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Paulson v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of Colorado

April 17, 2015

SUSAN PAULSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR ATTORNEY FEES PURSUANT TO THE EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE ACT

CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412 (EAJA). (Doc. # 37.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies the motion.

I. BACKGROUND

The facts and procedural history of this case are set out at length in the Administrative Record (Doc. # 10), as well as in the briefing on the merits that both parties submitted (Doc. ## 16, 21, 22), and this Court’s written order (Doc. # 32). In that order, this Court reversed the March 21, 2011 decision of the Administrative Law Judge (AALJ") and remanded the matter to Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security, for further proceedings. (Doc. # 32.) Pursuant to the Court's Order, the Clerk of the Court entered Judgment in Plaintiff's favor. (Doc. # 33.) Thereafter, Plaintiff filed the instant motion (Doc. # 37), which is ripe for the Court’s review (Doc. ## 39, 40). Plaintiff requests $6, 543.55 in attorney's fees under the EAJA. (Id.)

II. DISCUSSION

Under the EAJA, a party that prevails against the United States in court, including a successful Social Security benefits claimant, may be awarded fees if the position of the United States was not Asubstantially justified" and there are no special circumstances that make an award of fees unjust. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A); Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 796 (2002). As ample case law indicates, where, as here, a Social Security disability claimant obtains a remand to the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), she is a prevailing party for purposes of the EAJA. See Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 302 (1993). Further, the Commissioner does not assert any special circumstances that would make an award of fees unjust.

The Commissioner bears the burden of demonstrating that her position was substantially justified-a test that, in this Circuit, Ameans [her] position was reasonable in law and in fact and thus can be justified to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable person." Harrold v. Astrue, 372 F. App’x. 903, 904 (10th Cir. 2010) (unpublished) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). ABoth the Commissioner's prelitigation and litigation positions must have had reasonable bases in fact and law to be considered substantially justified." Id. Further, EAJA fees Agenerally should be awarded where the government's underlying action was unreasonable even if the government advanced a reasonable litigation position." Hackett v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 1166, 1174 (10th Cir. 2007).

In the instant case, Plaintiff argued that the ALJ failed to properly determine that she had fibromyalgia at Step Two of the five-step sequential evaluation process outlined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The Court agreed, and remanded on that basis alone, because it affected the remainder of the ALJ’s decision. Nonetheless, the Court agrees with the Commissioner that her position on this issue was substantially justified, because she argued that the ALJ’s decision was properly based upon Social Security Ruling 12-2p, and relied upon the version of that ruling as it appeared at the time of the ALJ’s decision.[1]Therefore, the Commissioner relied on an arguably defensible administrative record. Crawford v. Sullivan, 935 F.2d 655, 658 (4th Cir. 1991). Accordingly, the Commissioner has met her burden in demonstrating that her position was substantially justified.

III. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, it is ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412 is DENIED. (Doc. # 37.)


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