United States District Court, N.D. Indiana
OPINION AND ORDER
THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion for
Attorney's Fees Under the Equal Access to Justice Act
[ECF No. 30], filed on February 23, 2018. For the reasons
stated in this Opinion, the Plaintiff's Application for
Attorney's Fees will be granted.
details of this case are set forth in the Court's Opinion
and Order of December 4, 2018 [ECF No. 28], remanding this
case to the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) for
further review. In its Opinion and Order, the Court found
that the ALJ failed to consider the combined effects of all
of the Plaintiff's impairments in determining her
residual functional capacity. Because the Court was remanding
on this issue, the Court declined to consider the remainder
of the parties' arguments.
the Plaintiff was the prevailing party in her appeal from the
final decision of the Commissioner, on February 23, 2018, the
Plaintiff filed an Motion for Attorney's Fees Under the
Equal Access to Justice Act [ECF No. 30], seeking an award of
$9, 324.83 and “such additional fees as may be
reasonably expended in preparing a reply to any response to
this EAJA motion filed by the Commissioner, ”
(see Mot. 7, ECF No. 30), under the Equal Access to
Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. On February 26,
2018, the Defendant filed a Response [ECF No. 31], and on
March 5, 2018, the Plaintiff filed a Reply [ECF No. 32].
EAJA provides for an award of reasonable attorney's fees
and expenses to a “prevailing party in any civil action
brought . . . against the United States or any agency or any
official of the United States, ” 28 U.S.C. §
2412(b), where the Government's position was not
“substantially justified” and where no
“special circumstances make an award unjust, ” 28
U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). This language and the remaining
provisions of the statute grant district courts the
discretion to award attorney's fees if four elements are
established: (1) the claimant is a “prevailing
party”; (2) the Government's position was not
substantially justified; (3) there are no special
circumstances making an award unjust; and (4) the fee
application is submitted to the Court within thirty days of
final judgment and is supported by an itemized statement.
Golembiewski v. Barnhart, 382 F.3d 721, 723-24 (7th
the EAJA, there is no presumption that a party who prevails
against the Commissioner will recover attorney's fees,
but the Commissioner bears the burden of proving that its
position satisfies the substantially justified standard.
United States v. Hallmark Const. Co., 200 F.3d 1076,
1079 (7th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). It is important to
note that the Commissioner's position need not be correct
to be justified-it is “substantially justified”
if it has a reasonable basis both in law and fact. Pierce
v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565-66 (1988). However, the
Commissioner's position must be stronger than merely
non-frivolous; it must be “justified to a degree that
could satisfy a reasonable person.” Id.
Substantially justified does not mean justified to a
“high degree, ” and the standard of substantially
justified is satisfied if there is a “genuine
dispute” or “if reasonable people could differ as
to the appropriateness of the contested action.”
Stein v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 317, 320 (7th Cir.
1992). Thus, there is a category of cases in which
“[the Commissioner] could take a position that is
substantially justified, yet lose.” Pierce,
487 U.S. at 569.
fees may be awarded if either the Commissioner's
pre-litigation conduct or its litigation position was not
substantially justified, and the ALJ's decision
constitutes part of the agency's pre-litigation conduct.
Cunningham v. Barnhart, 440 F.3d 862, 863-64 (7th
Cir. 2006). However, because a district court is to make only
one determination for the entire civil action,
fees may be awarded in cases where the Commissioner's
prelitigation conduct was not substantially justified even
though its litigating position may have been substantially
justified and vice versa. In other words, the fact that the
Commissioner's litigating position was substantially
justified does not necessarily offset prelitigation conduct
that was without a reasonable basis.
Marcus v. Shalala, 17 F.3d 1033, 1036 (7th Cir.
1994). The Seventh Circuit has set forth a three-part
standard for reviewing the Commissioner's position; the
Commissioner must show that its position was grounded in: (1)
a reasonable basis in truth for the facts alleged; (2) a
reasonable basis in law for the theory propounded; and (3) a
reasonable connection between the facts alleged and the legal
theory propounded. Golembiewski, 382 F.3d at 724.
their briefs addressing the Plaintiff's request for
attorney's fees, the parties dispute whether the
Commissioner's position was substantially justified,
whether the Plaintiff's counsel has shown billing
judgment, what the appropriate fee rate is, and whether the
Plaintiff has established the hourly rate for legal
assistants. There appears to be no dispute that the Plaintiff
is the prevailing party, that no “special
circumstances” apply that would make an award unjust,
and that the Plaintiff's fee application was timely.
Whether the Commissioner's Position Was ...