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Steiner v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 27, 2015

MICHELLE L. STEINER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

For Michelle L. Steiner, Plaintiff: Michael W. Seckar, Michael W. Seckar, P.C., Pueblo, CO; Rachael Adair Lundy, Michael W. Seckar, P.C., Pueblo, CO.

For Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Alexess D. Rea, Social Security Administration-Denver, Office of the General Counsel, Region VIII, Denver, CO; J. Benedict Garcia, U.S. Attorney's Office-Denver, Denver, CO.

ORDER

Boyd N. Boland, United States Magistrate Judge.

This matter arises on the plaintiff's Motion for Award of Attorneys' Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412 [Doc. #28, filed 11/03/2014] (the " Motion"). The Motion is GRANTED, and the plaintiff is awarded attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $6, 556.01.

BACKGROUND

In October 2009, the plaintiff filed for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II, sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § § 416(i) and 223(d), and Supplemental Security Income Benefits under Title XVI, section 1614(a)(3)(A), 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A), stating that she had become disabled beginning December 22, 2006. Social Security Administrative Record [Doc. #11] (the " Record"), p. 13.[1] Her applications were denied on March 19, 2010. Id. at pp. 58-59. The plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ"). Id. at pp. 89-90. The hearing was held on September 7, 2011. Id. at pp. 29-57. On October 24, 2011, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that the plaintiff was disabled as of May 28, 2011. The plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. Id. at pp. 6-8. The Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review. Id. at pp. 1-5. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the plaintiff sought judicial review on August 9, 2013 [Doc. #3]. On August 6, 2014, I reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded the case for reconsideration consistent with the court's findings and conclusions. Order [Doc. #26]. The plaintiff seeks an award of attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412 (" EAJA").

THE LAW

Section 2412 provides that " 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), . . . 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). " Whether or not the position of the United States was substantially justified shall be determined on the basis of the record (including the record with respect to the action or failure to act by the agency upon which the civil action is based) which is made in the civil action for which fees and other expenses are sought." Id. at § 2412(d)(1)(B).

The United States bears the burden of establishing that its litigation position was substantially justified. Weakley v, Bowen, 803 F.2d 575, 577 (10th Cir. 1986). " The standard under which substantial justification is scrutinized, articulated in EAJA's legislative history and uniformly cited by most courts addressing the issue (including this court), is that of reasonableness in both law and fact." Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). " In other words, the government's position must be justified in substance or in the main--that is, justified to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable person." Gatson v. Bowen, 854 F.2d 379, 380 (10th Cir. 1988) (internal quotations and citations omitted). " [T]he reasonableness test breaks down into three parts: the government must show that there is a reasonable basis . . . for the facts alleged . . .; that there exists a reasonable basis in law for the theory it propounds; and that the facts alleged will reasonably support the legal theory advanced." Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted).[2]

A person is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act only if her physical and mental impairments preclude her from performing both her previous work and any other " substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2). To be disabling, the claimant's condition must be so functionally limiting as to preclude any substantial gainful activity for at least twelve consecutive months. See Kelley v. Chater, 62 F.3d 335, 338 (10th Cir. 1995). The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled:

1. The ALJ must first ascertain whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. A claimant who is working is not disabled regardless of the medical findings.
2. The ALJ must then determine whether the claimed impairment is " severe." A " severe impairment" must significantly limit the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.
3. The ALJ must then determine if the impairment meets or medically equals in severity certain impairments described in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
4. If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has the residual functional capacity (" RFC") to perform ...

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