United States District Court, D. Oregon
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION
YIM YOU UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Christian W. has filed a Motion for Attorney Fees Under 28
U.S.C. § 2412(d) (ECF #30), the Equal Access to Justice
Act ("EAJA"), for $6, 366.16. Defendant does not
dispute the amount requested, but objects on the basis that
its position in this case was substantially justified. For
the reasons discussed below, the motion for attorney fees
should be GRANTED.
Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) instructs that this court
'shall' grant attorney fees to a prevailing plaintiff
'unless' the government meets its burden to
demonstrate that both its litigation position and the agency
decision on review were 'substantially
justified.'" Campbell v. Astrue, 736 F.3d
867, 868 (9th Cir. 2013) (citing 28 U.S.C. §
2412(d)(1)(a)). "[I]t 'will be only a decidedly
unusual case in which there is substantial justification
under the EAJA even though the agency's decision was
reversed as lacking in reasonable, substantial and probative
evidence in the record.'" Id. (quoting
Thangaraja v. Gonzales, 428 F.3d 870, 874 (9th
government bears the burden of demonstrating substantial
justification." Gonzales v. Free Speech
Coalition, 408 F.3d 613, 618 (9th Cir.2005).
'"Substantial justification' is equated with
'reasonableness.'. . . The government's position
is 'substantially justified' if it 'has a
reasonable basis in law and fact.'"
Ramon-Sepulveda v. INS, 863 F.2d 1458, 1459 (9th
Cir. 1988) (quoting Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S.
552, 566 n.2 (1988)); see also Al-Harbi v. INS, 284
F.3d 1080, 1085 (9th Cir.2002) ("Substantial
justification in this context means justification to a degree
that could satisfy a reasonable person.").
government's position must be substantially justified at
each stage of the proceedings." Shafer v.
Astrue, 518 F.3d 1067, 1071 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting
Corbin v. Apfel, 148 F.3d 1051, 1052 (9th Cir.
1998). The government's position encompasses both the
underlying agency decision and the government's
litigation position. Meier v. Colvin, 727 F.3d 867,
871-72 (9th Cir.2013). Where an "agency's decision
was unsupported by substantial evidence," it "is a
strong indication that the position of the United States was
not substantially justified." Id. at 872.
this court found that the ALJ failed to provide legally
sufficient reasons for discrediting Dr. Causeya's
opinion. The ALJ rejected Dr. Causeya's opinion, in part,
because she did not have accurate information regarding
plaintiffs substance abuse. Tr. 24. However, this court found
that Dr. Causeya's report indeed showed she was aware of
and had fully accounted for plaintiffs substance use.
Commissioner contends that her position was substantially
justified because there was "some evidence" that
plaintiffs methamphetamine use was more of an ongoing problem
than he let on. Resp. 2 (citing Williams v. Bowen,
966 F.2d 1259, 1261 (9th Cir. 1991)). The Commissioner argues
that plaintiff had misrepresented his drug use to other
providers, which suggested he might have done the same with
Dr. Causeya. She also argues that another report indicates
plaintiffs methamphetamine use did not stop until well after
Dr. Causeya examined him, undermining the veracity of
plaintiff s reports about methamphetamine consumption at the
time. The Commissioner further contends that none of Dr.
Causeya's tests accounted for the possibility that
plaintiffs impairments were due to his methamphetamine abuse.
The Commissioner asserts that, "[o]n this record, a
reasonable person could have found that Dr. Causeya was
likely misinformed about the extent of Plaintiff s drug use,
which undermined the value of her opinion." Resp. 3.
the Commissioner ignores that Dr. Causeya's opinion
dedicated a full paragraph to plaintiffs substance abuse. Dr.
Causeya was aware that plaintiff began using alcohol and
marijuana at age 11, and that he was drinking eight to 10
beers daily from the age of 14 or 15. Tr. 532. He tried
cocaine in his teens and 20s, and methamphetamine at age 50.
Id. Rather than minimizing his addiction, plaintiff
reported that he had been sober only six and a half years,
and credited his alcohol use for contributing to his poor
work history and school absences. Id.
Commissioner also ignores that the ALJ's decision was
unsupported by substantial evidence in other respects.
Importantly, this court found that the ALJ improperly relied
on a reason that had previously been rejected in an earlier
remand order. As the court noted, "[t]his reason is no
more specific and legitimate three years later."
Findings and Recommendation 12, ECF #26, adopted by Order,
February 1, 2018, ECF #28. This court also found that the ALJ
improperly discredited Dr. Causeya's opinion on grounds
related to plaintiffs work history and ADLs. Id. at
13. The fact that the ALJ's "decision was
unsupported by substantial evidence . . . is a strong
indication that the position of the United States was not
substantially justified." Meier, 727 F.3d. at
872. "Because the government's underlying position
was not substantially justified, [this court] need not
address whether the government's litigation position was
this, the Commissioner contends that her position was
otherwise substantially justified with respect to the
limitations described by the state agency psychologists. The
Commissioner contends that, "if the ALJ's ultimate
conclusion was consistent with that of the state agency
psychologists, then a reasonable person could have found that
the ALJ did not, in fact, reject those opinions (silently or
otherwise)." Resp. 4. However, as this court previously
noted, "[t]he ALJ's failure to include those
restrictions while purporting to give weight to the DDS
doctors' assessments is wholly unexplained."
Findings and Recommendations 17, adopted by Order, February
1, 2018. Moreover, this court agreed with plaintiff that
"the two included restrictions simply do not account for
the multiple other areas of moderate limitation identified by
the DDS doctors." Id. Where the ALJ's
opinion was so lacking in explanation, it cannot be said that
there was a reasonable basis for the government's
reasons discussed above, plaintiffs Motion for Attorney's
Fees Under 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d) (ECF #33) should be