Is the Claimant entitled to attorney fees when the government asserts an unreasonable position?


In Tobeler v. Colvin, 2014 DJDAR 4845 (2014), the United States Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit overturned the trial court’s decision rejecting a claim for attorney fees.

The claimant was disabled and asserted a claim for social security benefits. He testified about his condition to a social security administrative law judge (ALJ). 

At the hearing, the claimant’s former employer also submitted a letter describing the claimant’s inability to work. In addition, the claimant’s wife, Kimberli Tobeler, submitted statements supporting the claimant’s problems with depression and anxiety. 

The ALJ disregarded the evidence submitted, without comment. Due to the ALJ’s failure to consider the relevant evidence, the case was then remanded by the district court. The claimant then sought attorney fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). The district court denied the motion for fees. The district court reasoned that the government’s position was “substantially justified” because the claimant failed to prevail on any other issues of law or fact.

The Ninth Circuit reversed the decision of the trial court. 

Under the EAJA, a court must award a prevailing party fees in a suit against the United States. The major exception to a fee award is if the court concluded the government’s position was “substantially justified.” Substantial justification is defined as a reasonable basis in fact and law. 

Here, the underlying agency action was not reasonable because the ALJ disregarded the evidence documenting the claimant’s symptoms without comment. This was improper as the evidence was relevant to a finding of disability. Because the government’s position was not substantially justified, the claimant was entitled to an award of fees under the EAJA.



DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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