The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frazier, Magistrate Judge
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
This matter has been referred to United States Magistrate Judge Philip M. Frazier by United States District Judge J. Phil Gilbert pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), and SDIL-LR 72.1(a) for a Report and Recommendation. Plaintiff Jera Brown ("Brown") seeks attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. §2412, alleging that the Defendant's position was not "substantially justified" and that Plaintiff is a prevailing party under EAJA.
Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security disability benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, on behalf of her minor daughter, R.B., and R.B. was found not disabled by the Administration, in a final decision by an ALJ dated July 10, 2008 (Tr. 41-53). This Court reviewed the ALJ's decision upon Plaintiff's appeal. A Report and Recommendation was submitted on January 27, 2010 (Doc. 26).
In its Report, the Court concluded that the ALJ correctly found that R.B.'s cerebral palsy did not interfere with her age-appropriate major daily activities, and that the ALJ correctly found no marked limitation in the "moving about and manipulating objects" domain, the "health and physical well-being" domain, and the "attending and completing tasks" domain.
This Court did find that the ALJ erred in failing to discuss, with specificity, the ALJ's credibility determination of Plaintiff. Specifically, this Court determined that the ALJ found Plaintiff to be less credible only because the ALJ had come to a conclusion that was inconsistent with Plaintiff's statements. In other words, the ALJ provided no basis that could be found in the record for the determination that Plaintiff was less than credible. Additionally, the Court found that the ALJ erred in concluding that R.B. had no marked limitation in the "caring for yourself" domain. As the Court previously stated in its Report, "[u]nfortunately, the ALJ did not build a logical bridge from the evidence -- or even mention what that evidence was -- to the conclusion, and therefore, prevented meaningful review" (Doc. 26).
Based on these findings of fact and conclusions of law, the Court recommended that the ALJ's decision be reversed and remanded for further proceedings and a new decision. This recommendation was adopted by Judge Gilbert in an April 27, 2010 Order (Doc. 29). On remand, the ALJ was asked to comply with Social Security Ruling 96-7p by explaining the reasons for her assessment of Plaintiff's credibility. The ALJ was further asked to support her conclusion about R.B.'s ability to care for herself with specific evidence that would allow for meaningful review.
After the decision of the ALJ was reversed and remanded, Plaintiff filed a motion for attorney's fees under EAJA (Doc. 33).
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).
The Seventh Circuit has held that "a position taken by the Commissioner is substantially justified if it has a reasonable basis in fact and law, and if there is a reasonable connection between the facts and the legal theory." Stewart v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 679, 683 (7th Cir. 2009). The Commissioner bears the burden of proving that both his pre-litigation conduct -- including the ALJ's decision itself -- and his subsequent litigation position were justified based on a reasonable connection between the facts and the legal theory. Id.
The EAJA provides that a district court may award attorney's fees where (1) the claimant is a "prevailing party"; (2) the government was not substantially justified; (3) no "special circumstances make an award unjust"; and (4) the fee application is submitted to the court within 30 days of final judgment and is supported by an itemized statement. Golembiewski v. Barnhart, 382 F.3d 721, 723-24 (7th Cir. 2004) citing 28 U.S.C. ...