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. 31). Defendant filed a response in opposition at Doc.
33 and plaintiff filed a reply at Doc. 34.
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. 29.
argued that the ALJ erred in not giving appropriate weight to
the physicians of record and the ALJ erred in assessing
plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC). This
Court found merit in plaintiff's first point and deferred
ruling on the other point. This Court noted that the
Commissioner violated the Chenery doctrine by
defending the ALJ's decision on a ground that the agency
had not relied on within its decision. Doc. 29, p. 21; See,
SEC v. Chenery Corporation, 318 U.S. 80 (1943). The
Court concluded, and the Commissioner conceded, that the ALJ
failed to properly analyze plaintiff's migraine
condition. The Court determined that the ALJ's reasons
for rejecting the treating physician's opinions were not
supported by the record and were based on a highly selective
review of the medical evidence.
Commissioner characterizes the ALJ's errors with regard
to the treating physician's opinions 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 v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 987, 991 (7th Cir.
Commissioner also argues that this Court did not use
“strong language” in its opinion and that the
Court's analysis and language used suggests the case was
remanded on relatively narrow grounds in relation to the
agency's position as a whole. The Court agrees with
plaintiff's rebuttal that the Court made it clear this
was not a “close case.” The ALJ's errors
within his opinion and the Commissioner's errors within
her arguments violated long-standing legal precedent and as a
result the Commissioner's position cannot be
substantially justified. Pierce v. Underwood, 487
U.S. 552, 561 (1988); Golembiewski, 382 F.3d at 724;
Stewart v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 679, 684 (7th Cir.
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.