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Hall v. Berryhill

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

May 10, 2018

MICHAEL W. HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES

          JAMES L. ROBART, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the court on Plaintiff Michael W. Hall's motion for attorneys' fees and costs (Dkt. # 29) pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the denial of Mr. Hall's disability benefits and remanded for further proceedings. (9th Cir. Mem. (Dkt. # 26) at 6.) Mr. Hall now seeks to recover his attorneys' fees and costs incurred in pursuing his claim before this court and the Ninth Circuit. The Commissioner opposes Mr. Hall's motion. (Resp. (Dkt. # 30).) For the reasons discussed below, the court GRANTS the motion, with an adjustment to the costs award.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Hall filed for disability benefits alleging a disability onset date of April 1, 2007. (R&R (Dkt. # 17) at 1.) On October 11, 2011, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) conducted a hearing to review Mr. Hall's claim. (Id. at 2.) Among other things, Mr. Hall relied on opinions from his mental health therapist, Greg Arnold, to argue that he was disabled due to his mental impairments. (See Hall Op. Br. (Dkt. # 13) at 13-20.) Mr. Hall submitted to the ALJ Mr. Arnold's September 2010 and July 2011 opinions. (Id. at 13, 18.)

         The ALJ denied Mr. Hall's claim for benefits on October 27, 2011. (R&R at 2.) The ALJ gave little weight to Mr. Arnold's September 2010 opinion, but purported to give significant weight to Mr. Arnold's July 2011 opinion. (See Id. at 9.)

         Mr. Hall appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, and submitted a November 2011 letter from Mr. Arnold in which Mr. Arnold attempted to clarify his July 2011 opinion. (See AR (Dkt. # 10) at 1061.) Mr. Arnold stated that Mr. Hall's “bipolar disorder includes cycles of severe depression every two to three months that increase isolation severely and would cause [Mr. Hall] to miss multiple days of work.” (Id.) Mr. Arnold's July 2011 opinion had stated merely that Mr. Hall had “depressive feelings” that “generally last between 3-5 days and during that time [Mr. Hall] will not answer the phone or door.” (Id. at 1019.) The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision. (R&R at 2.)

         Mr. Hall then appealed the denial of his disability benefits to this court. (Compl. (Dkt. # 3).) Mr. Hall argued that the ALJ erred in assessing Mr. Arnold's July 2011 opinion.[1] (See Hall Op. Br. at 18-20.) In particular, Mr. Hall argued that the ALJ's residual functional capacity determination failed to account for Mr. Arnold's opinion, as clarified by the November 2011 letter, that Mr. Hall would likely miss multiple days of work every two to three months. (Id. at 19-20.)

         Magistrate Judge John L. Weinberg issued a report and recommendation on June 10, 2014, affirming the ALJ's decision. (R&R at 14.) Magistrate Judge Weinberg held that the ALJ's decision adequately addressed Mr. Arnold's July 2011 opinion, and that Mr. Arnold's November 2011 letter was consistent with the ALJ's interpretation of the July 2011 opinion: “Mr. Arnold's opinion regarding missing work several days every few months during a depressive cycle is consistent with the vocational expert's testimony that this amount of absence [once a month] is acceptable to employers.” (Id. at 11.)

         The court adopted Magistrate Judge Weinberg's report and recommendation and affirmed the ALJ's decision. (Order Adopting R&R (Dkt. # 20).) The court held that the ALJ properly weighed the evidence when evaluating Mr. Arnold's 2011 opinions, and that the ALJ supported his findings with sufficient reasons. (Id. at 6-7.)

         On December 15, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an unpublished memorandum reversing the court's decision and remanding the case to the ALJ for further proceedings. (9th Cir. Mem. at 6.) The Ninth Circuit agreed with the court on all but one issue: evaluation of Mr. Arnold's July 2011 opinion. (Id. at 2.) The Ninth Circuit interpreted Mr. Arnold's November 2011 letter to mean that Mr. Hall “would miss more than one day of work per month.” (Id. at 5.) Accordingly, the November 2011 letter “deprive[d] the ALJ's decision denying benefits of substantial evidence, ” because the vocational expert on whose testimony the ALJ relied testified that employers would not tolerate more than one absence per month. (Id.) The Ninth Circuit remanded for further proceedings because “[i]t is not clear from the administrative record that the ALJ would be required to award benefits if the medical evidence were reevaluated with Mr. Arnold's November 2011 addendum to his July 2011 opinion.” (Id. at 6.)

         Pursuant to the Ninth Circuit's decision, this court issued an order remanding the matter to the ALJ on March 22, 2018. (Order Remanding to ALJ (Dkt. # 28).)

         III. DISCUSSION

         The court has discretion to grant or deny a request for attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to the EAJA. Pierce v. Underwood, 487 ...


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