United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the court on a motion for attorney's
fees filed by claimant Scott Klein (“Klein”)
pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). Klein
requests $5, 041.25 in attorney's fees on the ground that
he is a prevailing party under the EAJA. ECF No. 24 at 2.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (the “Commissioner”), argues that
Klein is not entitled to such fees and costs because the
Commissioner's position in this litigation was
substantially justified. The court finds that the
Commissioner's position was not substantially justified
and grants Klein's attorney fee petition.
filed an application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) on January 11, 2011, alleging disability
beginning on June 4, 2004. The Social Security Administration
denied Klein's claim initially and on reconsideration.
Klein requested a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), and a hearing was held on August 30,
2012. The ALJ issued its decision on November 30, 2012,
finding that Klein was not disabled under the Social Security
Act. The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's
decision, and Klein filed the instant action on November 11,
2015. The magistrate judge issued an R&R on July 28,
2015, recommending that the case be remanded to the
Commissioner. The Commissioner filed a Response of No
Objections to the R&R on July 29, 2015. Upon review, this
Court adopted the Magistrate Judge's R&R on August
the EAJA, a court shall award reasonable attorney's fees
to a prevailing party in certain civil actions against the
United States unless the court finds that the
government's position was substantially justified or that
special circumstances render an award unjust. 28 U.S.C.
§ 2412(d)(1)(A). To qualify as a “prevailing
party, ” a party “must succeed on the merits of a
claim.” S-1 By & Through P-1 v. State Bd. of
Educ. of N.C. , 6 F.3d 160, 170 (4th Cir. 1993)
(Wilkinson, J., dissenting), adopted as majority
opinion, 21 F.3d 49 (4th Cir. 1994) (en banc). “In
other words, success must be something buttressed by a
court's authority or required by a rule of law. The
lawsuit must materially alter the ‘legal
relationship' between plaintiffs and defendants.”
Id. Because this court reversed and remanded
Klein's case to the Commissioner for administrative
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Klein is
considered the “prevailing party” under the EAJA.
See Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 302 (1993).
government has the burden of proving that its position was
substantially justified. Crawford v. Sullivan, 935
F.2d 655, 658 (4th Cir. 1991). Evaluating whether the
government's position was substantially justified is not
an “issue-by-issue analysis” but an examination
of the “totality of circumstances.” Roanoke
River Basin Ass'n v. Hudson, 991 F.2d 132, 139 (4th
Cir. 1993); see also Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S.
424, 437 (1983) (“A request for attorney's fees
should not result in a second major litigation.”).
“The government's position must be substantially
justified in both fact and law.” Thompson v.
Sullivan, 980 F.2d 280, 281 (4th Cir. 1992).
Substantially justified does not mean “justified to a
high degree, but rather justified in substance or in the
main-that is, justified to a degree that could satisfy a
reasonable person.” Pierce v. Underwood, 487
U.S. 552, 565 (1988) (internal quotation marks omitted).
“The government's non-acquiescence in the law of
the circuit entitles the claimant to recover attorney's
fees.” Crawford, 935 F.2d at 658; see also
Adams v. Barnhart, 445 F.Supp.2d 593, 595 (D.S.C. 2006)
(“Where the government's position was a result of
its failure to perform a certain analysis required by the law
and its regulations, the government's position was not
substantially justified.”). There is no presumption
that losing the case means that the government's position
was not substantially justified. Crawford, 935 F.2d
Treating Physician Testimony
argues that the Commissioner's position in this action
was unreasonable because the ALJ failed to properly evaluate
Klein's treating physician's multiple opinions.
Pl.'s Mot. 7. The court agrees.
requirement that an ALJ must give specific reasons for
discounting a treating physician's testimony is
well-established. Under the applicable regulations, when an
ALJ decides to give a treating physician's opinion less
than controlling weight, he or she “must be
sufficiently specific to make clear to any subsequent
reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to the treating
[physician's] medical opinion and the reasons for that
weight.” Titles II & XVI: Giving Controlling Weight
to Treating Source Med. Opinions, SSR 96-2P (S.S.A. July 2,
1996). In Rivers v. Astrue, No. 4:11-cv-01386, 2012
WL 2590498, at *3 (D.S.C. July 5, 2012), the court held that
if the ALJ “determines that a treating physician's
opinion should not be afforded controlling weight, ”
the ALJ must then “analyze and weigh all the evidence
of record” under the following factors: (1) the length
of the treatment relationship and the frequency of
examinations; (2) the nature and extent of the treatment
relationship; (3) the evidence with which the physician
supports his opinion; (4) the consistency of the opinion; and
(5) whether the physician is a specialist in the area in
which he is rendering an opinion. See also Avant v.
Astrue, No. 4:11-cv-822, 2012 WL 1952657, at *5 (D.S.C.
May 9, 2012) (finding that the ALJ “did not comply with
the proper analysis” under SSR 96-2p because he did not
explain what weight he was giving the treating
physician's opinions or specify what contradictory
evidence he was relying on.); Hilton v. Astrue, No.
6:10-cv-2012, 2011 WL 5869704, at *3 (D.S.C. Nov. 21, 2011)
(finding the ALJ's “conclusory reason” that
the treating physician's opinion “is against the
weight of the record as a whole” insufficient to
satisfy SSR 96-2p); see also Ellis v. Astrue, No.
3:07-cv-3996, 2009 WL 578539 at *8 (D.S.C. Mar. 5, 2009)
(rejecting post hoc rationale for ALJ's decision).
review of the record reveals that the ALJ failed to properly
analyze the multiple opinions of the treating physician Dr.
Julius C. Hedden, who treated Klein from June of 2002 to
December of 2010. Indeed, the magistrate judge concluded-and
this court agrees-that the ALJ's written decision
“contains next to no analysis of [Dr. Hedden's]
opinions.” ECF No. 18, R&R at 8. The ALJ's
explanation for his decision consisted entirely of the
I assign less weight to Dr. Hedden's opinions, as his
opinions appear to rely on claimant's subjective
complaints as opposed to his treatment notes. His treatment
notes reflect claimant reported chronic back pain with
constant discomfort; however; he was treated conservatively