RODDY v. COLVIN
ENTRY ON MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES UNDER THE EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE ACT - 32 Motion for Attorney Fees is GRANTED. Ms. Roddy is entitled to, and the Commissioner is ORDERED to pay, attorneys' fees and expenses in the amount of $17,501.40. See Entry for details. Signed by Judge Tanya Walton Pratt on 6/3/2013. (LBT)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
NEW ALBANY DIVISION
LINDA K. RODDY,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Case No. 4:11-cv-00023-TWP-WGH
ENTRY ON MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS’ FEES
UNDER THE EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE ACT
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Linda K. Roddy’s (“Ms. Roddy”) request for
an award of attorneys’ fees and expenses (Dkt. 32) under the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). Ms. Roddy applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)
based on severe physical impairments. On January 18, 2013, the Seventh Circuit Court of
Appeals ordered this case remanded pursuant to the fourth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), for further proceedings.
See, Roddy v. Astrue, 705 F.3d 631 (7th Cir. 2013). Ms. Roddy requests a total of $17,504.40 in
fees and expenses reflecting an hourly rate of $186.38 for 8.4 hours in 2013, an hourly rate of
$173.50 for 83.5 hours in 2011 and 2012, and expenses of $1,451.56. For the following reasons,
Ms. Roddy’s motion (Dkt. 32) is GRANTED.
Section 204(d) of the EAJA, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d), requires in a suit by or against the
federal government that the court award to a prevailing party (other than the United States) his
On February 14, 2013, Carolyn W. Colvin became Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.
Under Rule 25(d)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Carolyn W. Colvin is automatically substituted as the
Defendant in this suit. No further action is necessary to continue this suit by reason of the last sentence of section
205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g).
attorneys’ fees and expenses, unless the court finds that the United States’ position was
substantially justified or special circumstances make an award not just. Financial means tests
also affect eligibility for a fee award, § 2412(d)(2)(B), but those tests rarely come into play for a
person seeking disability benefits under the Social Security Act. The party’s motion to recover
fees must be timely and supported by an itemized statement from the party’s attorney “stating the
actual time expended and the rate at which fees and other expenses were computed.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 2412(d)(1)(B). The amount of attorneys’ fees must be reasonable and “shall be based upon
prevailing market rates for the kind and quality of the services furnished,” subject to a cap rate of
$125.00 per hour plus an increase based on the cost of living if a fee higher than $125.00 is
justified. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A).
The Commissioner opposes Ms. Roddy’s request on the ground that its position was
substantially justified, an issue on which the Commissioner bears the burden of proof. Stewart v.
Astrue, 561 F.3d 679, 683 (7th Cir. 2009).
The Commissioner has not challenged the
justification or amount of fees requested. The Court finds that Ms. Roddy has sufficiently
justified the amount of fees requested by pointing to inflation, including the rising costs of
counsel’s hourly rate, counsel’s assistant’s hourly wage, and the cost of living according to the
relevant Consumer Price Index.
Therefore, Ms. Roddy’s request satisfies the EAJA and
Mathews–Sheets v. Astrue, 653 F.3d 560, 563 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court will now turn to the
The Commissioner’s position is “substantially justified” if “a reasonable person could
conclude that the ALJ’s opinion and the [C]ommissioner’s defense of the opinion had a rational
basis in fact and law.” Bassett v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 847, 859 (7th Cir. 2011). In Bassett, the
Seventh Circuit provided benchmarks helpful in determining whether a position was
The commissioner’s position may be substantially justified even if it turns out to
be completely wrong. Jackson v. Chater, 94 F.3d 274, 278 (7th Cir. 1996). For
example, the ALJ’s opinion might offer merely a “cursory and inadequate”
analysis of an important point, but that shortcoming alone usually will not be
enough to poison the opinion—or the commissioner’s defense of the opinion. See
United States v. Thouvenot, Wade & Moerschen, Inc., 596 F.3d 378, 387 (7th
Cir.2010). That is because the requirement that the ALJ must articulate an
assessment of the evidence is “deliberately flexible,” Stein v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d
317, 319–20 (7th Cir. 1992), so the ALJ’s failure to “connect all the dots” in the
analysis—and the commissioner’s defense of those gaps in the ALJ’s reasoning
—is likely to be grounded in a reasonable, albeit erroneous, interpretation of the
facts and law, see Cunningham v. Barnhart, 440 F.3d 862, 864–65 (7th Cir.
