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Jackson v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

February 20, 2018

Ronald D. Jackson, Plaintiff
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant


          Jeffrey J. Helmick United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Ronald Jackson sought judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. On January 26, 2017, Magistrate Judge Kathleen Burke issued her Report and Recommendation recommending the Commissioner's decision be reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with that opinion. (Doc. No. 17). In the absence of any objections by either side, I adopted the Report and Recommendation as the order of this Court. (Doc. Nos. 19 and 20).

         This matter is now before me on Plaintiff's motion and application for attorney fees pursuant to the EAJA (Doc. No. 21) and the Defendant's response. (Doc. No. 22). For the reasons stated below, the Plaintiff's motion is denied.

         I. Motion For Attorney Fees Under The EAJA

         Under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412, a court shall award a plaintiff attorney fees when the plaintiff is a prevailing party in a lawsuit against the government, unless the government's position is substantially justified or special circumstances would make an award unjust. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). The plaintiff may recover “reasonable attorney fees . . . based upon prevailing market rates for the kind and quality of services furnished”; an attorney's requested hourly rate may not exceed $125 per hour “unless the court determines that an increase in the cost of living or a special factor . . . justifies a higher fee.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A).

         In this case, the parties do not dispute the Plaintiff is a “prevailing party” or that special circumstances exist which warrant denying relief. See Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292 (1993); DeLong v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 748 F.3d 723, 735 (6th Cir. 2014). The crux of this analysis, therefore, centers on whether the Defendant's opposing position was without substantial justification.

         The government's position is substantially justified if it is “‘justified in substance or in the main'-that is, justified to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable person.” Jankovich v. Bowen, 868 F.2d 867, 869 (6th Cir. 1989) (quoting Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988)).

         As noted by another court in this district:

A careful distinction must be drawn between a lack of substantial evidence, which results in remand to the agency, and lack of substantial justification, which results in an award of attorney's fees to the prevailing party in such an action. See Jankovich, 868 F.2d at 870. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals elaborated on this distinction:
The government's position “can be justified even though it is not correct . . ., and it can be substantially (i.e., for the most part) justified if a reasonable person could think it correct.” [Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S.] at 566 n. 2, 103 S.Ct. 2541. As this court has noted, “[t]he fact that we f[ind] that the Commissioner's position was unsupported by substantial evidence does not foreclose the possibility that the position was substantially justified. Indeed, Congress did not want the ‘substantially justified' standard to be read to raise a presumption that the Government position was not substantially justified simply because it lost the case . . .” Howard v. Barnhart, 376 F.3d 551, 554 (6thCir. 2004) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

Olive v. Commissioner of Social Security, 534 F.Supp.2d 756, 758-59 (N.D. Ohio 2008) (finding the claimant was a prevailing party but finding the government's position was substantially justified), citing Noble v. Barnhart, 230 Fed.Appx. 517, 519 (6th Cir. 2007). (Emphasis in original).

         In her forty-one page Report and Recommendation, the Magistrate Judge took into account the Plaintiff's procedural history, personal and vocational evidence, relevant medical evidence, medical opinion evidence, and testimonial evidence. Ultimately, she determined the following:

[T]he Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred when she disregarded the opinion of Jackson's treating cardiologist that he would need to avoid magnetic fields due to his implanted defibrillator. Specifically, the ALJ (1) failed to adequately explain why she did not give controlling weight to the treating physician's magnetic field restriction; and (2) erred when she determined, without the support of vocational expert testimony or any other substantial evidence, that a magnetic field restriction would not affect the job base or job numbers identified by the vocational expert. As a result, the ...

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