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Worley v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of Colorado

December 5, 2014

SYLVIA WORLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR AWARD OF ATTORNEYS’ FEES

Marcia S. Krieger, Chief United States District Judge

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff Sylvia Worley’s Motion for Award of Attorneys’ Fees (“Motion”) (#21) pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. Having considered the Motion, the Commissioner’s Response (#22), and Ms. Worley’s Reply (#23), the Court FINDS and CONCLUDES:

I. Jurisdiction

For purposes of determining the instant motion, the Court exercises subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 28 U.S.C. § 2412.

I. Issue Presented

Ms. Worley asserts that, pursuant to the EAJA, she should be awarded attorney fees in the amount of $4600.38 for her appeal of the administrative law judge’s Decision denying her application for Supplemental Security Income. The Commissioner challenges Ms. Worley’s request for attorney fees on the basis that its position in defending the Decision was substantially justified.

II. Background

Ms. Worley filed a claim for Supplemental Security Income pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-83c. She asserted that she had been disabled from March 18, 2009 with impairments such as diabetes, obesity, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. After a hearing, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) denied Ms. Worley’s claim in a Decision issued January 12, 2011. Ms. Worley appealed that Decision to the Appeals Council, which denied review.

Subsequently, Ms. Worley appealed to this Court, challenging the Decision on four grounds: (1) the ALJ failed to consider that one examining physician, Dr. Dulillo, was unaware that Ms. Worley needed to use a cane; (2) the ALJ did not express the Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) finding on a function by function basis; (3) the ALJ failed to consider inconsistencies between the vocational expert’s testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”); and (4) the ALJ did not account for the restrictions discussed by another physician, Dr. McKinney, despite giving her opinion the “greatest weight.” Pursuant to 42 U.S.C.§ 405(g), this Court exercised reviewed the ALJ’s Decision.

On January 10, 2014, this Court reversed that Decision and remanded the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings. Specifically, this Court held that the ALJ erred (1) in evaluating the opinion of Dr. McKinney because the ALJ deviated from the doctor’s opinion without explanation; and (2) by failing to fully evaluate the effect of Ms. Worley’s use of a cane on a function-by-function basis. In the instant Motion, Ms. Worley requests attorney fees.

III. Discussion

The EAJA provides 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 special circumstances make an award unjust.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). Thus, to prevail under the EAJA, a party must show: (1) that it was the prevailing party; (2) the position of the United States was not substantially justified; and (3) there are no special circumstances that make an award unjust.

In a social security case, a claimant is the prevailing party when the district court remands to the Commissioner of Social Security under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Hackett v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 1166, 1168 (10th Cir. 2007). In an Order dated January 10, 2014, (#17) this Court reversed the Commissioner’s decision denying Ms. Worley’s disability benefits and remanded his case to the Commissioner for additional review. Thus, Ms. Worley is the prevailing party. The Commissioner has not argued that there are any special circumstances that make an award unjust. Therefore, the sole issue before the Court is whether the Commissioner’s position was substantially justified.

The Commissioner bears the burden of demonstrating that her position was substantially justified. Id. at 1170. For purposes of this litigation, the Commissioner’s position is both the position it took in the underlying administrative proceeding and in subsequent litigation defending that position. Id. at 1174. Under the EAJA, fees generally should be awarded where the Commissioner’s underlying action was unreasonable even if the Commissioner advanced a reasonable litigation position. Id. (quoting United States v. Marolf, 277 F.3d 1156, 1159 (10th Cir. 2002)). The Commissioner’s position is substantially justified if it had a reasonable basis in both law and fact. Gilbert v. Shalala, 45 F.3d 1391, 1394 (10th Cir. ...


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