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Ball v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 20, 2019

PATRICIA BALL
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

         SECTION “H”

          ORDER AND REASONS

          JANE TRICHE MILAZZO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Patricia Ball's Motion for Fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (Doc. 18). For the following reasons, the Motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 9, 2018, Plaintiff, Patricia Ball, filed a complaint against Defendant, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), seeking judicial review of the termination of her disability benefits.[1] The matter was referred to the Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.2E(B). On February 27, 2019, the Magistrate issued a Report and Recommendation that Plaintiff's appeal be granted and her complaint remanded to the SSA with instructions to vacate the Commissioner's decision to terminate her benefits and conduct further proceedings.[2] The Magistrate found that Plaintiff's benefits were wrongly terminated by the SSA by using improper legal standards to find that Plaintiff experienced medical improvement.[3] The SSA filed no objection to the Report and Recommendation, and, on May 10, 2019, this Court issued an Order adopting the Report and Recommendation in its entirety.[4] On the same day, the Court entered a Judgment in favor of Plaintiff and against the SSA.[5]

         Following the Court's entry of Judgment in favor of Plaintiff, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion for Attorney's Fees.[6] Plaintiff argues that, under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d), she is entitled to an award of attorney's fees. The SSA opposes.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), attorney's fees and costs may be awarded to a plaintiff who prevails in a civil action against the United States.[7] The EAJA provides that

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 (other than cases sounding in tort), including proceedings for judicial review of agency action, brought by or against the United States in any court having jurisdiction of that action, unless the court finds that the position of the United States was substantially justified or that special circumstances make an award unjust.[8]

         The EAJA further requires that a party seeking an award of fees must file an application for the fees “within thirty days of final judgment in the action.”[9] A final judgment is defined in the EAJA as one “that is final and not appealable.”[10]

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         The SSA argues that Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees is untimely. The Court agrees. The timeliness of Plaintiff's Motion hinges on whether the Magistrate's remand was pursuant to sentence four or sentence six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         “In cases reviewing final agency decisions on Social Security benefits, the exclusive methods by which district courts may remand to the Secretary are set forth in sentence four and sentence six of [42 U.S.C.] § 405(g).”[11] Sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) provides that “[t]he court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.”[12] Sentence six provides that

[t]he court may, on motion of the Commissioner of Social Security made for good cause shown before the Commissioner files the Commissioner's answer, remand the case to the Commissioner of Social Security for further action by the Commissioner of Social Security. . .; and the Commissioner of Social Security shall, after the case is remanded, and after hearing such additional evidence if so ordered, modify or affirm the Commissioner's findings of fact or the Commissioner's decision, or both, and shall file with the court any such additional and modified findings of fact and decision, and, in any case in which the Commissioner has not made a decision ...

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