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Watts v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

February 26, 2015

LILLIE P. WATTS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


KATHERINE P. NELSON, Magistrate Judge.

This action is before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion for Award of Attorney's Fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412 ("EAJA") (Doc. 22) and supporting memorandum (Doc. 23), to which the Defendant Commissioner has timely filed a response (Doc. 25) indicating no opposition to the award sought. The Plaintiff requests an award of $1, 427.25 in attorney's fees and $400 in costs. Upon consideration, the Court finds that the motion is due to be GRANTED.[1]

I. Analysis

"The EAJA provides that the district court shall award to the prevailing party other than the United States fees and other expenses... 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..., unless the court finds that the position of the United States was substantially justified or that special circumstances make an award unjust.'" Newsome v. Shalala, 8 F.3d 775, 777 (11th Cir. 1993) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A)-(B)) (footnotes omitted). "[T]hree statutory conditions must be satisfied before a district court can award EAJA attorney's fees. First, the claimant must file an application for fees within thirty days of final judgment in the action... Second, assuming the fee application was timely filed, the claimant must qualify as a prevailing party... Finally, if the claimant is a prevailing party who timely filed an EAJA fee application, then the claimant is entitled to receive attorney's fees unless the government can establish that its positions were substantially justified or that there exist special circumstances which countenance against the awarding of fees." Myers v. Sullivan, 916 F.2d 659, 666 (11th Cir. 1990) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

A. Timeliness

"The Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA'") provides that 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...." 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B) (1982). It is settled that a final judgment' means that the judgment is final and not appealable. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(G)." United States v. J.H.T., Inc., 872 F.2d 373, 375 (11th Cir. 1989). "[T]his timely filing requirement is jurisdictional in nature; that is, a claimant's failure to file an EAJA application within thirty days of a final judgment no longer appealable precludes the district court from considering the merits of the fee application." Newsome, 8 F.3d at 777 (citing Myers, 916 F.2d at 672-73).

Where, as here, "the district court enters a sentence four' remand order[ under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)], that judgment is appealable." Id. at 778. "[W]hen a remand was pursuant to sentence four, the 30-day filing period for applications for EAJA fees begins after the final judgment (affirming, modifying, or reversing') is entered by the [district] court and the appeal period has run, so that the judgment is no longer appealable.'" Id. (quoting Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89, 102 (1991)).

The Court entered its "sentence four" remand order and judgment on December 1, 2014. ( See Docs. 19, 20). Because a United States agency was a party to this action, the time to appeal that judgment expired after sixty (60) days from December 1, 2014. See Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(1)(B). Thus, the judgment became no longer appealable after January 30, 2015. Because the Plaintiff filed her EAJA fee application on February 9, 2015, the application is timely, and the Court has jurisdiction to consider its merits.

B. Prevailing Party

In this action, the Plaintiff won a remand of a final decision of the Commissioner under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), thus making her a "prevailing party" entitled to EAJA fees. See Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 301-02 (1993). "Courts have routinely awarded EAJA attorney's fees to claimants in Social Security cases who satisfy the statutory conditions." Newsome, 8 F.3d at 777. See also Myers, 916 F.2d at 666 ("Since the EAJA's enactment, the vast majority of EAJA awards have gone to claimants who succeeded in challenging contrary benefits decisions made by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.").

C. "Substantially Justified"/Special Circumstances

"The government's position is substantially justified under the EAJA when it is justified to a degree that would satisfy a reasonable person-i.e. when it has a reasonable basis in both law and fact. The government bears the burden of showing that its position was substantially justified." United States v. Jones, 125 F.3d 1418, 1425 (11th Cir. 1997) (citations and quotations omitted).

The Commissioner has not attempted to show that her position was substantially justified, instead stating that she "does not oppose" the Plaintiff's EAJA application and "agrees to pay Plaintiff $1, 427.25 in attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $400.00." (Doc. 25 at 1). Given the Commissioner's position, and there being apparent from the record no special circumstances which countenance against the ...

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