United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
JACOB K. NORTHCUTT, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING EAJA FEES
RICARDO S. MARTINEZ CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for
Attorney Fees and Costs. Dkt. #19. The Commissioner opposes
the motion on the basis that her position was substantially
justified. Dkt. #21. For the reasons set forth below the
Court disagrees with the Commissioner, and GRANTS
November 2, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits, alleging disability as of June
1, 2009. See Dkt. #9, Administrative Record
(“AR”) 117. The application was denied upon
initial administrative review and on reconsideration.
Id. An ALJ conducted a hearing on February 29, 2012,
finding Mr. Northcutt not disabled. AR 117-27. However, the
Appeals Council then granted Mr. Northcutt's request for
review, vacated the February 29, 2012, decision, and remanded
the matter for further proceedings. AR 133-135 and 205. The
same ALJ conducted a second hearing on April 9, 2014, again
finding that Mr. Northcutt was not disabled. AR 18-31. The
Appeals Council then denied Mr. Northcutt's subsequent
request for review, and the ALJ's decision became the
Commissioner's final decision. AR 1-6.
Plaintiff's Opening Brief, Plaintiff maintained that the
ALJ erred by: 1) improperly evaluating the opinions of
Phyllis Sanchez, PhD; 2) improperly evaluating the opinions
of Tatyana Shepel, PsyD; 3) improperly evaluating the July
2012 assessments of Michael Snyder, MD, and Deborah Gaebler,
ARNP; 4) improperly evaluating the opinions of mental health
clinician Emily Howard; 5) improperly evaluating Mr.
Northcutt's credibility; and 6) improperly evaluating the
opinions of Christina Diamonti, PsyD. Dkt. #11 at 1.
March 13, 2017, U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian A. Tsuchida
issued his Report and Recommendation (“R&R”)
in this matter, recommending that it be reversed and remanded
for further administrative proceedings. Dkt. #17. Judge
Tsuchida found that the ALJ had erred in evaluating certain
opinions of Dr. Shepel, Dr. Snyder and Nurse Gaebler, and Dr.
Diamonti, and that the ALJ had erred in failing to consider a
Sound Mental Health Intake Assessment. Dkt. #17 at 12-18.
filed objections to the R&R, arguing that Judge Tsuchida
reach the incorrect conclusion with respect to the ALJ's
credibility determination of him. Dkt. #15. The Court was not
persuaded that Judge Tsuchida was in error, and adopted the
R&R on April 12, 2017. Dkt. #17. The instant motion
EAJA provides in relevant part:
Except as otherwise specifically provided by statute, a court
shall award to a prevailing party other than the United
States fees and other expenses, in addition to any costs
awarded pursuant to subsection (a), 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). Thus, to be eligible for EAJA
attorney fees: (1) the claimant must be a “prevailing
party”; (2) the government's position must not have
been “substantially justified”; and (3) no
“special circumstances” must exist that make an
award of attorney fees unjust. Commissioner, Immigration
and Naturalization Serv. v. Jean, 496 U.S. 154, 158, 110
S.Ct. 2316, 110 L.Ed.2d 134 (1990).
test for determining whether the government was substantially
justified is whether its position had a reasonable basis both
in law and fact. Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552,
565, 108 S.Ct. 2541, 101 L.Ed.2d 490 (1988); Flores v.
Shalala, 49 F.3d 562, 569-70 (9th Cir. 1995). The burden
is on the government to prove substantial justification.
Flores, 49 F.3d at 569. In evaluating the
government's position, the Court must look at both the
underlying government conduct and the positions taken by the
government during the litigation. Meier v. Colvin,
727 F.3d 867, 870 (9th Cir. 2013). If the underlying agency
action was not substantially justified, the court need not
consider whether the government's litigation position was
substantially justified. Id. at 872.
government's failure to prevail does not raise a
presumption that its position was not substantially
justified.” Kali v. Bowen, 854 F.2d 329, 334
(9th Cir. 1988). However, a finding that the agency decision
was not supported by substantial evidence is a “strong
indication” that the government's position was not
substantially justified. Thangaraja v. Gonzales, 428
F.3d 870, 874 (9th Cir. 2005). “Indeed, it will be only
a ‘decidedly unusual case in which there is substantial
justification under the EAJA even though the agency's
decision was reversed as lacking in ...