Equal Access to Justice in Social Security Disability Appeals
The Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) provides for recovery of a disability claimant’s attorney fees in certain circumstances.......
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Equal Access to Justice in Social Security Disability Appeals

by Melvin Cook

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The Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) provides for recovery of a disability claimant’s attorney fees in certain circumstances, in connection with a federal court appeal in which the plaintiff is the prevailing party against the United States, and absent a showing by the government that its position in the litigation was “substantially justified.” 28 U.S.C. Section 2412 (d)(1)(A); Scarborough v. Principi, 124 S. Ct. 1856 (2004).

The time limit for filing an application for attorney fees under EAJA is thirty days after entry of judgment.

An application must show that: (1) the plaintiff was the “prevailing” party; (2) the applicant is “eligible to receive an award”; and (3) a statement of the amount sought, including an itemized statement of the amount if time actually expended, and the rate charged. 28 U.S.C. 2412 Section (d)(1)(B). It must also contain a statement that the position taken by the United States in the litigation was not ” substantially justified.” Scarborough, 124 S.Ct. 1856 (2004).

Social Security Ruling (SSR) 94-3c sets out the agency’s interpretation of the Supreme Court case of Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292 (1993).

That case made clear that a remand order on an appeal of a disability claim, in which the federal district court does not retain jurisdiction, is a final order. The district court must enter the order as a judgment in a separate document. The case also held that a remand confers prevailing party status on the plaintiff.

The case drew a sharp distinction between a “sentence four” remand and a “sentence six” remand. These sentences refer to 42 U.S.C. Section 405 (g), and set forth the exclusive methods by which federal district courts may remand a case to the agency.

In a sentence six remand, the Court remands the case to the agency for a rehearing but retains jurisdiction. In a sentence four remand, the Court remands the case to the agency for a rehearing, but does not retain jurisdiction, and the remand judgment terminates the Court’s jurisdiction.

Sentence four provides that a court may enter an order affirming, modifying, or reversing the agency’s decision, with or without the need for a rehearing.

A sentence six remand may be ordered only in two situations: 1) when the Commissioner of Social Security requests a remand for good cause before filing an answer; and, 2) where new and material evidence is adduced that was, for good cause, not presented before the agency. See Schaefer, n. 1, 2.

One of the issues discussed in Schaefer was whether or not the final judgment referred to the agency’s decision after a rehearing, or the remand judgment from the federal district court. The case makes clear that the Court action is the judgment referred to. A sentence four remand is a judgment in favor of the plaintiff, who is the prevailing party.

A judgment becomes final once it is entered pursuant to Rule 58 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the time for an appeal has lapsed. In a social security disability case, this appeal period is 60 days.

EAJA helps disability claimants without resources obtain legal representation on a federal court appeal by providing circumstances in which attorney fees are awarded to the claimant.

This material should not be construed as legal advice for any particular fact situation, but is intended for general informational purposes only. For advice specific to any individual situation, an experienced attorney should be contacted.

Contact a Salt Lake City Attorney Committed to Protecting Your Rights

When it comes the family law and social security disability, each client and case is different. It is also important to select an attorney with the experience, skills and professionalism required to address your legal issues. To learn more, contact the Salt Lake City law offices of Melvin A. Cook and schedule an initial consultation to discuss your case.

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