2006). Indeed it typically takes something more egregious than just a run-of-themill error in articulation to make the commissioner’s position unjustified—
something like the ALJ’s ignoring or mischaracterizing a significant body of
evidence, or the commissioner’s defending the ALJ’s opinion on a forbidden
basis. See Golembiewski v. Barnhart, 382 F.3d 721, 724 (7th Cir. 2004).
Bassett, 641 F.3d at 859–60.
In the present case, the Seventh Circuit first found that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) failed to consider Dr. Wright’s, Ms. Roddy’s treating physician, medical opinion or
provide “an accurate and logical bridge” between the evidence and his conclusions. Roddy, 705
F.3d at 636. The court characterized the error as “serious” and “especially troubling.” Id.
Furthermore, the court faulted the Commissioner for “invoking an overly broad conception of
harmless error” by speculating on the ALJ’s reasoning based on rationale not employed in the
ALJ’s opinion. Id. at 637 (citing SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80, 87–88 (1943)). Second,
the Seventh Circuit found that the ALJ impermissibly based his credibility finding on Ms.
Roddy’s failure to seek professional treatment and her ability to perform household tasks. The
court criticized the ALJ’s findings and the Commissioner’s attempt to justify the ALJ’s opinion
with evidence not in the record. Id. at 638.
In opposition to Ms. Roddy’s fee request, the Commissioner argues that the Seventh
Circuit applied Chenery too narrowly and alternatively, that because this Court affirmed the ALJ
on review her position was substantially justified. On the latter point, as the Supreme Court
described in Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 569 (1988): “[O]bviously, the fact that [a
court] agreed or disagreed with the Government does not establish whether its position was
substantially justified. Conceivably, the Government could take a position not substantially
justified, yet win; even more likely, it could take a position that is substantially justified, yet
lose.” Therefore, the Court rejects the Commissioner’s suggestion that this Court’s decision on
review necessarily implies that the Commissioner’s position was substantially justified.
On the former point, the ALJ’s conclusions were more than a “run-of-the-mill error in
articulation.” See Bassett, 641 F.3d at 860. It was unreasonable for the Commissioner to support
the ALJ’s failure to follow the mandate of 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c), which states that
“[r]egardless of its source, we will evaluate every medical opinion we receive.” Therefore, the
Commissioner’s position was not substantially justified. See Cruz v. Astrue, No. 2:09-cv-262PRC, 2011 WL 1157463, at *3 (N.D. Ind. Mar. 29, 2011). The Commissioner’s position was
also unreasonable regarding the ALJ’s credibility determination, given the Seventh Circuit’s
clear precedent that a person’s ability to perform daily activities does not translate into an ability
to work full-time. See Roddy, 705 F.3d at 639. Finally, the Commissioner’s reliance on
harmless error based on speculation was unreasonable. The Seventh Circuit has long held courts
have “no authority to supply a ground for the agency’s decision.” O’Connor v. Sullivan, 938
F.3d 70, 73 (7th Cir. 1991) (citing Chenery, 318 U.S. at 94). Therefore, the Seventh Circuit’s
admonishment in Roddy as not an overly strict interpretation, but is consistent with Chenery and
Seventh Circuit precedent. Consistent with the Seventh Circuit’s opinion in Roddy, the Court
finds that the ALJ ignored or mischaracterized a significant body of evidence, and the
Commissioner defended the ALJ’s opinion on a forbidden basis. See Golembiewski, 382 F.3d at
Accordingly, Ms. Roddy’s motion (Dkt. 32) is GRANTED. Ms. Roddy is entitled to,
and the Commissioner is ORDERED to pay, attorneys’ fees and expenses in the amount of
Hon. Tanya Walton Pratt, Judge
United States District Court
Southern District of Indiana
Timothy J. Vrana
Thomas E. Kieper
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
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