Tew v. Astrue
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting 20 MOTION for Attorney Fees; awarding the plaintiff fees in the amount of $4,949.04 and directing that the check for the amount of attorney's fees be mailed to counsel for the plaintiff. Signed by Honorable Judge Charles S. Coody on 8/30/2011. (br, )
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
MALISSA ANN TEW,
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
Commissioner of Social Security,
) CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:09cv799-CSC
MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER
On May 11, 2011, the plaintiff filed a motion for attorney’s fees pursuant to the Equal
Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). (Doc. # 20). The Commissioner objects
to an award of fees because his “position – although ultimately unsuccessful – was substantially
justified, that is reasonable in law and fact.” (Def’s Res., doc. # 24 at 1).
Tew applied for and was denied disability insurance and supplemental security income
benefits by the Commissioner. After her application was denied, she sought judicial review in
this court. On February 25, 2011, the court concluded that the ALJ erred and remanded the case
for further proceedings.
A Social Security disability claimant is a prevailing party entitled to seek EAJA fees
when the claimant obtains a remand for reconsideration of her case by the Commissioner. See
Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 300-01 (1993). Thus, the plaintiff is a prevailing party.
Under the EAJA, the court “shall award” attorney’s fees “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). “The government’s position is substantially justified under the EAJA when it is
justified to a degree that would satisfy a reasonable person - i.e. when it has a reasonable basis
in both law and fact. The government bears the burden of showing that its position was
substantially justified.” United States v. Douglas, 55 F.3d 584, 588 (11th Cir. 1995) (quoting
Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988).
The responsibility for assessing a claimant’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
belongs to the ALJ at the administrative law judge hearing level. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1546(c). The
Commissioner’s own regulations require that the ALJ determine a person’s RFC “based on all
the relevant evidence in . . . [the] case record” including the medical evidence. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1545(a) and (c) (emphasis added). The court concluded that the ALJ, in making the
residual functional capacity determination, did not properly consider all of the medical evidence
before him because he did not consider Tew’s mental impairments. The court further found that
the ALJ also failed to consider the mental limitations identified for two physicians. The
limitations identified by Dr. Jacob and Dr. Hinton were not included in the ALJ’s determination
of Tew’s residual functional capacity. (Doc. # 18 at 7). Because the ALJ failed to comply with
the legal requirement that he properly consider all evidence in the record when determining the
plaintiff’s RFC, he committed legal error requiring a remand for further proceedings. Thus, the
Commissioner’s position in this litigation did not have a reasonable basis in law. Pierce
requires that the government’s position be reasonable both in fact and law to be substantially
The Commissioner argues that the plaintiff is not entitled to fees because his position was
“reasonable in both law and fact.” (Def’s Res., doc. # 24, at 3). The defendant’s arguments
however merely rehash his positions in support of the ALJ’s determination and completely miss
the mark. The court remanded the case because the ALJ failed in his duty to properly consider
all the medical evidence in the record when determining the plaintiff’s residual functional
capacity. While the ALJ considered the plaintiff’s depression caused mild limitations, the ALJ
failed to consider limitations caused by Tew’s other mental limitations. Consequently, because
the ALJ failed to comply with the legal requirements that he consider all the medical evidence,
the Commissioner’s position was not reasonable in law and was not substantially justified. The
plaintiff is entitled to an award of fees under EAJA.
The plaintiff seeks fees in the amount of $4,949.04.1 (Doc. #20). The Commissioner
does not challenge any of the hours expended by counsel as unreasonable nor does he challenge
the hourly rate. Accordingly, upon consideration of the motion, and for good cause, it is
ORDERED that the motion for attorney’s fees (doc. # 18) be and is hereby GRANTED,
that the plaintiff be and is hereby AWARDED fees in the amount of $4,949.042 and that the
check for the amount of attorney’s fees be mailed to counsel for the plaintiff.
Done this 30th day of August 2011.
/s/Charles S. Coody
CHARLES S. COODY
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
To the extent that Plaintiff’s counsel seeks an additional award of attorney’s fees, see Pl’s
Reply, doc. # 29, that request is not properly before the court.
28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A) authorizes the court to award fees to the prevailing party. See 28
U.S.C. § (d)(2)(B). On June 14, 2010, the United States Supreme Court decided Astrue v. Ratliff, 130
S.Ct. 2521 (2010) in which the Court unambiguously held that attorney’s fees are awarded to the
prevailing litigant, not to prevailing litigant’s attorney. See also Reeves v. Astrue, 526 F.3d 732, 738 (11th
Cir. 2008) (“attorney’s fees are awarded to the prevailing party, not to the prevailing party's attorney.”).
Thus, fees are awarded directly to the plaintiff.
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