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Iserloth v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

April 18, 2018

MIKE EDWIN ISERLOTH, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S APPLICATION FOR AWARD OF EAJA FEES

          JOHN JOHNSTON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. Synopsis

         After judicial review by the undersigned, Mr. Iserloth's case was remanded to the Commissioner of Social Security for calculation of an award of benefits, after the Court concluded that the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) determination denying benefits was not supported by substantial evidence. (Doc. 18). Mr. Iserloth now requests attorney's fees and costs under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). (Doc. 20). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's position was substantially justified and therefore, Mr. Iserloth is not entitled to attorney's fees under the EAJA.

         II. Jurisdiction and Venue

         The District Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This motion has been referred to the undersigned. (Doc. 22). Venue is proper in the Great Falls Division of the District of Montana because Mr. Iserloth resides in Cascade County, Montana. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e); Local Rule 1.2(c)(2).

         III. Status

         On November 29, 2017, the District Court remanded the case to the Commissioner for calculation of benefits. (Doc. 18). On January 30, 2018, Mr. Iserloth filed an Application for Award of EAJA Fees, requesting $7, 042.09 in attorney's fees. (Doc. 20). The Commissioner opposed the award of fees in Mr. Iserloth's motion, arguing that the Commissioner's decision was substantially justified. (Doc. 21). The motion is ripe for decision.

         IV. Standards

         The EAJA provides for an award of attorney's fees to a prevailing party (other than the United States), unless the position of the United States was substantially justified or other circumstances make the award of attorney's fees unjust. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). It is the burden of the government to prove its position was substantially justified. Meier v. Colvin, 727 F.3d 867, 870 (9th Cir. 2013).

         The position of the government can be substantially justified even if it was not correct. Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 556 n. 2 (1988). A position is substantially justified if it has a “reasonable basis in both law and fact.” Id. at 555. Substantial justification means “justified to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable person.” Gardner v. Berryhill, 856 F.3d 652, 656 (9th Cir. 2017). This includes situations in which “reasonable people could differ as to the appropriateness of the contested action.” Pierce, 487 U.S. at 565. Furthermore, the government “need not show it had a substantial likelihood of prevailing.” Petition of Hill, 775 F.2d 1037, 1042 (9th Cir. 1985). Rather, the Commissioner's position is substantially justified so long as “some evidence” supports it. Williams v. Bowen, 966 F.2d 1259, 1261 (9th Cir. 1991).

         V. Facts

         On January 23, 2014, Mr. Iserloth applied for disability benefits and supplemental security income. (Doc. 7 at 158-73). The Administration denied his claim on March 11, 2014, and affirmed its denial of Mr. Iserloth's claim upon reconsideration on July 21, 2014. (Id. at 80-92, 108-20).

         On August 26, 2014, Mr. Iserloth requested a hearing with an ALJ. (Id. at 146-47). The ALJ conducted a video hearing on April 22, 2015, at which Mr. Iserloth appeared with counsel. (Id. at 40-77). On June 5, 2015, the ALJ determined Mr. Iserloth did not qualify for benefits. (Id. at 25-34). On August 3, 2015, Mr. Iserloth requested the Social Security Administration Appeals Council (Appeals Council) review the ALJ's determination. (Id. at 15). On September 13, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Mr. Iserloth's request, making the ALJ's determination the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 1-4).

         On November 8, 2016, Mr. Iserloth filed a Complaint seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. (Doc. 1). United States Magistrate Judge John Johnston found that 1) The ALJ committed legal error in determining that Mr. Iserloth's statements about the intensity, persistence, and limiting effect of his symptoms are not entirely credible, and 2) The ALJ's determination that Dr. Warr's opinions were ...


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