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DE WALT v. SULLIVAN

January 18, 1991

MICHELLE DE WALT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LOUIS B. SULLIVAN, SECRETARY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gerry, Chief Judge:

OPINION

Plaintiff has filed an application for payment of attorney's fees under section 2412(d) of the Equal Access To Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d), based upon an action filed on her behalf in 1983 which ultimately led to an award of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits by an administrative law judge (ALJ) on March 7, 1990. Defendant opposes the award of fees and, in the alternative, argues that the hourly rate sought is excessive.

I. Facts and Procedural History

This case has a long history. We draw the following factual and procedural background from the court's Letter Opinion (Op.) of July 13, 1989: "Plaintiff was 27 years of age at the time of her initial administrative hearing [in 1982] and has a high school education. She was last employed from July through December of 1975 as an assembly line worker at Tyco Corporation." Id. at 2.

  Plaintiff originally filed an application for
  [SSI benefits] . . . on April 5, 1982. Her claim
  was disapproved initially and upon
  reconsideration. A hearing before ALJ Paul H.
  Teitler was held on August 18, 1982, at which the
  plaintiff appeared pro se. The ALJ found that the
  plaintiff was ineligible for SSI under 42 U.S.C. § 1381,
  1381a, and 1382c. Plaintiff appealed, and on
  January 19, 1983, the Appeals Council then remanded
  the case to the ALJ for a de novo hearing.

Id. at 1.

Plaintiff then filed this action on May 26, 1983. On March 13, 1984, the court remanded for the purpose of locating plaintiff's claims folder. A second hearing was held before the ALJ on August 23, 1984,

  at which plaintiff again appeared without
  counsel. On January 29, 1985, the ALJ found that
  DeWalt was not disabled as defined by the Social
  Security Act at any time relevant to the
  application. The decision became final when the
  Appeals Council adopted the findings of the ALJ.

Id. Plaintiff then appealed to this court, but also filed another application for benefits. We remanded the case for further findings.

Upon remand plaintiff was awarded SSI benefits by an ALJ on March 7, 1990. The ALJ found that plaintiff was disabled as of July 17, 1982, based on her having satisfied as of that date the requirements of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, § 10.10. Section 10.10A addresses obesity and a history of pain and limitation of motion in any weight bearing joint or spine, associated with arthritis. Id.

II. Legal Analysis

a) Standard for Award of Fees Under EAJA

EAJA entitles plaintiff to an award of fees "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). "The burden of proving the statutory concept of substantial justification is on the government." Edge v. Schweiker, 814 F.2d 125, 128 (3d Cir. 1987).

The Supreme Court settled the definition of "substantially justified" in Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565, 108 S.Ct. 2541, 2550, 101 L.Ed.2d 490 (1988). The term means

  "justified in substance or in the main" — that is,
  justified to a degree that could satisfy a
  reasonable person. That is no different from the
  "reasonable basis both in law and fact" formulation
  adopted by the Ninth Circuit and the vast majority
  of other Courts of Appeals that have addressed this
  issue.

Id. The court cited Citizens Council of Delaware County v. Brinegar, 741 F.2d 584, 593 (3d Cir. 1984) as one of those cases that adhere to ...


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