United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
W. FLANAGAN United States District Judge.
matter is before the court on plaintiff's motion for
attorney's fees (DE 37) under the Equal Access to Justice
Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A).
Defendant has responded in opposition. In this posture the
issues raised are ripe for ruling. For the following reasons,
plaintiff's motion is denied.
commenced the instant matter on June 4, 2015, by motion to
proceed in forma pauperis, with proposed complaint seeking
judicial review of the denial of his application for
supplemental security income. On August 31, 2015, defendant
filed an answer seeking this court to affirm of the denial
decision. The court's scheduling order directed plaintiff
to file within 60 days “a motion for a judgment
reversing or modifying the decision of the Commissioner, or
remanding the case for a rehearing.” (DE 14 at 1).
Plaintiff filed on October 9, 2015, a motion for judgment on
the pleadings. After three extensions of time, defendant
filed a cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings on
February 22, 2016.
the court referred the matter to U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert
T. Numbers, II, for a memorandum and recommendation
(“M&R”) on the cross-motions for judgment as
a matter of law. On June 23, 2016, Judge Numbers entered
M&R recommending that plaintiff's motion for judgment
on the pleadings be granted, defendant's motion be
denied, and the matter be remanded to the Commissioner for
filed objections to the M&R, upon leave of court out of
time, and plaintiff responded. On August 4, 2016, the court
granted plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings,
denied defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings,
adopting in part the reasoning in the M&R. The instant
motion for attorney fees under the EAJA followed, supported
by a memorandum of law and declaration of attorney time
expended. Defendant opposes the motion on the basis that the
Commissioner was substantially justified in its
administrative and litigation positions.
Standard of Review
EAJA provides for an award of reasonable attorney's fees
and expenses in accordance with the following provision:
Except as otherwise specifically provided by statute, a court
shall award to a prevailing party other than the United
States fees and other expenses, in addition to any costs
awarded pursuant to subsection (a), incurred by that party in
any civil action (other than cases sounding in tort),
including proceedings for judicial review of agency 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
28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A) (emphasis added). In addition,
the statute provides:
A party seeking an award of fees and other expenses shall,
within thirty days of final judgment in the action, submit to
the court an application for fees and other expenses . . . .
The party shall also allege that the position of the United
States was not substantially justified. Whether or
not the position of the United States was substantially
justified shall be determined on the basis of the record
. . . which is made in the civil action for which fees and
other expenses are sought.
Id. § 2412(d)(1)(B) (emphasized).
“‘[P]osition of the United States' means, in
addition to the position taken by the United States in the
civil action, the action or failure to act by the agency upon
which the civil action is based.” Id. §
the phrase “substantially justified” is not
defined in the statue, the Supreme Court has interpreted the
phrase to mean “justified to a degree that could
satisfy a reasonable person.” Pierce v.
Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988). “[A] position
can be justified even though it is not correct, and . . . 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
566 n.2. The phrase, thus, does not connote
“‘justified to a high degree, ' but rather
‘justified in substance or in the main.'”
Id. at 565. As such, the standard is comparable to
one that is “satisfied if there is ‘a genuine
dispute, '” or “if reasonable people could
differ as to the ...