Gardner v. Berryhill, No. 14-35164 (9th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
The Ninth Circuit reversed the denial of plaintiff's application for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A). Plaintiff presented new evidence to the Appeals Council after she lost her claim for social security disability benefits before the ALJ. The district court remanded for further consideration and the Commissioner did not appeal. The district court denied plaintiff's request for attorney's fees, concluding that the Commissioner was substantially justified in arguing that the new evidence did not undermine the ALJ's denial of benefits. The issue that was before the district court on the original merits appeal of the ALJ's denial of benefits was not whether there was other evidence that could support a denial of benefits to plaintiff, or whether the Commissioner's denial of benefits might ultimately be sustained. The Ninth Circuit explained that it was whether the actual decision that was made by the ALJ could be affirmed at that time by the district court in light of the new evidence in the record. In this case, it should have been plain that it could not have been affirmed, because the ALJ's decision failed to provide a reason that was still viable for giving the opinion of the treating doctor little weight. The doctor's final report, if credited, would have undermined the ALJ's original finding that plaintiff was not disabled. Even if the Commissioner might have had a legitimate basis for opposing plaintiff's claim, she did not have a basis to oppose remand and to argue that the district court should affirm the existing ALJ opinion.