United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Orangeburg Division
Cynthia E. Bennett Wright, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER AND OPINION
J. MICHELLE CHILDS, District Judge.
Plaintiff Cynthia E. Bennett Wright ("Plaintiff") filed this action seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("the Acting Commissioner") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina, the matter was referred for pretrial handling to United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West. On August 29, 2013, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation ("the Magistrate Judge's Report") in which she recommended affirming the Acting Commissioner's final decision that Plaintiff was not disabled because (1) the Magistrate Judge found the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a proper Step Three analysis in determining that Plaintiff's mental impairment failed to meet a listed impairment and (2) the ALJ did not err in failing to consider the opinion of Dr. C. Barton Saylor, Plaintiff's examining physician, in establishing Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). (ECF No. 41 at 1-3.) Plaintiff subsequently filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report. (ECF No. 38.) On March 31, 2014, after careful review of the record, the court entered an order rejecting the Magistrate Judge's Report, reversing the Acting Commissioner's final decision, and remanding the matter for further proceedings. (ECF No. 41.)
The matter is now before the court for resolution of Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. (ECF No. 43.) Plaintiff seeks attorneys' fees in the amount of $8, 004.87 plus costs of $350.00. (Id. at 1.) On May 19, 2014, the Acting Commissioner filed opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees, asserting that the government's position was substantially justified. (ECF No. 44 at 1.) For the reasons set forth below, the court DENIES Plaintiff's motion with respect to attorneys' fees and GRANTS Plaintiff's motion with respect to costs.
I. LEGAL STANDARD AND ANALYSIS
A. Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs under the EAJA
The EAJA permits a prevailing party in litigation against the United States to recover attorneys' fees and costs under certain conditions. See 28 U.S.C. § 2412. Specifically, a court awards these costs if: (1) the claimant is a "prevailing party;" (2) the government's position was not substantially justified; (3) no special circumstances make such an award unjust; and (4) the claimant filed a timely petition with an itemized statement in support of the requested award. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1); see Crawford v. Sullivan, 935 F.2d 655, 656 (4th Cir. 1991).
The government bears the burden of proving that its position was substantially justified. Thompson v. Sullivan, 980 F.2d 280, 281 (4th Cir. 1992). Accordingly, the government must show that its position has a "reasonable basis both in law and fact." Id .; see also Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988) ("Substantially, " as conveyed in 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d) means "justified in substance or in the main' - that is, justified to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable person."). "In other words, favorable facts will not rescue the government from a substantially unjustified position on the law; likewise, an accurate recital of law cannot excuse a substantially unjustified position on the facts." Thompson, 980 F.2d at 281.
The standard to be applied in determining whether the government 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 government's position, not whether there was some evidence to support its position. Anderson v. Heckler, 756 F.2d 1011, 1013 (4th Cir. 1984). "Where the government's position was a result of its failure to perform a certain analysis required by the law and its regulations, it was not substantially justified." Makinson v. Astrue, 586 F.Supp.2d 491, 495 (D.S.C. 2008) (citing Randolph v. Sullivan, 738 F.Supp. 305, 306 (C.D. Ill. 1990)).
B. Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees
Plaintiff contends that she is the prevailing party in this action and the position taken by the Acting Commissioner in the matter was not "substantially justified" within the meaning of the EAJA. (ECF No. 43 at 1.) First, Plaintiff argues she is the prevailing party by virtue of obtaining a sentence-four remand from the court. (Id. at 2.) Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 302 (1993) (Finding that a litigant who obtains a sentence-four remand is a prevailing party.) Second, Plaintiff maintains that the government's position was not substantially justified because (1) the ALJ did not adequately explain his decision to give "considerable weight" to a nonexamining state agency physician's medical opinion and such weight is inconsistent with regulations; (2) there did not appear to be a sound basis for rejecting the opinion of Dr. Saylor, an examining physician of Plaintiff; and (3) the "ALJ committed legal error by rejecting the opinion of Dr. Saylor on the ground that Dr. Saylor's evaluation was procured by Plaintiff's counsel." (ECF No. 43-1 at 3.)
C. Acting Commissioner's Response to Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees
In response to Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees, the Acting Commissioner argues that the position taken by the agency was substantially justified. (ECF No. 44 at 1.) The Acting Commissioner contends that "the record in this case was arguably defensible and a reasonable person could think the government's position correct even though the [c]ourt ultimately disagreed." (Id. at 4.) Specifically, the Acting Commissioner highlights that the Magistrate Judge's Report found that the ALJ had appropriately considered the opinion of Dr. Saylor and included sufficient reasons for giving Dr. Saylor's opinion less weight in his analysis of Plaintiff's RFC. (Id.) Ultimately, "[b]ecause reasonable minds can - and in fact did - differ about the ...