Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Mangual v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

April 4, 2018

YASMIN MANGUAL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE

         This 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.

         BACKGROUND

         The 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.

         Because 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].

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The 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 Cir. 2004).

         Under 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.

         EAJA 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.

         DISCUSSION

         In 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.

         A. Whether the Commissioner's Position Was ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.