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Hendricks v. Bowen

decided: May 25, 1988.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, No. 83-C-851-C--Barbara B. Crabb, Judge.

Easterbrook, Ripple, and Manion, Circuit Judges.

Author: Ripple

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.

Anton Hendricks appeals from the judgment of the district court denying his petition for attorneys' fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). We affirm the judgment of the district court.



We need not review the specifics of Mr. Hendricks' underlying case; a brief restatement of the procedural posture will suffice. Mr. Hendricks applied for disability benefits and supplemental security income benefits in December 1980 and June 1981. After an initial denial of benefits, an administrative law judge (ALJ) granted Mr. Hendricks' claim on February 25, 1982, retroactive to May 1980. In January 1983, however, Mr. Hendricks received a notice from the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary). This notice informed him that more current medical evidence showed that he was capable of performing substantial gainful activity and that he could not be considered disabled. The Secretary did not allege, however, that Mr. Hendricks' medical condition had improved. The Secretary terminated Mr. Hendricks' benefits, effective March 1983. Mr. Hendricks challenged the Secretary's action revoking his benefits. In a decision dated June 28, 1983, an ALJ rejected Mr. Hendricks' contention. The Appeals Council then denied review of the ALJ's decision. That decision therefore became the final action of the Secretary.

On September 23, 1983, Mr. Hendricks sought review of the Secretary's decision in district court. While his case was pending before that court, the Social Security Disability Benefits Reform Act of 1984, Pub. L. No. 98-460, 98 Stat. 1794 (Act or Reform Act) was enacted. The Reform Act mandated that all actions seeking judicial review of termination decisions relating to "medical improvement" pending on or before September 19, 1984, should be remanded to the Secretary for reconsideration in accordance with the new standards set forth in the Act. Pursuant to this requirement, a magistrate remanded Mr. Hendricks' claim to the Secretary. On review, the Secretary, applying the new standards, determined that Mr. Hendricks' disability benefits should be reinstated.

Mr. Hendricks then timely filed a petition for attorneys' fees pursuant to the EAJA. He claimed that he had been a prevailing party in his litigation with the Secretary. The district court denied this petition for two reasons. First, the court found that "it would be a strange construction of the Equal Access to Justice Act to hold that a remand pursuant to legislative mandate could be said to make the plaintiff the 'prevailing party' as required by the EAJA." Hendricks v. Bowen, No. 83-C-851-C, order at 2 (W.D. Wis. Dec. 22, 1986). Second, the court noted that, under the EAJA, attorneys' fees are awarded only when the government's position has not substantially justified. Because the intervening legislative action precluded its consideration of the merits of the underlying case, the court concluded that it could not determine whether the government's position failed under this standard. Nor could it determine, added the court, whether other circumstances existed which would make an award of attorneys' fees unjust. Id. This appeal followed.*fn1



The EAJA provides in pertinent part:

Except as otherwise specifically provided by statute, a court shall award to a prevailing party other than the United States fees and other expenses, in addition to any costs awarded pursuant to subsection (a), incurred by that party in any civil action (other than cases sounding in tort), including proceedings for judicial review of agency action, brought by or against the United States in any court having jurisdiction of that action, 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). Under the statute, Mr. Hendricks is entitled to attorneys' fees if three prerequisites are met. First, Mr. Hendricks must be a prevailing party. Second, the position of the government must not have been substantially justified. Third, Mr. Hendricks' case must not involve special circumstances that would ...

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