Castleberry v. Colvin(CONSENT)
ORDER that the 19 Motion for attorneys fees be and is herebyGRANTED to the extent that the plaintiff be and is hereby AWARDED fees in the amount of $4,232.00 as further set out in the order. 2. To the extent that plaintiffs counsel requests t hat 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 be and is hereby DENIED as further set out in the order. Signed by Honorable Judge Charles S. Coody on 7/7/2014. (dmn, )
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
DEREK M. CASTLEBERRY,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:13cv411-CSC
MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER
On June 12, 2014, the plaintiff filed a motion for attorney fees pursuant to the Equal
Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). (Doc. # 19). The Commissioner objects to an award of
fees because her “position was substantially justified.” (Doc. # 21, Def’s Res. at 1).
Plaintiff Derek Castleberry (“Castleberry”) applied for and was denied disability
insurance benefits by the Commissioner. After his application was denied, he sought judicial
review in this court. On May 30, 2014, the court concluded that the ALJ erred as a matter
of law and remanded the case for further proceedings. (Doc. # 17 at 5).
A Social Security disability claimant is a prevailing party entitled to seek EAJA fees
when the claimant obtains a remand for reconsideration of his 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)).
It has long been the law of this circuit that the ALJ has a basic duty to develop a full
and fair record. Ellison v. Barnhart, 355 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2003); Kelley v.
Heckler, 761 F.2d 1538 (11th Cir. 1985). In addition, the Supreme Court has concluded that
“Social Security proceedings are inquisitorial rather than adversarial. It is the ALJ’s duty
to investigate the facts and develop the arguments both for and against granting benefits.”
Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 110-111 (2000). In this case, the court concluded that “the ALJ
failed to fully and fairly develop the record concerning the effect of the plaintiff’s dizziness,
loss of balance and headaches on his ability to perform work.” (Doc. # 17 at 6). The court
further concluded that the ALJ’s findings were ambiguous with regard to the effect of
Castleberry’s dizziness on his ability to work. (Id. at 14-15). Because the ALJ’s findings
were ambiguous, the court was unable to determine whether the ALJ’s determination was
based on substantial evidence. Thus, the court concluded that the ALJ committed legal error
requiring a remand for further proceedings when he failed to comply with the legal
requirement that he state with particularity the reasons for his decision. See Id. at 16. 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 the
Commissioner “was substantially justified in her position that substantial evidence supported
the ALJ’s residual functional capacity (RFC) finding.”
(Doc. # 21 at 3).
Commissioner’s position misses the mark because, based on the ALJ’s failure to properly
follow the law, the court was unable to determine whether substantial evidence supported the
RFC finding. The ALF’s failure to properly consider Castleberry’s dizziness in the RFC and
then articulate with particularity the basis for his RFC finding prevented the court from being
able to conclude that the Commissioner’s position was substantially justified. Furthermore,
the arguments presented by the Commissioner in opposition to an award of fees merely
rehash her arguments in support of the ALJ’s determination. The Commissioner offers
potential rationales for the ALJ’s findings but those rationales do not excuse the ALJ’s
failure to properly delineate the evidence upon which he actually relied to make his findings.
The Commissioner’s position was not substantially justified because the ALJ failed
in his duties to properly evaluate all the evidence, and to state with particularity the evidence
upon which he relied as well as the weight given to the evidence. (Doc. # 21 at 16-18).
Consequently, the court concludes that the Commissioner’s position was not reasonable in
law, and the plaintiff is entitled to an award of fees under EAJA.
The plaintiff seeks fees in the amount of $4,232.00. 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. # 19) be and is hereby
GRANTED to the extent that the plaintiff be and is hereby AWARDED fees in the amount
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 be and
is hereby DENIED.
Done this 7th day of July, 2014.
/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
(11th 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
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