United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
ARNOLD SANSONE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Eubanks-Carswell seeks an award of $5, 982.41 in
attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act
(EAJA), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). (Doc. 29). The Commissioner
opposes this motion. (Doc. 31)
Eubanks-Carswell protectively applied for Title II Disability
Insurance Benefits and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income
on November 13, 2013. (Doc. 22, pp. 1-2). She attributed her
disability to bipolar, anxiety, sciatic nerve damage,
vertigo, vision, and colon disease. (Id. at p. 3).
Ms. Eubanks-Carswell requested and received a hearing before
an administrative law judge (ALJ), who determined she ha
these severe impairments: status post (s/p) right shoulder
arthroscopic repair, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety
disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. (Id.
at pp. 2, 4). Despite these impairments, the ALJ concluded
Ms. Eubanks-Carswell had the residual functional capacity to
perform light work, subject to the limitations in the
decision, and Ms. Eubanks-Carswell could perform jobs that
existed in significant numbers in the national economy.
(Id. at p. 4). The ALJ held Ms. Eubanks-Carswell was
not disabled. (Id. at p. 5). Ms. Eubanks-Carswell
appealed to the Appeals Council which denied her request for
review. (Id. at p. 2). Having exhausted her
administrative remedies, Ms. Eubanks-Carswell timely appealed
to this court. (Doc. 1).
parties briefed prepared a joint memorandum on the issues.
(Doc. 21). After considering the merits of the parties'
positions, the court ruled for Ms. Eubanks-Carswell. (Doc.
22, p. 10). The court found the ALJ failed to state how much
weight he gave to Ms. Raquel Findley-Hawthorne, Ms.
Eubanks-Carswell's licensed social worker. (Id.
at p. 8). The court recognized the ALJ discussed Ms.
Findley-Hawthorne's statement. (Id. at pp. 8-9).
But the court noted even though the ALJ need not refer to
every piece of evidence, the ALJ must consider all evidence
and articulate the weight given to probative evidence.
(Id. at p. 8). The court found the ALJ should have
assigned weight to Ms. Findley-Hawthorne's opinion
because it was probative evidence. (Id. at pp.
Eubanks-Carswell filed this motion under the EAJA seeking an
award of $5, 982.41 in attorney's fees. (Doc. 29). The
motion is supported by counsel's affidavit and an
itemized schedule of hours and services rendered. (Docs. 24,
pp. 4-6; 24-1).
EAJA states “a court shall award to a prevailing party
other than the United States” reasonable attorney's
fees and costs “incurred by that party in any civil
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
prerequisites to an award of fees under the EAJA are: (1) the
claimant is a prevailing party in a non-tort suit involving
the United States; (2) the Government's position was not
substantially justified; (3) the claimant timely applied for
attorney's fees; (4) the claimant had a net worth of less
than $2 million when the complaint was filed; and (5) no
special circumstances would make the award of fees unjust. 28
U.S.C. § 2412(d).
court's order reversing the ALJ's decision
constituted a final order for the EAJA. Shalala v.
Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 296 (1993). “In sentence
four cases, the filing period begins after the final judgment
(‘affirming, modifying, or reversing') is entered
by the court and the appeal period has run, so that the
judgment is no longer appealable.” Melkonyan v.
Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89, 102 (1991) (citing 28 U.S.C.
word “substantially, ” as used in the EAJA means:
“‘justified in substance or in the main'-that
is, justified to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable
person.” Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552,
565 (1988). In Pierce, the Supreme Court explained
“a position can be justified even though it is not
correct, and we believe it can be substantially (i.e. for the
most part) justified if a reasonable person could think it
correct, that is, if it has a reasonable basis in law and
fact.” Id. at 585 n. 2.
phrase “position of the United States” includes
the Commissioner's position in the underlying
administrative proceedings and his position in the court
proceedings. Stratton v. Bowen, 827 F.2d 1447, 1449
n. 2 (11th Cir. 1987). “The government's success or
failure on the merits at each level may be evidence of
whether its position was substantially justified, but that
success or failure alone is not determinative of the
issue.” Hadden v. Bowen, 851 F.2d 1266, 1267
(10th Cir. 1988). If the court finds some, but not all of the
Commissioner's positions were substantially justified
then the Commissioner “may be required to pay EAJA fees
to a prevailing party for the award on any claim that was not
substantially justified.” United States v.
Jones, 125 F.3d 1418, 1427 (11th Cir. 1997). However,
when the plaintiff's claims are based on a single set of
facts and the issues are intertwined, then the plaintiff may
recover fees for counsel's work on the entire case.
Id. (citing Haitian Refugee Ctr. v. Meese,
791 F.2d 1489, 1500 (11th Cir. 1986)).
burden is on the Commissioner to show by a preponderance of
the evidence that his position was substantially justified.
White v. United States, 740 F.2d 836, 839 (11th Cir.
1984). The standard is one of reasonableness; the government
must show “its case had a reasonable basis both in law
and fact.” See Matthews v. United States, 713
F.2d 677, 683 (11th Cir. 1983). Simply because the government
lost its case does not raise a presumption that the
government's position was not substantially justified.
White, 740 F.2d at 839. Nor is the government
required to establish its decision to litigate was based on a
substantial probability of prevailing. Id.
Commissioner does not dispute Ms. Eubanks-Carswell is the
prevailing party or the reasonableness of the requested fees.
(Doc. 31). Ms. Eubanks-Carswell claims her net worth is less
than two million dollars. (Doc. 29, ¶ 5). Other than the
Commissioner's objection, no special circumstances would
make an award of ...