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Jordan v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

December 18, 2017

ROGER LYLE JORDAN, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          James R. Knepp, II United States Magistrate Judge

         Introduction

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d), seeking $4, 897.91 in fees. (Docs. 20, 21). Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), filed a response indicating she had no objection to Plaintiff's request. (Doc. 22). For the reasons discussed below, the undersigned grants the motion in the amount requested.

         Procedural Background

         Prior to the instant motion, Plaintiff filed a Complaint with the United States District Court, challenging the Commissioner's decision to deny social security benefits. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff then filed a brief on the merits, alleging the ALJ erred in her analysis of Listing 12.05(C) regarding the mental disorder of intellectual disability. (Doc. 15). In response to Plaintiff's motion, the Commissioner filed a Motion to Remand, stating that “[a]fter careful review of the above-captioned case, agency counsel determined that remand was necessary for further evaluation of Plaintiff's claim” and requesting that “[o]n remand, the Appeals Council will vacate the findings in the [ALJ]'s decision and the Commissioner will re-evaluate whether Plaintiff met Listing 12.05(C).” (Doc. 16, at 1). Although the parties agreed a remand pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) was necessary, they disputed whether such a remand should include a requirement that the Commissioner hold a de novo hearing. The Court ultimately agreed with Plaintiff, and ordered that the Commissioner conduct a de novo hearing on remand. (Doc. 18, at 6). The matter was thus remanded. (Doc. 19).

         The Equal Access to Justice Act

         Under normal circumstances, each party is responsible for its own legal fees. Scarborough v. Principi, 541 U.S. 401, 404 (2004). However, because paying for one's own legal fees can make litigation cost prohibitive, the EAJA exists to encourage lay people to seek review of unreasonable government action without fear of the substantial cost that litigation can entail. The EAJA provides, in pertinent part:

[A] court shall award to a prevailing party other than the United States fees and other expenses . . . incurred by that party in any civil action (other than cases sounding in tort), including proceedings for judicial review of agency action, brought by or against the United States in any court having jurisdiction of that action, unless the court finds that the position of the United States was substantially justified or that special circumstances make an award unjust.

28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A).

         In this case, it is undisputed that Plaintiff is a prevailing party because this Court issued a sentence-four remand. Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 293, 301 (1993). Neither side contends that special circumstances make an award unjust. As such, Plaintiff is entitled to attorney's fees and additional expenses if the government's position was not substantially justified.

         Substantial Justification

         The government's position is “substantially justified” if it had “a reasonable basis in both law and in fact” or was “justified to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable person.” Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 564-65 (1988). The government's “position” includes both the underlying action and the government's litigation position. 42 U.S.C. §2412(d)(2)(D); Delta Eng'g v. United States, 41 F.3d 259, 261 (6th Cir. 1994). The burden of showing substantial justification rests upon the agency. Scarborough, 541 U.S. at 414-15.

         Here, Plaintiff alleges the Commissioner's decision was not substantially justified. The Commissioner bears the burden of proving her position was substantially justified; she has not met that burden because she did not object to Plaintiff's motion. (Doc. 22). The Commissioner also agreed to a sentence-four remand. (Doc. 18). By agreeing to remand, and not objecting to the instant motion, the Commissioner essentially conceded her position below was not substantially justified. Thus, the sole issue is whether a fee above the statutory maximum is warranted in this case.

         Amount of ...


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