United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division
TIMOTHY J. CAVAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
March 31, 2018 this Court reversed the decision of the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) in this matter,
and remanded the case for further administrative proceedings.
(Doc. 13.) The Court found the ALJ improperly discounted
Plaintiff's credibility without providing specific, clear
and convincing reasons for doing so, and also erred in
failing to provide specific and legitimate reasons for
discounting the opinions of Plaintiff's treating
physician, Dr. Willis.
Plaintiff requested reasonable attorney fees and costs
pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). (Doc. 15.)
Defendant opposed Plaintiff's request, and the Court
ordered Defendant to indicate its grounds for opposition.
the EAJA, a prevailing party is entitled to attorney's
fees when the government was not “substantially
justified” in its actions. 28 U.S.C. §
2412(d)(1)(A). Defendant claims she was substantially
justified in defending the case because (1) the ALJ provided
“arguably valid reasons for questioning Plaintiff's
testimony” and (2) she reasonably defended the case
“despite the Court's finding of error with respect
to Dr. Willis's opinion.” (Doc. 17 at 2-3.)
Plaintiff counters that Defendant's position was not
reasonably based in law and fact. (Doc. 18 at 2.)
reasons set forth herein, the Plaintiff's motion is
28 U.S.C. § 2412(d) in relevant part 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 . . . 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.
position of the United States must be “justified to a
degree that could satisfy a reasonable person.”
Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 563
(1988).“[T]o be substantially justified, the
government's position must have a reasonable basis both
in law and in fact.” Trujillo v. Berryhill,
700 Fed.Appx. 764, 765 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Decker v.
Berryhill, 856 F.3d 659, 663 (9th Cir. 2017).
“[T]he existence of precedents construing similar
statutes or similar facts is an important factor in
determining whether the government's litigation position
was substantially justified.” Id. (citing
Kali v. Bowen, 854 F.2d 329, 332 (9th Cir. 1988)).
Ninth Circuit has stated that a presumption arises under the
EAJA “that fees will be awarded to prevailing parties .
. . .” Flores v. Shalala, 49 F.3d 562, 567
(9th Cir. 1995). The government bears the burden of proving
its position was substantially justified. Kali, 854
F.2d at 332.
social security context, “the position of the United
States includes both the government's litigation position
[in the civil action] and the underlying agency action giving
rise to the civil action.” Meier v. Colvin,
727 F.3d 867, 870 (9th Cir. 2013). In determining whether the
government's position in the underlying agency action was
substantially justified, the Court must first look at the
ALJ's decision. Id. at 872. The Court then
considers whether the government's subsequent litigation
position before the district court was substantially
justified. Id. But if the Court determines that the
government's underlying agency position was not
substantially justified, it does not need to determine
whether the government's litigation position was
holding that an “agency's decision was unsupported
by substantial evidence is a strong indication that the
position of the United States was not substantially
justified.” Id. at 872 (internal quotations
and citations omitted). Indeed, “it will be only a
‘decidedly unusual case in which there is a substantial
justification under the EAJA even though the agency's
decision was reversed as lacking in reasonable, substantial
and probative evidence in the record.'”
Thangaraja v. Gonzales, 428 F.3d 870, 874 (9th Cir.
2005) (quoting Al-Harbi v. INS, 284 F.3d 1080, 1085
(9th Cir. 2002)