The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.
Plaintiff, Patricia Williams, sought judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the case was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Lynne A. Sitarski for a Report and Recommendation ("R&R"). Magistrate Judge Sitarski recommended that Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be granted in part and denied in part, and that the case be remanded to the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") for further proceedings. Neither Plaintiff, nor the Commissioner, filed objections to the R&R, and in an Order dated November 13, 2008, the Court approved and adopted the R&R and remanded the case to the ALJ.*fn1 Plaintiff filed the instant motion for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. The Commissioner submitted a memorandum opposing the award of attorney's fees, arguing that its position in the matter was "substantially justified" within the meaning of the EAJA, to which Plaintiff submitted a reply. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees will be denied.
I. BACKGROUND A. ALJ Decision
Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on December 23, 2003, alleging disability as a result of lower back pain, numbness in her legs, fatigue, insomnia, depression, reduced concentration and memory, and diabetes. Plaintiff's application was denied and thereafter an administrative hearing was conducted before ALJ, Dolores McNerney.
Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process articulated at 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b)-(f) and 416.920(b)-(f), the ALJ found that: (1) Plaintiff had not engaged in substantially gainful activity since the alleged disability onset; (2) Plaintiff's lumbar disc disease and obesity, in combination, constituted "severe" impairments; (3) Plaintiff's medical impairments did not meet or medically equal a listing in 20 C.F.R. pt.404, supt. P, appl. 1; (4) Plaintiff's allegations regarding her limitations were not totally credible; (5) Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light exertional work, with frequent stooping, and occasional balancing and kneeling, but no crouching, crawling, or climbing; and (6) Plaintiff's impairments do not prevent Plaintiff from performing past relevant work, as it is generally performed in the national economy. Accordingly, on March 7, 2006, the ALJ found Plaintiff ineligible for DIB. The Appeals Council declined Plaintiff's request for review, and Plaintiff sought judicial review in this Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
B. Report and Recommendation
The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff argued that in denying his claim, the ALJ erred in the following respects: (1) failed to provide Plaintiff's counsel with evidence received subsequent to the administrative hearing, namely the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT") codes from the vocational expert; (2) rejected evidence favorable to Plaintiff's claim without good reason or adequate explanation; (3) failed to adequately explain her assessment of Plaintiff's RFC; (4) failed to appropriately consider Plaintiff's mental impairment; and (5) failed to properly find Plaintiff able to perform past relevant work as generally performed in the economy. The Commissioner opposed Plaintiff's appeal and thus defended the ALJ's denial of DIB.
The Court referred this matter to Magistrate Judge Sitarski for the issuance of a R&R. On May 16, 2008, Magistrate Judge Sitarski issued a R&R recommending that Plaintiff's motion be granted in part and denied in part, and that the matter be remanded for an evidentiary hearing on one issue: the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff was able to perform past relevant work.
Applying the substantial evidence standard, Magistrate Judge Sitarski found that the record lacked substantial evidence to support the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff was able to perform past relevant work. Specifically, Magistrate Judge Sitarski highlighted the discrepancy between: (1) the Vocational Expert ("VE") testimony in the record, opining that Plaintiff was unable to do past work; and (2) the ALJ's decisions that Plaintiff is able to perform past work, citing the VE testimony as support for this proposition. Because the ALJ did not explain this discrepancy, Magistrate Judge Sitarski recommended remanding the case to allow the ALJ to explain her conclusion of Plaintiff's ability to perform past relevant work. Neither Plaintiff nor the Commissioner filed any objections to the R&R within the time provided for doing so, and on November 12, 2008, the Court approved and adopted the R&R and remanded the case.
C. Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees
On November 26, 2008, Plaintiff filed the instant application for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). The Commissioner submitted a brief opposing the award of attorney's fees, arguing that the Commissioner's position in the matter was "substantially justified" within the meaning of the EAJA, to which Plaintiff submitted a reply.
Under the EAJA, a claimant is eligible for a fee award in any civil action if: (1) the claimant is the prevailing party; (2) the government's position was not "substantially justified;" (3) no special circumstances exist to make the award unjust; and (4) any fee application is submitted to the court within 30 days of the final judgment in the action and is supported by an itemized statement. Commissioner, Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Jean, 496 U.S. 154, 158 (1990).
Notably, the parties do not dispute that Plaintiff is the prevailing party in this action. In addition, the Commissioner does not assert that any "special circumstances" would "make an award unjust." Accordingly, the sole question before the Court is whether the Commissioner's position in this ...