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Meyer v. Colvin

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

June 10, 2014

MAURICE E. MEYER, III, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant - Appellee

Argued May 14, 2014.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, at Columbia. (3:08-cv-03828-JFA). Joseph F. Anderson, Jr., District Judge.

ARGUED:

Robertson H. Wendt, Jr., LAW OFFICES OF ROBERTSON WENDT, North Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellant.

Jennifer Randall, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Denver, Colorado, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

William N. Nettles, United States Attorney, Marshall Prince, Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellee.

Before MOTZ, KING, and DUNCAN, Circuit Judges. Judge Motz wrote the opinion, in which Judge King and Judge Duncan joined.

OPINION

Page 252

DIANA GRIBBON MOTZ, Circuit Judge:

Social Security claimant Maurice Meyer appeals the district court's denial of his motion for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (" the Act" ). The Act provides that a party who prevails in litigation against the United States is entitled to an award of attorney's fees unless " the position of the United States was substantially justified" or " special circumstances make an award unjust." 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). The district court determined that Meyer prevailed in his lawsuit against the Commissioner of Social Security, but that attorney's fees were unwarranted because the Commissioner had pursued

Page 253

a substantially justified position. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

I.

Upon suffering a spinal injury in 2004, Meyer applied for Social Security disability benefits. An administrative law judge (" ALJ" ) denied the claim, reasoning that although Meyer suffered from a degenerative back condition, he retained the capacity to work.

In support of his conclusion, the ALJ noted that between August 2005 and June 2006, Meyer reported improvements in his overall condition, including greater mobility and reduced reliance on pain medication. In addition, numerous physicians who treated Meyer indicated that he was in " no apparent distress," that he appeared to be " generally healthy," and that he could " ambulate independently." To be sure, Meyer offered a report by Dr. Barry Weissglass, a physician who, at Meyer's request, performed an " independent occupational evaluation" concluding that Meyer was unable to work outside the home. The ALJ did not find the report persuasive, however, noting that Dr. Weissglass was not Meyer's treating physician and that his findings conflicted with the weight of the evidence.[1]

Meyer sought review from the Social Security Appeals Council. Along with his request for review, Meyer submitted additional evidence, including a letter from Dr. Byron Bailey, the physician who performed Meyer's surgery. Although Dr. Bailey had not treated Meyer in the last two years, the doctor claimed that Meyer suffered from " chronic, debilitating . . . pain[,] which was anticipated due to the magnitude of his injury." Dr. Bailey further opined that Meyer would " continue to require frequent follow-up and medical management" and would likely ...


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