with the same arguments she initially made in her brief on the merits of this case: (1) Dr. Richardson's opinion regarding Plaintiff's RFC and credibility post-dates the expiration of Plaintiff's insurance; (2) the ALJ noted this opinion was not supported by Dr. Richardson's physical examination findings; and (3) the Global Assessment of Functioning score the ALJ relied on to assess this opinion was consistent with Dr. Richardson's repeated mental functional findings on examination during the relevant time period. (Id. at 3-5.) The Acting Commissioner further contends that the Magistrate ...


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