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Evans v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

June 18, 2015

TEVA M. EVANS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

R. BROOKE JACKSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This case is before the Court on plaintiff Teva Evans’s Application for an Award of Attorney’s Fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412 [EFC No. 24]. For the following reasons, the application is denied.

I. FACTS

Ms. Evans’ case first came before this Court on appeal from an unfavorable decision from the Social Security Administration in 2012, at which point I remanded it to the Commissioner in light of several legal deficiencies. Evans v. Astrue, No. 10-cv-1579-RBJ, 855 F.Supp.2d 1231 (D. Colo. Jan. 3, 2012). On remand, the ALJ held another hearing on Ms. Evans’ claim and then issued a second unfavorable opinion on October 30, 2012. Ms. Evans subsequently filed a timely appeal of the second decision in this Court. On August 6, 2014, this Court again reversed and remanded the decision of the ALJ, finding that (1) the ALJ erroneously found that Ms. Evans could work as a silverware wrapper, and the Court could not find that this error was harmless; and (2) the ALJ did not pose specific questions about Ms. Evans’ mental limitations to the vocational expert (“VE”), but instead relied on a limitation to unskilled work to account for those limitations. ECF No. 19. Ms. Evans now asks for an award of attorney’s fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act. The government objects to such an award, arguing that its position was substantially justified.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Award of Fees Under the EAJA.

The Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) provides:

Except as otherwise specifically provided by statute, a court shall award to a prevailing party other than the United States fees and other expenses . . . incurred by that party in any civil action . . . 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 that (1) 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 plaintiff is the prevailing party when the district court remands to the Commissioner of Social Security under the fourth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).[1] Hackett v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 1166, 1168 (10th Cir. 2007). In its earlier Order, ECF No. 19, this Court reversed the decision of the Commissioner to deny Ms. Evans benefits and remanded the case to the Commissioner for additional review. Thus, Ms. Evans was the prevailing party. The government has not argued that there are any special circumstances that make an award unjust. Therefore, this analysis focuses on the second prong: whether the government’s position was substantially justified.

The burden is on the government to show that its position (including the decision of the ALJ on remand and its response to Ms. Evans’ appeal) was substantially justified. Id. at 1170. “The test for substantial justification . . . is one of reasonableness in law and fact. Thus, the government’s position must be justified to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable person. The government’s position can be justified even though it is not correct.” Id. at 1172 (internal citations and quotations omitted). However, the government’s position is not substantially justified if it is unreasonable “as a whole.” Id. at 1175.

B. The ALJ’s Decision Generally.

It is important to recall at the outset that this Court agreed with the ALJ’s decision in all but two respects. The Court expressly noted at the end of its second remand order that it appreciated the ALJ’s diligence in his consideration of the case. ECF No. 19 at 19. The two issues on which the Court again remanded the case were issues on which reasonable minds could differ. Ultimately the Court concluded that the two issues collectively were ...


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