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Moore v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

November 13, 2014

JENNIFER LEE MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

SUSAN E. COX, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff seeks recovery of her attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion for Attorneys' Fees is granted [38] and plaintiff is awarded $20, 244.07.

STATEMENT

Plaintiff, Jennifer Lee Moore ("plaintiff"), seeks recovery of her attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"). The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") opposes plaintiff's motion, claiming that the fees are unreasonable and that the Commissioner was substantially justified in arguing against plaintiff's application for disability benefits. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion for Attorneys' Fees is granted and plaintiff is awarded $20, 244.07 [38].

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"). The application was denied by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, and this court affirmed the ALJ's decision. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded.[1] Plaintiff now seeks attorney's fees pursuant to the EAJA.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The EAJA provides successful plaintiffs in litigation with the United States with reasonable awards for attorney fees and other expenses accrued in the process of litigation.[2] For a plaintiff to recover fees under the EAJA, she must establish four things: 1) that plaintiff is a "prevailing party;" 2) that the government's position was not "substantially justified;" 3) that there are no special circumstances which would make an award unjust; and 4) the plaintiff filed a timely application with the district court.[3]

III. DISCUSSION

The Commissioner does not dispute that plaintiff is a prevailing party and that plaintiff filed a timely application with the court. However, the Commissioner argues that the government's position was substantially justified, and that the EAJA fees requested by plaintiff are in excess of what is reasonable.[4]

A. Substantial Justification

The Commissioner has the burden of proving that her position was substantially justified.[5] The Commissioner makes several arguments that we will condense into three: (1) the ALJ's error was not so egregious that the Commissioner's defense of it was unjustified; (2) the Seventh Circuit's rejection of one of plaintiff's arguments shows the Commissioner's position was substantially justified, and (3) the District Court's decision to affirm the ALJ's decision shows the Commissioner's position was substantially justified.

For the Commissioner's position to be considered "substantially justified, " the Commissioner does not need to be correct, but must be justified to a degree that would satisfy a reasonable person.[6] The position must have a reasonable basis in truth for the facts alleged, a reasonable basis in law for the theory propounded; and a connection between the facts alleged and the theory propounded.[7] For the Commissioner's defense of an ALJ's opinion to be unjustified, the ALJ must have ignored or mischaracterized a significant body of evidence.[8]

Though the Commissioner argues that the ALJ's error was not egregious, the Seventh Circuit found that the ALJ mischaracterized a significant body of evidence. The court explained that there were a "myriad of problems with the ALJ's assessment of the evidence, " and found that "the ALJ erred in utterly failing to even acknowledge the contrary evidence... [and] presented only a skewed version of the evidence."[9] The court pointed to "years of records" that were ignored when the ALJ "fail[ed] to even acknowledge the evidence."[10] Additionally, the court criticized the ALJ's conclusions, stating that the ALJ's finding (that some of the plaintiff's emergency room visits may be related to drug-seeking behavior) did not support the ALJ's conclusion (that plaintiff's migraines imposed no limitations on her ability to work).[11] The court concluded that the ALJ's opinion was "troubling" and "an extreme example of a ...


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