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FRENCH v. BOWEN

January 18, 1989

CAROL W. FRENCH, Plaintiff
v.
OTIS BOWEN, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: NEALON

 WILLIAM J. NEALON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 Currently before the court in the above-captioned action is an application for attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). For the reasons that follow, the application will be denied.

 BACKGROUND

 On August 7, 1984, plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income benefits alleging disability based on high blood pressure and a nervous condition. Following a hearing on March 19, 1985, an administrative law judge (ALJ) found that plaintiff still possessed the residual functional capacity to perform work at all levels that did not require extensive contact with the public, close interaction with co-workers, or complicated, stressful activity of a substantial nature. On May 29, 1985, plaintiff filed a request for review with the Appeals Council challenging the ALJ's failure to use vocational testimony. The Council upheld the decision of the ALJ.

 
Any initial determination that an individual is not under a disability by reason of a mental impairment . . . made or held under Title II or XVI of the Social Security Act after the date of the enactment of this Act and prior to the date on which revised criteria are established by regulation in accordance with subsection (a) . . . shall be redetermined by the Secretary as soon as feasible after the date on which such criteria are so established, applying such revised criteria.

 Id., 98 Stat. at 1801-1802. Pursuant to the Act, the final regulations were published on August 28, 1985 in the Federal Register. The regulations provided that new determinations were to be given to all individuals who had received final decisions by the Secretary after the adoption of the Reform Act.

 On remand, by a decision issued on June 13, 1988, the Appeals Council found that, as a result of plaintiff's nonexertional limitations resulting from her mental impairment, there were not a significant number of jobs that plaintiff could perform. The Council thus concluded that plaintiff was under a disability within the meaning of the Act and that she was entitled to receive supplemental security income payments. See document 14 of record, Exhibit C. By stipulation of the parties, the court then dismissed this action with prejudice on September 19, 1988. See document 10 of record.

 Plaintiff's counsel filed an application for attorney's fees on October 20, 1988. See document 11 of record. *fn1" Defendant submitted an opposition brief on November 3, 1988. See document 13 of record. On November 14, 1988, plaintiff's counsel filed a reply brief in support of her application for attorney's fees. See document 14 of record. With leave of the court, defendant submitted his responsive brief on December 9, 1988. See document 16 of record. No further submissions having been received by the court, this matter is now ripe for disposition.

 DISCUSSION

 The EAJA provides that "a court shall award to a prevailing party other than the United States" reasonable attorney's fees and expenses "incurred by that party in a civil 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." 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). There are, then, two prerequisites for an award of attorney's fees pursuant to the EAJA. First the court must determine that the claimant is a "prevailing party." If this condition is satisfied, the court must then determine whether the government's position was "substantially justified."

  In the context of an award of attorney's fees sought after the entry of a final order, a "prevailing party" is one who fairly can be found by the district court to have essentially succeeded on his claims for relief. Brown v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 747 F.2d 878, 883 (3d Cir. 1984) (citing Hanrahan v. Hampton, 446 U.S. 754, 757-759, 100 S. Ct. 1987, 1989-1990, 64 L. Ed. 2d 670 (1980)). *fn2" This definition focuses not on the substantive merits of the plaintiff's claims, but rather on the relief ultimately received by the plaintiff. Bagby v. Beal, 606 F.2d 411, 415 (3d Cir. 1979). The issue is not whether plaintiff obtained the form or extent of relief they originally requested, but whether the "substance of the litigation's outcome . . . provided much of the relief [the plaintiff] had initially sought." N.A.A.C.P. v. Wilmington Medical Center, Inc., 689 F.2d 1161, 1169 (3d Cir. 1982), cert. denied, 460 U.S. 1052, 103 S. Ct. 1499, 75 L. Ed. 2d 930 (1983) (quoting Ross v. Horn, 598 F.2d 1312, 1322 (3d Cir. 1979), cert. denied, 448 U.S. 906, 100 S. Ct. 3048, 65 L. Ed. 2d 1136 (1980)). Thus a plaintiff is a "prevailing party" if he essentially succeeds in obtaining the relief he seeks in his claims on the merits. Bagby v. Beal, 606 F.2d at 415.

 In addition to gaining some of the benefit sought, one can be a "prevailing party" only if there is a causal relationship between the action and the ultimate relief received. The central inquiry in this causal-connection standard is "whether the plaintiff has obtained the relief sought 'as a result of' [his] judicial efforts, or whether those efforts were a 'material factor' in obtaining the relief." Sullivan v. Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, 663 F.2d 443, 449 (3d Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 455 U.S. 1020, 102 S. Ct. 1716, 72 L. Ed. 2d 138 (1982); see also Institutionalized Juveniles v. Secretary of Public Welfare, 758 F.2d 897, 910, 916-917 (3d Cir. 1985). The critical factor in determining causation is, therefore, whether the relief was implemented as a result of plaintiff's lawsuit. N.A.A.C.P. v. Wilmington Medical Center, Inc., 689 F.2d at 1169. If there is more than one cause, the plaintiff is a prevailing party if the action was a material factor in bringing about the relief gained. Morrison v. Ayoob, 627 F.2d 669, 671 (3d Cir. 1980), cert. ...


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