United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
Audrey A. Ives, Plaintiff,
Commissioner Of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
PHILLIP J. GREEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
was a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. §
1383(c)(3), seeking review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security finding that plaintiff was
not entitled to supplemental security income (SSI) benefits.
On March 3, 2017, this Court entered a judgment vacating the
Commissioner's decision and remanding this matter back to
the Commissioner under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) for further administrative proceedings. (ECF No. 21).
On April 10, 2017, plaintiff filed her motion for
attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act
(EAJA), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. (ECF No. 24). On April 21,
2017, plaintiff filed a supplement adding an exhibit she
inadvertently omitted from her initial motion. (ECF No. 26).
On April 24, 2017, Defendant filed a response in opposition
to plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees. (ECF No.
27). For the reasons set forth herein, the Court will deny
plaintiff's motion as supplemented (ECF No. 26, 27).
EAJA provides in relevant part:
Except as otherwise specifically provided by statute, 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 . . ., including proceedings for judicial
review of agency action, brought by or 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); see Astrue v.
Ratliff, 560 U.S. 586, 591-93 (2010). A district
court's decision granting or denying a motion for
attorney's fees under the EAJA is reviewed on appeal
under a deferential “abuse of discretion”
standard. DeLong v. Commissioner, 748 F.3d 723, 725
(6th Cir. 2014).
Sixth Circuit has identified three conditions that must be
met to recover attorney's fees under the EAJA: (1) the
claimant must be a prevailing party; (2) the government's
position must be without substantial justification; and (3)
there are no special circumstances that would warrant a
denial of fees. See DeLong v. Commissioner, 748 F.3d
at 725. Plaintiff is a prevailing party under this
Court's judgment remanding this matter to the
Commissioner. See Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292,
298 (1993); 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(H). Plaintiff is a
financially eligible person under the EAJA. See 28
U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(B).
opposes an EAJA award, asserting that the government's
position was substantially justified. (ECF No. 27). Defendant
has the burden of demonstrating that the government's
position was substantially justified. See
Scarborough v. Principi, 541 U.S. 401, 414 (2004);
Peck v. Commissioner, 165 Fed.Appx. 443, 446 (6th
Cir. 2006). The government's position is substantially
justified if it is “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). Defendant has carried her burden.
is not entitled to EAJA attorney's fees simply because
she obtained a decision from this Court reversing the
Commissioner's decision and remanding the matter for
further administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). See DeLong, 748 F.3d at 726;
Ratliff v. Commissioner, 465 Fed.Appx. 459, 460 (6th
Cir. 2012) (“The Commissioner's position may be
substantially justified even if it is rejected by the
district court.”); Couch v. Secretary of Health
& Human Servs., 749 F.2d 359, 360 (6th Cir. 1984)
(“The fact that this court finds a decision of the
Secretary not supported by substantial evidence is not
equivalent to a finding that the position of the United
States was not substantially justified.”); Saal v.
Commissioner, No. 1:08-cv-347, 2010 WL 2757554, at * 2
(W.D. Mich. June 24, 2010) (“The ALJ's failure to
meet the articulation requirements in a decision ‘in no
way necessitates a finding [that the Commissioner's]
position was not substantially justified.' ”)
(quoting Stein v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 317, 320 (7th
case turned on the narrow issue of whether the Administrative
Law Judge's (ALJ) committed reversible error by not
addressing a two-sentence statement made on a prescription
pad by a treating urologist: “Patient has a medical
condition that may require her to use the restroom often.
Please allow her to use the facilities as needed to
accommodate her condition.” (ECF No. 10-7, PageID.388).
The Commissioner conceded that the note constituted a medical
opinion. (ECF No. 23 at PageID.459, 482).
question then became whether the ALJ's failure to
articulate good reasons for the weight given to this
statement was harmless error. The Court noted the lack of
developed Sixth Circuit case law regarding when an error in
this context should be deemed harmless. (see ECF No.
23 at PageID.484) (“In dicta the Sixth Circuit in
Wilson v. Commissioner[, 378 F.3d 541, 547 (6th Cir.
2004)] suggested that there may be three potential situations
in which a harmless error rule may apply.”). The Court
also noted that in Wilson the Sixth Circuit expressly
declined to reach the issue of whether a de minimis
violation may qualify as harmless error. (ECF No. 23 at
PageID.460; see Wilson, 378 F.3d at 547). On the
record presented the Commissioner was substantially justified
in arguing that any error was harmless. Further, although the
Court found it unnecessary to decide other issues plaintiff
raised, she was not likely to prevail on any of those issues.
(ECF No. 23, Page ID.458-59, 486).
evidence did not strongly establish proof of disability or
entitlement to SSI benefits, and the matter was remanded on
the narrow basis of a procedural violation that did not
appear fall within a narrow definition of harmless error. The
Commissioner's decision to deny plaintiff's claim for
benefits and to defend that denial in this Court had a
reasonable basis in law and fact, even though the ALJ's
opinion was not sufficiently explicit. See, e.g.,
Anderson v. Commissioner, No. 98-6284, 1999 WL 1045072,
at *5-6 (6th Cir. 1999); Bates v. Commissioner,
Bates v. Commissioner, No. 1:15-cv-739, 2017 WL
3593881, at *1 (W.D. Mich. Aug. 21, 2017).
the Court finds that that the Commissioner's position ...