United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
CLIFFORD J. PROUD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the Court on plaintiff's Motion for
Attorney's Fees Under the Equal Access to Justice Act.
(Doc. 32). Defendant filed a response in
opposition at Doc. 36 and plaintiff filed a reply at Doc. 37.
to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C.
§2412(d)(1)(A), the Court shall award attorney's
fees and expenses to a prevailing party in a civil action
against the United States, including proceedings for judicial
review of agency action, unless the government's position
was substantially justified. The hourly rate for
attorney's fees is not to exceed $125.00 per hour
“unless the court determines that an increase in the
cost of living or a special factor, such as the limited
availability of qualified attorneys for the proceedings
involved, justifies a higher fee.” §2412(d)(2)(A).
case was remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §405(g).
Plaintiff is, therefore, the prevailing party. See,
Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 302 (1993).
response to the motion, the Commissioner argues the Court
should not award fees because the government's position
was substantially justified and plaintiff's fees sought
EAJA does not define the term “substantially justified,
” and the Seventh Circuit has recognized that its
meaning in this context is not “self-evident.”
U.S. v. Thouvenot, Wade & Moerschen, Inc., 596
F.3d 378, 381 (7th Cir. 2010). However, in view of the
purpose of the Act, substantially justified means something
more than “not frivolous;” the government's
position “must have sufficient merit to negate an
inference that the government was coming down on its small
opponent in a careless and oppressive fashion.”
Id., at 381-382.
government's position is substantially justified where it
had a “reasonable basis in law and fact, that is, if a
reasonable person could believe the position was
correct.” Golembiewski v. Barnhart, 382 F.3d
721, 724 (7th Cir. 2004)(internal citations omitted). The
Commissioner bears the burden of demonstrating that her
position was substantially justified, and the Court must make
a determination based on an assessment of both the
government's pre-litigation and litigation conduct,
including the decision of the ALJ. Id.
evidence in the administrative record and the specifics of
the ALJ's decision are discussed in detail in the
Memorandum and Order remanding the case, Doc. 30.
argued that the ALJ erred in weighing medical opinions,
improperly assessed plaintiff's credibility, and failed
to ask appropriate hypothetical questions to the vocational
expert. This Court found merit in plaintiff's first point
and deferred ruling on the other three points. This Court
concluded that the ALJ's review of the medical evidence
was highly selective and undermined his findings as to
plaintiff's credibility, the weight he afforded
plaintiff's treating physician, and his ultimate findings
as to plaintiff's RFC.
Commissioner characterizes the ALJ's errors with regard
to the treating physician's opinion as “errors of
articulation” and argues they do not necessitate a
finding that the government's position was not
substantially justified, Doc.36, pp. 3-4. The Commissioner
cites Stein v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 317, 319-320 (7th
Cir. 1992), in support of this argument. However,
Stein did not establish a per se rule that
attorney's fees will not be awarded whenever the error
was a failure to meet the articulation requirement. See,
Conrad, 434 F.3d at 991.
Commissioner fails to advance arguments that show her
position was substantially justified as a whole. Gatimi
v. Holder, 606 F.3d 344, 349-50 (7th Cir. 2010). She
does not indicate how she had a rational ground for her
arguments nor does she substantiate her claims that a genuine
dispute exited. Therefore, the Court finds that plaintiff is
entitled to an award of attorney's fees under the EAJA.
Commissioner argues that both the hourly rate and the number
of hours ...