Davis v. Astrue (CONSENT)
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER that the motion for attorney's fees 21 be and is hereby GRANTED to the extent that the plaintiff be and is hereby AWARDED fees in the amount of $4,541.19. The motion that fees be paid directly to counsel is hereby DENIED; that the plaintiffs motion for leave to file a response 27 be and is hereby DENIED as moot. Signed by Honorable Judge Charles S. Coody on 1/11/2013. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Appeals Checklist)(jg, )
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
LINDA FAYE DAVIS,
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:11cv947-CSC
MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER
On December 27, 2012, 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. # 21). The Commissioner
objects to an award of fees because his “position was substantially justified.” (Def’s Obj.,
doc. # 26, at 1).
Contending she was disabled, the plaintiff applied for and was denied disability
insurance benefits by the Commissioner. After her application was denied, she sought
judicial review in this court. On October 3, 2012, the court concluded that the ALJ erred as
a matter of law 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 Shala 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 court concluded that a remand was necessary because the ALJ “wholly fail[ed]
to articulate any reason for discounting the plaintiff’s credibility or her pain testimony.”
(Doc. # 19 at 7). In fact, the court concluded that “[t]he ALJ’s determination amounts to
nothing more than a recitation of the applicable law, and a conclusory finding. There is no
analysis whatsoever, leaving the court to guess at the ALJ’s specific reasons for discounting
Davis’ testimony.” (Id.) Based on the ALJ’s failure to comply with the law that he “conduct
the appropriate legal analysis,” and include “sufficient reasoning” in his determination, it was
“impossible for a reviewing court to determine whether the ultimate decision on the merits
is rational and supported by substantial evidence.” (Id. at 7-8) quoting Cowart v. Schweiker,
662 F.2d 731, 735 (11th Cir. 1981). The ALJ then compounded his mistake by failing to
properly consider Davis’ medical records. (Doc. # 19 at 8 -11).
This case was remanded specifically because the ALJ failed to fulfill his obligations
under the law. Because the ALJ committed legal error requiring a remand for further
proceedings, 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 justified.
The Commissioner argues that the plaintiff is not entitled to fees because “[a]lthough
the ALJ did not articulate these findings in the decision to the Court’s satisfaction, the ALJ
nonetheless expressly, and conceivably correctly, noted in his decision evidence that
contradicted Plaintiff’s subjective complaints.” (Doc. # 26 at 4). The problem with the
Commissioner’s position is two-fold. First, while the ALJ recited facts in his determination,
he conducted no analysis. Consequently, the court was unable to determine on what basis
the ALJ reached his conclusions. It is the ALJ’s responsibility to conduct an analysis of the
facts in accordance with the law of this circuit as well as the Commissioner’s regulations so
that the court can review his determination. Rote recitation of medical records does not
equate to analysis. If an ALJ does not state with specificity his reasons for accepting or
discounting evidence, this court will not speculate as to what those reasons might be.
The court remanded this case because the ALJ failed in his duty to properly consider
the evidence before him, not because he was “conceivably correctly” in his determination.
It is precisely because the ALJ failed in his duties that the court cannot determine whether
the ALJ’s determination was correct. Finally, the arguments presented by the Commissioner
merely rehash his arguments in support of the ALJ’s determination. Consequently, the court
concludes that 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 $4,541.19. The Commissioner does not
challenge any of the hours expended by counsel as unreasonable nor does he challenge the
Accordingly, upon consideration of the motion, and for good cause, it is
ORDERED that the motion for attorney’s fees (doc. # 21) be and is hereby
GRANTED to the extent that the plaintiff be and is hereby AWARDED fees in the amount
However, to the extent that plaintiff’s counsel requests that fees be awarded directly
to counsel, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A) authorizes the court to award fees to the prevailing
party.1 See 28 U.S.C. § (d)(2)(B). The motion that fees be paid directly to counsel is hereby
DENIED. It is further
ORDERED that the plaintiff’s motion for leave to file a response (doc. # 27) be and
is hereby DENIED as moot.
Done this 11th day of January, 2013.
/s/Charles S. Coody
CHARLES S. COODY
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
On May 5, 2008, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided Reeves v. Astrue, 526 F.3d
732 (11 Cir. 2008) in which the Court unambiguously held that “attorney's fees are awarded to the
prevailing party, not to the prevailing party's attorney.” Id. at 738. 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.”).
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