United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S
W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge.
Christina Sue Henry filed a Motion for Attorney Fees and
Costs under EAJA, seeking attorney's fees under the Equal
Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”). Dkt. 13.
Defendant asserts her position in this matter was
substantially justified and requests no fee be awarded. Dkt.
14. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 73 and Local Rule MJR 13, the parties have
consented to have this matter heard by the undersigned
Magistrate Judge. See Dkt. 3.
Court concludes Defendant's position was not
substantially justified. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Motion
Background and Procedural History
March 1, 2018, the Court found the ALJ erred by failing to
properly consider Plaintiff's subjective symptom
testimony. Dkt. 11. The Court found the error was harmful,
reversed the ALJ's decision, and remanded the case to the
Social Security Administration (“Administration”)
for further consideration pursuant to sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). Id.
3, 2018, Plaintiff filed the Motion. Dkt. 13. Defendant filed
a Response, Dkt. 14, and Plaintiff filed a Reply. Dkt. 15.
action brought by or against the United States, the EAJA
states “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 special circumstances make an
award unjust.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A).
According to the United States Supreme Court, “the fee
applicant bears the burden of establishing entitlement to an
award and documenting the appropriate hours expended.”
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437 (1983). The
government has the burden of proving its positions overall
were substantially justified. Hardisty v. Astrue,
592 F.3d 1072, 1076 n. 2 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Flores
v. Shalala, 49 F.3d 562, 569-70 (9th Cir. 1995)).
Further, if the government disputes the reasonableness of the
fee, it also “has a burden of rebuttal that requires
submission of evidence to the district court challenging the
accuracy and reasonableness of the hours charged or the facts
asserted by the prevailing party in its submitted
affidavits.” Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d
1392, 1397-98 (9th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted). The Court
has an independent duty to review the submitted itemized log
of hours to determine the reasonableness of hours requested
in each case. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433, 436-37.
matter, Plaintiff was the prevailing party because she
received a remand of the matter to the Administration for
further consideration. See Dkt. 11, 12. To award a
prevailing plaintiff attorney's fees, the EAJA also
requires finding the position of the United States was not
substantially justified. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B).
Supreme Court has held “substantially justified”
means “‘justified in substance or in the
main' -- that is, justified to a degree that could
satisfy a reasonable person.” Pierce v.
Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988). A
“substantially justified position must have a
reasonable basis both in law and fact.” Guiterrez
v. Barnhart, 274 F.3d 1255, 1258 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing
Pierce, 487 U.S. at 565; Flores, 49 F.3d at
569). The Court “‘must focus on two questions:
first, whether the government was substantially justified in
taking its original action; and second, whether the
government was substantially justified in defending the
validity of the action in court.'” Id. at
1259 (quoting Kali v. Bowen, 854 F.2d 329, 332 (9th
Cir. 1988)). Thus, for the government to prevail, it must
establish both the ALJ's underlying conduct and its
litigation position in defending the ALJ's error were
substantially justified. Id. “[I]f ‘the
government's underlying position was not substantially
justified, '” the Court must award fees and does
not have to address whether the government's litigation
position was justified. Tobeler v. Colvin, 749 F.3d
830, 832 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Meier v. Colvin,
727 F.3d 867, 872 (9th Cir. 2013)). The Court notes the
Administration does not have to prevail on the merits for the
Court to conclude the Administration's position was
substantially justified. See Kali, 854 F.2d at 334.
the Court concluded the ALJ erred when he failed to provide
clear and convincing reasons for discounting Plaintiff's
subjective symptom testimony. Dkt. 11. The Court found the
ALJ failed to explain her findings and consider evidence in
the record. Id. The Court also found the ALJ's
findings were not supported by the record. See id.
Due to the ALJ's harmful errors, the Court reversed the
ALJ's decision denying benefits and remanded the case for
further proceedings. Id.
not the exceptional case where the subtle differences between
the substantial evidence and substantial justification
standards merit remand and reversal without awarding attorney
fees and costs. Instead, this Court's “holding that
the agency's decision . . . was unsupported by
substantial evidence is . . . a strong indication that the
position of the United States . . . was not substantially
justified.” Meier, 727 F.3d at 872. Further,
there are no special circumstances that render an EAJA award
Court is not persuaded by Defendant's Response to the
Motion. See Dkt. 14. The Court finds Defendant is
attempting to re-litigate issues raised in the briefing on
the merits of this case, and she selectively cites to