United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Bryson City Division
J. Conrad, Jr. United States District Judge.
MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff's
Motion for Attorney Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to
Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412,
(Doc. No. 23); memorandum in support of his motion, (Doc. No.
24), Defendant's response in opposition to
Plaintiff's motion, (Doc. No. 26); and Plaintiff's
reply in support of his motion, (Doc. No. 27). The motion is
fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.
provides that the prevailing party in a civil action against
the United States is entitled to attorneys' fees when the
United States' position was not substantially justified
and there are no special circumstances making an award
unjust. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). Plaintiff is the
prevailing party in this litigation. When the Court remands
under Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the plaintiff
is the prevailing party. See Hensley v. Eckerhart,
461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983).
Commissioner has the burden of showing that her position was
substantially justified. United States v. 515 Granby,
LLC, 736 F.3d 309, 315 (4th Cir. 2013). Substantial
justification does not require the Commissioner's
position to be correct, but such a position may be
substantially justified if a reasonable person could think it
correct. See Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 566
n.2 (1988). A claim for attorneys' fees may be defeated
by the Commissioner by showing that her position had a
reasonable basis in both law and fact. Id. at
determine whether the Commissioner's position in a case
was substantially justified, the Court must “look
beyond the issue on which the petitioner prevailed to
determine, from the totality of the circumstances, whether
the [Commissioner] acted reasonably in causing the litigation
or in taking a stance during the litigation.”
Roanoke River Basin Ass'n v. Hudson, 991 F.2d
132, 139 (4th Cir. 1993). In making this determination,
“it is appropriate to consider the reasonable overall
objectives of the [Commissioner] and the extent to which [her
position] departed from them. Id.
this Court previously ruled in favor of the Commissioner,
denying Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and
granting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc.
No. 14). Plaintiff appealed this Court's decision and the
Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the case based on the
Fourth Circuit's recent ruling in Pearson v.
Colvin, 810 F.3d 204 (4th Cir. 2015). (Doc. No. 19).
This recent Fourth Circuit case was decided after this
Court's decision, the Commissioner's decision, and
the filing of the Commissioner's appellate brief.
(Id.). For this reason, Defendant argues its
position was substantially justified. (Doc. No. 26).
contends that the basis of the Fourth Circuit's decision
was Social Security Ruling (“SSR”)
00-4p and the Administrative Law Judge's
error was a violation of that Ruling. Although correct,
Plaintiff's presentation fails to paint the whole
picture. In Pearson, the Fourth Circuit interpreted
SSR 00-4p, holding that the “ALJ independently must
identify conflicts between the expert's testimony and the
Dictionary.” Id. at 209. Specifically at issue
in Pearson was “whether SSR 00-4p requires the
ALJ only to ask the vocational expert whether his testimony
conflicts with the Dictionary or also requires the ALJ to
identify conflicts independently from the vocational
expert.” Id at 208. While SSR 00-4p may have
been the basis for the Fourth Circuit's holding in
Pearson, such an interpretation had not been
articulated by the Fourth Circuit until Pearson and
SSR 00-4p did not alone make clear an ALJ's independent
obligation to identify and resolve conflicts with the
Dictionary as explained in Pearson.
the Commissioner did not have the benefit of Pearson
at any stage in the litigation, this Court finds that the
Commissioner acted reasonably and her position was
substantially justified. Plaintiff criticizes the sources the
Commissioner used and asserts that, prior to
Pearson, any other interpretation of SSR 00-4p was
unreasonable. (Doc. No. 27 at 6). This Court disagrees. The
Commissioner based her argument on reasonable, persuasive
authority in the absence of Fourth Circuit precedent. In her
initial brief, the Commissioner relied upon this Court's
prior rulings. (Id at 6-7) (citing Ross v.
Colvin, No. 1:12-cv-319-RJC, 2013 WL 4495138 (W.D. N.C.
Aug. 20, 2013) and Welch v. Astrue, No. 11-319, 2012
WL 2681833 (W.D. N.C. July 6, 2012)). These rulings relied in
part on other Circuits. See Ross, 2013 WL 4495138,
at *3 (citing Carey v. Apfel, 230 F.3d 131, 146-147
(5th Cir. 2000)). For these reasons, and for the additional
reasons stated in Defendant's memorandum in opposition to
the motion, the Commissioner's arguments were
substantially justified and Plaintiffs Motion for Attorney
Fees is thereby DENIED.
IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that Plaintiffs Motion for
Attorney Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28
U.S.C. § 2412, (Doc. No. 23), is
 In relevant part, SSR 00-4p states
that an ALJ must “[i]dentify and obtain a reasonable
explanation for any conflicts between occupational evidence
provided by VEs or VSs and ...