United States District Court, E.D. California
DEBORAH BARNES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the court on plaintiff's motion for
attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice
Act (“EAJA”). (ECF No. 26.) Plaintiff brought this
action seeking judicial review of a final administrative
decision denying plaintiff's application for Disability
Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.
On March 18, 2019, following the filing of a motion for
summary judgment by plaintiff and a cross-motion for summary
judgment by defendant, the undersigned granted
plaintiff's motion, reversed the decision of the
Commissioner, and remanded this action for the immediate
award of benefits. (ECF No. 24.) On June 17, 2019, plaintiff
filed a motion for attorney's fees. (ECF No. 26.)
Defendant filed an opposition on July 9, 2019. (ECF No. 27.)
EAJA provides that “a court shall award to a prevailing
party . . . fees and other expenses . . . incurred by that
party in any civil action . . . brought by or against the
United States . . . 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); see also Gisbrecht v.
Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 796 (2002). “It is the
government's burden to show that its position was
substantially justified or that special circumstances exist
to make an award unjust.” Gutierrez v.
Barnhart, 274 F.3d 1255, 1258 (9th Cir. 2001).
“party” under the EAJA is defined as including
“an individual whose net worth did not exceed $2, 000,
000 at the time the civil action was filed[.]” 28
U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(B)(i). The term “fees and
other expenses” includes “reasonable attorney
fees.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A). “The
statute explicitly permits the court, in its discretion, to
reduce the amount awarded to the prevailing party to the
extent that the party ‘unduly and unreasonably
protracted' the final resolution of the case.”
Atkins v. Apfel, 154 F.3d 986, 987 (9th Cir. 1998)
(citing 28 U.S.C. §§ 2412(d)(1)(C) &
who obtains a remand in a Social Security case is a
prevailing party for purposes of the EAJA. Shalala v.
Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 300-01 (1993) (“No holding
of this Court has ever denied prevailing-party status . . .
to a plaintiff who won a remand order pursuant to sentence
four of § 405(g) . . ., which terminates the litigation
with victory for the plaintiff.”). “An applicant
for disability benefits becomes a prevailing party for the
purposes of the EAJA if the denial of her benefits is
reversed and remanded regardless of whether disability
benefits ultimately are awarded.” Gutierrez,
274 F.3d at 1257.
the court finds that plaintiff is the prevailing party, that
plaintiff did not unduly delay this litigation, and that
plaintiff's net worth did not exceed two million dollars
when this action was filed. (ECF No. 3.) Moreover, as
explained below, the court finds that the position of the
United States was not substantially justified.
justification means ‘justified in substance or in the
main-that is, justified to a degree that could satisfy a
reasonable person.'” Tobeler v. Colvin,
749 F.3d 830, 832 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Meier v.
Colvin, 727 F.3d 867, 870 (9th Cir. 2013)). “Put
differently, the government's position must have a
‘reasonable basis both in law and fact.'”
Meier, 727 F.3d at 870 (quoting Pierce v.
Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988)).
“‘[T]he position of the United States includes
both the government's litigation position and the
underlying agency action.'” Campbell v.
Astrue, 736 F.3d 867, 868 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting
Meier, 727 F.3d at 870); see also Shafer v.
Astrue, 518 F.3d 1067, 1071 (9th Cir. 2008) (“the
relevant question is whether the government's decision to
defend on appeal the procedural errors committed by the ALJ
was substantially justified”). “In determining
whether a party is eligible for fees under EAJA, the district
court must determine whether the government's position
regarding the specific issue on which the district court
based its remand was ‘substantially justified'-not
whether the ALJ would ultimately deny disability
benefits.” Gardner v. Berryhill, 856 F.3d 652,
656 (9th Cir. 2017).
defendant argues-in a vague and conclusory manner-that
although the court “did not agree with the ALJ's
decision . . . . under proper application of the EAJA
analysis” the government's position was
substantially justified. (Def.'s Opp.'n (ECF No. 27)
at 3.) Defendant fails to offer any further argument or
analysis in support of this mere assertion. Moreover, to say
that the court “did not agree with the ALJ's
decision” understates the degree to which the ALJ's
decision was replete with legal errors.
regard, the ALJ twice erred at step two of the sequential
evaluation by failing to find that plaintiff's heart
condition and obesity were severe impairments. (ECF No. 24 at
8.) The ALJ then erroneously rejected the opinions of a
treating and examining physician. (Id. at 11-13.)
The ALJ also rejected plaintiff's subjective testimony
based on analysis that failed “to even approach a clear
and convincing reason[.]” (Id. at 15.)
Finally, the ALJ's hypothetical question to the
Vocational Expert and Residual Functional Capacity
determination were also erroneous. (Id. at 15-17.)
these circumstances, the court cannot find that the
government's position was substantially justified.
See Tacas v. Astrue, No. CIV 09-2144 EFB, 2011 WL
5984007, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Nov. 29, 2011) (citing
Gutierrez, 274 F.3d at 1259-60) (“when the
government violates its own regulations, fails to acknowledge
settled circuit case law, or fails to adequately develop the
record, its position is not substantially justified.”).