United States District Court, D. Arizona
Michelle H. Burns United States Magistrate Judge
before the Court is Plaintiff Nicholas Rose's Application
for Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs Under the Equal
Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) (Doc. 23). After
reviewing the administrative record and the arguments of the
parties, the Court now issues the following ruling.
November 6, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits alleging disability beginning
August 1, 2013. His applications were denied initially and on
reconsideration. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing
before an administrative law judge. A hearing was held on
July 8, 2015, and the ALJ issued a decision finding that
Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff
then sought judicial review of the ALJ's decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
brief, Plaintiff contended that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing
to properly weigh medical source opinion evidence; (2)
failing to provide valid reasons for discounting the opinions
from the Department of Veteran Affairs (“VA”);
and (3) failing to make a proper finding at step five of the
sequential evaluation process.
Court, after reviewing the administrative record and the
arguments of the parties, vacated the Commissioner's
decision and remanded the matter for further administrative
proceedings consistent with its Order. Although the Court
found that the ALJ properly weighed the medical source
opinion evidence related to Plaintiff's alleged
impairments, and gave specific and legitimate reasons, based
on substantial evidence in the record to support her
findings, the ALJ erred by failing to articulate any
persuasive, specific, and valid reasons for rejecting the
VA's disability rating. See McCartey v.
Massanari, 298 F.3d 1072, 1076 (9thCir.
to the record, Plaintiff received a 100% disability rating
from the VA with “total occupational and social
impairment.” The evaluation discussed major depressive
disorder and generalized anxiety disorder documenting
“feeling sad, isolating, lack for motivation,
irritability, guilt, trouble sleeping.” The anxiety was
described as “significant worry, variety of triggers,
sweaty hands, increased heart rate, mind goes blank.”
The VA agreed that “both occupational and social
impairment are caused by both anxiety and depression”
and established that the Global Assessment of Functioning is
between 45 to 50.
gave “no weight” to the VA's 100% disability
rating stating that the disability award documented in these
letters is not supported by any explanation of the evidence.
The VA, however, cited to a previous mental disorder
disability benefits questionnaire and the service treatment
record. Further, the VA file as a whole was full of mental
health treatment for anxiety and depression.
although the ALJ purported to have read and considered the
VA's disability determination, the ALJ dismissed
Plaintiff's “total occupational and social
impairment” caused by anxiety and depression - by
simply stating that “depression and anxiety interfere
with the claimant's occupational and educational
goals.” Finally, the ALJ stated for “reasons
previously discussed, ” she gives “little
weight” to an unknown evaluator.
completely failed to specify which “reasons previously
discussed” applied to the VA's 100% disability
Court additionally found that the error was not harmless
because the ALJ's rejection of the VA disability rating
was not “inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability
determination.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d
1104, 1121-22 (9th Cir. 2012).
prevailing party in an action against the United States is
entitled to an award of attorney fees and costs under the
EAJA, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A), unless the
government's position was “substantially
justified.” The government's position is
substantially justified “if a reasonable person could
think it correct, that is, if it has a reasonable basis in
law and fact.” Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S.
552, 566 n.2 (1988).
is the prevailing party. Therefore, the issue before the
Court is whether Defendant's position in opposing
Plaintiff's appeal was “substantially
justified.” Shafer v. Astrue, 518 F.3d 1067,
1071 (9th Cir. 2008).
the EAJA, “substantial justification” means that
“‘the government's position must have a
reasonable basis in law and fact.'”
Shafer, 518 F.3d at 1071 (quoting Corbin v.
Apfel, 149 F.3d 1051, 1052 (9th Cir. 1998)).
“Where ... the ALJ's decision was reversed on the
basis of procedural errors, the question is not
whether [Defendant's] position as to the merits of
[Plaintiff's] disability claim was substantially
justified. Rather, the relevant question is whether
[Defendant's] decision ...