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Scholer v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

March 10, 2014

DANIEL SCHOLER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S CONTESTED MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES PURSUANT TO THE EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE ACT

J. RICHARD CREATURA, Magistrate Judge.

This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and Local Magistrate Judge Rule MJR 13 ( see also Notice of Initial Assignment to a U.S. Magistrate Judge and Consent Form, ECF No. 5; Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge, ECF No. 6). This matter comes before the Court on plaintiff's contested motion for attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412 (hereinafter "EAJA") ( see ECF Nos. 26, 27).

Subsequent to plaintiff's success at obtaining a reversal of the decision of the Social Security Administration, defendant Acting Commissioner challenged plaintiff's request for statutory attorney's fees on the grounds that defendant's position in this matter was justified in substance and had a reasonable basis in fact and law.

Because this Court disagrees, and because the requested fees are reasonable, plaintiff's motion for statutory fees should be granted.

BACKGROUND and PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance ("DIB") benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423 (Title II) and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a) (Title XVI) of the Social Security Act ( see Tr. 690). His applications were denied initially and following reconsideration (Tr. 51). Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Verrell Dethloff ("the ALJ") on August 2, 2007 (Tr. 704-31). On November 16, 2007, the ALJ issued a written decision in which he concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act (Tr. 11-23).

On March 26, 2008, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, making the written decision by the ALJ the final agency decision subject to judicial review (Tr. 7-10). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the ALJ's written decision ( see 08-cv-05299 RJB-KLS). A stipulated Order for Remand was entered on October 15, 2008, remanding the matter back to the Social Security Administration (Tr. 777-781).

On January 8, 2009, the Appeals Council issued an order to vacate the previous decision and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the order of the District Court (Tr. 782-786). The ALJ was directed to give further consideration to treating source opinions, specifically those of Mary C. Mangione-Lambie, Ph.D., and William J. Morris, M.D., and to explain the weight given to them; to give further consideration to plaintiff's maximum residual functional capacity; to re-evaluate plaintiff's ability to return to his past relevant work; and if warranted, obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert (Tr. 785).

ALJ Verrell Dethloff ("the ALJ") held hearings on June 23, 2009 (Tr. 1194-233), April 6, 2010 (Tr. 1234-62) and June 4, 2010 (Tr. 1263-85). The ALJ issued his decision finding plaintiff not disabled on August 10, 2010. The Appeals Council found no reason to assume jurisdiction, making the ALJ's last written decision the Commissioner's final decision subject to this Court's review (Tr. 732-35).

Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court in July, 2012 ( see ECF No. 1). Defendant filed the sealed administrative record regarding this matter ("Tr.") on November 16, 2012 ( see ECF Nos. 15, 17).

Following oral argument, this Court found that the ALJ failed to follow the Order of the Court on remand to re-evaluate the medical evidence, including the opinion evidence of Dr. Mary C. Mangione-Lambie, Ph.D., examining psychologist ( see ECF No. 24, pp. 5-10). This matter was reversed pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further consideration due to the harmful error in the evaluation of Dr. Mangione-Lambie's opinion ( see id., pp. 18-19).

Subsequently, plaintiff filed a motion for EAJA attorney's fees, to which defendant objected ( see ECF Nos. 26, 27). Defendant "asserts that her position was substantially justified and that no attorney fees should be awarded under the EAJA" (ECF No. 27, p. 2; see also pp. 2-7). Plaintiff did not file a reply, however addressed this issue in his EAJA motion.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

In any action brought by or against the United States, the EAJA requires that "a court shall award to a prevailing party other than the United States fees and other expenses.... unless the court finds that the position of the United States was substantially justified or that ...


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