United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S
W. Christel United States Magistrate Judge
filed a “Motion for Award of EAJA Fees and
Expenses” (“Motion”), seeking
attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice
Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412 (“EAJA”). Dkt. 18.
Defendant objects to the Motion, contending Defendant's
position in the underlying case was substantially justified.
Court concludes Defendant's position was not
substantially justified. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Motion
(Dkt. 18) is granted.
3, 2018, the Court found the ALJ erred by failing to fully
and fairly develop the record. Dkt. 16. The Court found the
ALJ's 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).
26, 2018, Plaintiff filed the present Motion. Dkt. 18.
Defendant filed a Response on July 5, 2018. Dkt. 19.
Plaintiff filed a Reply on July 12, 2018. Dkt. 20.
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 he
received a remand of the matter to the Administration for
further consideration. See Dkts. 16, 17. 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 fully and
fairly develop the record. Dkt. 16. Specifically, the Court
found the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the record
because he afforded significant weight to medical opinion
evidence from Dr. Eugene Kester, M.D., yet failed to follow
Dr. Kester's recommendation that Plaintiff undergo
another consultative examination. Id. at 5. The
Court also found the ALJ's error harmful. Id. at
6-7. Due to the ALJ's harmful error, 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. Dkt. 19. Rather, Defendant is attempting to
re-litigate issues raised ...