United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
RONNIE D. JONES, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Ronnie D. Jones's
Motion for Attorney's Fees (Doc. No. 19). Defendant
responded in opposition (Doc. No. 21), and Plaintiff filed a
reply (Doc. No. 22). For the reasons below, the Court DENIES
moves for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to
Justice Act (“EAJA”), codified at 28 U.S.C.
§ 2412(d). The Equal Access to Justice Act provides
[A] court shall award to a prevailing party[, ] other than
the United States [, ] fees and other expenses . . . incurred
by that party in any civil action . . . against the United
States . . . 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). Here, the Commissioner
objects to Plaintiff's motion, arguing that the
Commissioner's position before this Court was
“substantially justified” within the meaning of
the EAJA. The applicable law governing the parties'
dispute is well-settled in the Fourth Circuit:
The Act does not define the term “substantially
justified.” The Supreme Court has recognized, however,
that the substantial-justification test is one of
“reasonableness in law and fact.” Pierce v.
Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 564-65, 108 S.Ct. 2541, 101
L.Ed.2d 490 (1988). That is, “[t]he Government's
position is substantially justified if it is . . .
‘justified to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable
person.'” Cody v. Caterisano, 631 F.3d
136, 141 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting Pierce, 487 U.S.
at 565, 108 S.Ct. 2541). Of course, the Government need not
prevail in an action for its position to have been
substantially justified. Rather, the Government will avoid
paying fees as long as “a reasonable person could [have
thought]” that its litigation position was
“correct.” Pierce, 487 U.S. at 566 n. 2,
108 S.Ct. 2541.
“[In] determining whether the [G]overnment's
position in a case is substantially justified, we look beyond
the issue on which the petitioner prevailed to determine,
from the totality of the circumstances, whether the
[G]overnment acted reasonably in causing the litigation or in
taking a [particular] stance during the litigation.”
Roanoke River Basin Ass'n v. Hudson, 991 F.2d
132, 139 (4th Cir. 1993).
In doing so, it is appropriate to consider the reasonable
overall objectives of the [G]overnment and the extent to
which the alleged governmental misconduct departed from
them.... Although an unreasonable stance taken on a single
issue may ... undermine the substantial justification of the
[G]overnment's position, that question can be answered
only by looking to the stance's effect on the entire
civil action. [Thus, ] while a party may become a
“prevailing party” on a single substantive issue
..., it does not automatically follow that the
[G]overnment's position in the case as a whole is not
The Government bears the burden of proving substantial
justification in the first instance. Crawford v.
Sullivan, 935 F.2d 655, 658 (4th Cir. 1991). Once the
district court has determined the propriety of a fee, [the
Court of Appeals] review[s] its decision for an abuse of
discretion. Hyatt v. Barnhart, 315 F.3d 239, 245
(4th Cir. 2002).
Meyer v. Colvin, 754 F.3d 251, 255 (4th Cir. 2014).
The district court should consider the case “as a
whole, ” including whether the Commissioner advanced
correct arguments on one or more issues. See Meyer,
754 F.3d at 256 (“In determining whether the
Commissioner advanced a reasonable litigation position, we
must consider the case as a whole, and here, the Commissioner
was right on one of two important issues.” (citation
this Court specifically declined Plaintiff's request for
a reversal, but instead remanded this matter to the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) for
clarification of an issue not squarely raised or argued by
the parties in the pleadings before this Court. (Doc. No. 17,
p. 11). As part of its ruling, however, the Court
specifically found, as argued by the Commissioner, that
several of the challenged ALJ determinations were supported
by substantial evidence in the record. (Doc. No. 17, pp.
6-9). The Court also declined to address two assignments of
error put forth by Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 17, p. 11).
Considering this case as a whole, including the basis for the
Court's decision, as well as the reasonable positions put
forth by the Commissioner in its pleadings before the Court
(Docs. Nos. 15, 16, 21), the Court finds the Commissioner was
substantially justified and did not act unreasonably in
defending the ALJ's decision. Accordingly, Plaintiff s
Motion for Attorney's Fees is DENIED.
THEREFORE ORDERED that Plaintiff s Motion for Attorney's