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Kenneth D. Goin v. Carolyn W. Colvin

April 29, 2013

KENNETH D. GOIN,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
DEFENDANT,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION,
INTERESTED PARTY.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jane J. Boyle United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Before the Court is Plaintiff Kenneth D. Goin's opposed Motion for Attorney Fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (doc. 22), filed on March 25, 2013, and related Request for Supplement Award (doc. 24), filed with Plaintiff's reply briefing on April 22, 2013. Defendant Carolyn Colvin, the Commissioner of Social Security,*fn1 opposes the Motion in several respects. For the reasons stated below, the Motion is GRANTED in its entirety.

I.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff brought this action for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and for Supplemental Social Security Income benefits under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c). Doc. 1, Compl. at 1-2. Plaintiff's medical records indicate that at various times he had suffered from a bulging disc producing marginal central spinal canal narrowing, severe hypertension, coronary artery occlusive disease, a myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, severe ischemic cardiomyopathy, and anxiety with depression. Doc. 19, F&R at 2. Plaintiff alleged that he could no longer work and filed a claim for disability insurance benefits and supplemental income with the Social Security Administration. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found that Plaintiff had not engaged in gainful activity since the alleged disability onset date (step one); that his degenerative disc disease and hypertension were sever impairments since February 2003 and that his coronary artery disease was a severe impairment after September 13, 2009 (step two); that these impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment under 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 (step three); that prior to but not after September 13, 2009, Plaintiff was capable of performing his prior work (step four); that prior to but not after September 13, 2009, Plaintiff could also perform other jobs (step five). Id. at 3-4. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff became disabled on-- but not before--September 13, 2009. Id. at 4. The ALJ denied Plaintiff's disability claim in its entirety and denied most of the supplemental income claim at step four. Id. The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision.

Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision by filing his Complaint in federal court. Doc. 1, Compl. The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Toliver, who entered Findings and Recommendations (doc. 19) that the Commissioner's decision be reversed and remanded. The Findings recognized that Plaintiff raised six issues on appeal, including whether (1) the ALJ applied an improper legal standard in determining that Plaintiff's coronary artery disease was a "nonsevere impairment" before September 13, 2009, (2) whether the ALJ's onset date finding was supported by substantial evidence,

(3) whether the ALJ was required to call a medical advisor to determine onset dates, (4) whether the ALJ's determinations regarding Plaintiff's abilities on or before September 13, 2009 was supported by substantial evidence, (5) whether the ALJ erred in failing to address the treating physician's medical opinions, and (6) whether the ALJ's failure to follow the psychiatric review technique regulation justifies reversal and remand. Doc. 19, F&R at 5-6. The Magistrate Judge concluded that "reversal is plainly warranted based on Claim 6," because Plaintiff's treating physician had recorded Plaintiff's anxiety and depression, but those conditions were not acknowledged by the ALJ or considered in his decision. Id. at 6-8. The Magistrate Judge declined to address Plaintiff's remaining arguments, given that reversal was required under the sixth argument. Id. at 6.

Without no objections filed to the Findings and Recommendations, this Court reviewed the recommendation for plain error. Doc. 20, Order. On March 19, 2013, this Court adopted the Magistrate Judge's Findings and Recommendations and entered a judgment reversing the ALJ's decision and remanding for further proceedings. Id.; doc. 21, J.

On March 25, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Attorney Fees (doc. 22) under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412, alleging that Defendant has failed to satisfy its burden to prove that the Social Security Administration's position was "substantially justified" and that Plaintiff, as the prevailing party, is entitled to attorney's fees. Plaintiff seeks a total of $15,261.40 in litigating this action. Doc. 24, Reply. Defendant opposes the amount of fees requested by Plaintiff. Doc. 23, Resp.

II.

LEGAL STANDARD

The Equal Access to Justice Act provides for the award of court costs and attorney's fees to the "prevailing party" in a judicial review of agency action, unless the position of the United States was "substantially justified" or "special circumstances" would make an award unjust. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). A party who wins a remand order in a social security disability case is a "prevailing party" under the EAJA. Rice v. Astrue, 609 F.3d 831, 833-34 (5th Cir. 2010); Baker v. Bowen, 839 F.2d 1075, 1081 (5th Cir. 1988). Because Plaintiff successfully achieved a reversal and remand of the Commissioner's decision, Plaintiff is considered the "prevailing party" in this action. Plaintiff also demonstrates that his net worth does not exceed the ceiling in 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(B). Doc. 22, Mot at 1 (citing doc. 22-1, Goin Aff.). There are no special circumstances in the instant case that would make an award of attorney's fees unjust. Thus, the only question before the Court is whether the Government's position was "substantially justified."

In order to be substantially justified, the Commissioner's position must have a reasonable basis in law and in fact. Broussard v. Bowen, 828 F.2d 310, 312 (5th Cir. 1987); Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988). The government bears the burden of proving that its position was substantially justified at every stage of the proceedings. Davidson v. Veneman, 317 F.3d 503, 506 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing Herron v. Bowen, 788 F.2d 1127, 1130 (5th Cir. 1986)); see Flores v. Shalala, 49 F.3d 562, 569 (9th Cir. 1995) (stating that the government must show that it was substantially justified with respect to the issue on which the court based its remand). The ALJ's decision is part of the agency's position and must also be substantially justified. Cummings v. Sullivan, 950 F.2d 492, 497 (7th Cir. 1991); Herndon v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 3:08-CV-21-WAP-DAS, 2009 U.S. Dist. ...


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