United States District Court, D. Utah
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING
PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY FEES (ECF NO.
J. FURSE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Tami Winn Jones moves the Court for an award of attorney fees
under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”),
28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). (ECF No. 32.) On July 21, 2015, Ms.
Winn Jones filed this action asking the Court to reverse and
remand the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”)
decision denying her application for supplemental security
income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act
(“Act”). (Compl., ECF No. 3.) On August
22, 2016, the Court remanded the ALJ's decision,
requesting that the ALJ (1) provide further analysis
regarding Mr. Bagley, Dr. Brown, and Dr. Delcore's
opinions, (2) explain how the RFC accommodates Ms.
Jones's mental impairments, and (3) explain his analysis
of Ms. Jones's obesity and ensure that Ms. Jones's
age did not factor into his RFC determination. (Mem. Dec.
& Order (“Order”), ECF No. 30.) The remand
makes Ms. Winn Jones the prevailing party, and the
Commissioner does not challenge the reasonableness of the fee
amount requested. Thus the only disputed issue concerns
whether the Commissioner's position was substantially
justified. Because the Court finds the Commissioner's
position not substantially justified, the Court hereby ORDERS
an award of $6, 092.00 in attorney fees to Ms. Winn Jones.
the EAJA, a court must award attorney fees to the prevailing
party unless the Court finds the United States' position
substantially justified or special circumstances make an
award of fees unjust. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). The
Commissioner's position is substantially justified if she
took a position with a reasonable basis in both law and fact.
Hackett v. Barnhart, 475 F.3d 1166, 1172 (10th Cir.
2007); see also Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552,
565 (1988). “[A] position can be justified even though
it is not correct, and . . . it can be substantially
(i.e., for the most part) justified if a reasonable
person could think it correct.” Pierce, 487
U.S. at 566 n. 2. “[T]he reasonableness test breaks
down into three parts: the government must show ‘that
there is a reasonable basis ... for the facts alleged ...,
that there exists a reasonable basis in law for the theory it
propounds; and that the facts alleged will reasonably support
the legal theory advanced.'” Gatson v.
Bowen, 854 F.2d 379, 380 (10th Cir. 1988) (quoting
United States v. 2, 116 Boxes of Boned Beef, 726
F.2d 1481, 1487 (10th Cir. 1984)). The Commissioner bears the
burden to prove her position was substantially justified.
Hackett, 475 F.3d at 1172.
Commissioner contends her position was substantially
justified and therefore this Court should not award attorney
fees to Ms. Winn Jones. (Def.'s Resp. in Obj. to
Pl.'s Pet. for Atty's Fees Under the Equal Access to
Justice Act (“Resp.”) 2, ECF No. 33.) However,
because the ALJ committed legal error in considering Ms. Winn
Jones's age, the Commissioner's position was not
substantially justified. In his RFC finding, the ALJ stated
that “while the evidence suggest that functional
limitations are warranted based on shoulder, knee and back
impairments, the claimant is still a younger individual and
these limitations do not render her disabled.” (R. 23.)
In its remand Order, this Court held that “the ALJ
committed legal error by considering Ms. Jones's age in
making his RFC determination.” (Order 15, ECF No. 30.)
The Court explained that “The ALJ's statement here
epitomizes what SSR 96-8p prohibits, namely an assessment of
RFC based in part on age.” (Order 14-15, ECF No. 30.)
As SSR 96-8p's title suggests, the Social Security
Administration issued this Ruling in 1996. Because the ALJ
committed patent legal error when he considered Ms. Winn
Jones's age in making his RFC determination, the
ALJ's decision did not have a reasonable basis in law.
Because a reasonable basis does not support the ALJ's
decision, the Commissioner's defense of that position
lacked substantial justification. Further, well-established
case law sets the standard for evaluating medical opinions,
and the analysis obviously fell short of the standard.
Therefore, the Commissioner's defense laced substantial
foregoing reasons, the Court ORDERS an award of attorney fees
to Ms. Winn Jones in the amount of $6, 092.00 pursuant to the
EAJA, 28 U.S.C. § 2412. The award shall be made payable
to Ms. Winn Jones and mailed to Ms. Winn Jones's attorney
at the Law Office of Jay Barnes, 1079 E. Riverside Dr., Ste.
203, St. George, UT 84790.
 Nancy A. Berryhill is now the Acting
Commissioner of Social Security. Pursuant to Rule 25(d) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Nancy A. Berryhill
should be substituted for Acting Commissioner Carolyn W.
Colvin as the defendant in this suit. No further action needs
to be taken to continue this suit by reason of the last
sentence of section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
 The parties consented to proceed
before the undersigned Magistrate Judge in accordance with 28
U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil ...