United States District Court, D. New Mexico
JESSICA M. PROANO, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR EAJA
R. SWEAZEA, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
MATTER comes before the Court upon Plaintiff's
Motion for Attorney Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to
Justice Act (“EAJA”) (Doc. 26), filed June 3,
2019. Having reviewed the motion, Defendant's Response in
Opposition (Doc. 27), and Plaintiff's subsequent Reply
(Doc. 28), the Court FINDS and CONCLUDES that Plaintiff's
motion should be granted as set forth below.
EAJA was enacted on the premise that some individuals
“may be deterred from seeking review
of…unreasonable governmental action” due to the
resource and expertise disparity between these individuals
and the government. H.R. Rep. 96-1148, p. 5. To reduce these
deterrents, the Act permits certain prevailing parties to
recover attorney fees and other expenses unless the
government can establish that its position was substantially
justified or the Court finds that special circumstances make
the award unjust. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). Defendant
asks the Court to deny Plaintiff's motion on the latter
ground arguing, in sum, that Plaintiff's attorney failed
to present pertinent evidence during the agency proceedings.
(Doc. 27). The Court is not swayed by Defendant's
2014, Plaintiff filed applications for Social Security
disability benefits, alleging that she had been disabled
since April 1, 2013, due to hypoglycemia, obsessive
compulsive disorder, and a learning disability. (AR 261,
265). Following an unfavorable decision issued by
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Frederick
Upshall on April 27, 2017, (AR 32-52), Plaintiff asked the
Appeals Council to review her claim. In connection with her
request for review, Plaintiff submitted additional evidence
including treatment notes from Presbyterian Medical Services
and a Medical Assessment of Ability to do Work-Related
Activities (Mental) completed by Dr. Steven K. Baum. (AR 10,
16). On February 6, 2018, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request, finding that the evidence did not
relate to the period at issue. (AR 9-10). Upon denial, ALJ
Upshall's decision became the final decision of the
April 5, 2018, Plaintiff submitted to the Appeals Council a
request to reopen along with a report, authored by Dr. Baum,
which detailed the results of psychological tests the doctor
administered in 2017 and 2018. (AR 7). Again, the Council
determined that the evidence did not relate to the relevant
timeframe and it declined to reopen Plaintiff's claim.
December 20, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Reverse and
Remand the Commissioner's determination, arguing that (1)
the Appeals Council improperly rejected new, material, and
chronologically pertinent evidence; (2) the ALJ improperly
weighed the opinion of examining psychologist Randall Rattan,
Ph.D.; (3) the ALJ improperly rejected the assessments of
treating provider, Troy Hill, LMFT; and (4) the ALJ failed to
support his step five finding with substantial evidence.
See Doc. 20.
February 25, 2019, Defendant filed an Unopposed Motion for
Remand Pursuant to Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
(Doc. 22). In support of his motion, Defendant explained that
“remand for further proceedings is warranted.”
Id. at 1. Accordingly, on March 4, 2019, the Court
entered an order of reversal and remand (Doc. 23) and entered
a judgment in favor of Plaintiff (Doc. 24).
prevailing party in the civil action, Plaintiff filed the
instant motion requesting EAJA fees in the amount of $5,
433.80. Defendant argues, however, that Plaintiff's
attorney should not be rewarded for his lack of diligence
during the administrative proceedings. In support, Defendant
explains that because Plaintiff did not submit Dr. Baum's
report while her claim was still pending before the Appeals
Council, “it is not entirely clear” whether the
evidence “could have supported a remand on the
merits.” (Doc. 27, p. 3). Defendant adds that
“[p]erhaps had the Appeals Council had Dr. Baum's
report, the outcome, or at least the Appeals Council's
discussion, would have been different.” (Doc. 27, p.
5). Defendant's argument is without merit.
initial matter, Defendant does not allege that Dr. Baum's
report had any impact on his decision to voluntarily remand
Plaintiff's claim for further proceedings. In fact,
Defendant's Unopposed Motion for Remand does not provide
any explanation as to why further proceedings were necessary.
To this end, Defendant's voluntary remand may have been
based on any one of Plaintiff's four arguments or an
alternate error Defendant discovered during litigation.
Moreover, the Appeals Council considered Dr. Baum's
report in conjunction with Plaintiff's request to reopen
and determined that it did not pertain to the relevant
timeframe. The Court cannot discern what argument Defendant
is attempting to make by averring that the Appeals
Council's discussion and/or decision might have
been different if the Council had the report prior to the
close of proceedings. Regardless, Defendant has not alleged
any equitable considerations which would trigger the
EAJA's special circumstances provision. See,
e.g., Scarborough v. Principi, 541 U.S. 401,
IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that Plaintiffs Motion for
Attorney Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
(Doc. 26) is GRANTED and Plaintiff
is awarded $5, 433.80 in attorney
fees pursuant to the EAJA, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d).
See Astrue v. Ratliff, 560 U.S. 586, 591-93 (2010)
(EAJA fees are paid to the prevailing party, not the
of this amount shall constitute a complete release from and
bar to any and all claims Plaintiff may have relating to EAJA
fees in connection with this action. The EAJA award is
without prejudice to Plaintiffs attorney's right to seek
attorney fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b), subject to
the offset provisions of the EAJA. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 2412(c)(1) (2006).
IS FURTHER ORDERED that, if Plaintiff s counsel
receives attorney fees under both the EAJA and 42 U.S.C.
§ 406(b) of the Social Security Act, Plaintiffs counsel
shall refund the smaller award to Plaintiff ...