Herron v. Bowen, 85-1192

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Citation788 F.2d 1127
Docket NumberNo. 85-1192,85-1192
Parties, Unempl.Ins.Rep. CCH 16,778 Davis C. HERRON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Otis W. BOWEN, Secretary of Health & Human Services, Defendant-Appellee. Summary Calendar.
Decision Date05 May 1986

Page 1127

788 F.2d 1127
13 Soc.Sec.Rep.Ser. 279, Unempl.Ins.Rep. CCH 16,778
Davis C. HERRON, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Otis W. BOWEN, Secretary of Health & Human Services,
No. 85-1192 Summary Calendar.
United States Court of Appeals,
Fifth Circuit.
May 5, 1986.

Page 1128

Carl Weisbrod, Dallas, Tex., for plaintiff-appellant.

James A. Rolfe, U.S. Atty., Charles N. Ory, Asst. U.S. Atty., Ms. Gayla Fuller, Acting Regional Atty., Office of Gen. Karen J. Behner, Atty., Counsel, Dept. of Health & Human Services, Dallas, Tex., for defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Before RUBIN, REAVLEY and HILL, Circuit Judges.


The plaintiff, Davis C. Herron, appeals from a district court order denying him an award of attorneys' fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2412(d)(1)(A)-(B). By unpublished opinion, a panel of this court affirmed the district court. Herron v. Heckler, No. 85-1192, 772 F.2d 902 (5th Cir. Aug. 27, 1985). Subsequently, we vacated this opinion and granted panel rehearing, Herron v. Heckler, 775 F.2d 603 (5th Cir.1985), requesting supplemental briefing on the following issues: 1) whether the 1985 amendments to the Equal Access to Justice Act should have been applied to this case; and 2) whether under the amendments and the

Page 1129

standards set forth therein the request for attorneys' fees should have been granted.

Though the amended statute does apply, its changes would not require a different result in this case. Nevertheless, having carefully reviewed the record once again, we conclude that our original decision was in error. Therefore, we direct that the petitioner's request for fees be granted and remand for a determination of the appropriate amount.


Davis Herron was a Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Manhattan College. In December of 1980, at age 52, and after a history of treatment for psychiatric disorders, he manifested symptoms of a psychiatric condition that forced him to take a leave of absence from his job and caused him to voluntarily hospitalize himself for treatment. On March 31, 1981, he filed an application for disability insurance benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Secs. 416(i) & 423, alleging that he had been unable to work since December 7, 1980, due to hypertension, depression, and anxiety.

After the Social Security Administration denied Herron's application both initially and upon reconsideration, he took his case to an administrative law judge who heard his claim on November 12, 1981. The ALJ concluded that Herron was ineligible for benefits as his impairment was not severe and he was not disabled. On appeal, the Social Security Appeals Council originally denied Herron's request for review, but later, in January of 1983, did an about-face--the Council concluded that Herron's impairments were severe, as contemplated by 20 C.F.R. Secs. 404.1520-21, and precluded Herron's past work as a professor of religious studies. The Council vacated the ALJ's first decision and ordered a supplemental hearing be held to obtain the testimony of a vocational expert, and determine what jobs, if any, Herron would be able to perform.

After the conclusion of the second hearing, the ALJ again determined that Herron's impairments of "bipolar order, depressed, without psychotic features" did not render him eligible for benefits. On August 30, 1983 the Appeals Council adopted the findings and conclusion of the administrative law judge.

Undaunted by his thus far fruitless attempts to receive disability benefits from the Secretary, Herron took his claim to district court, where he at last prevailed. The case was referred to a magistrate, who found that the Secretary's decision to withhold benefits from Herron was not based upon substantial evidence. The district court independently reviewed the record, adopted the findings and conclusion of the magistrate, and granted Herron the benefits he requested on a motion for summary judgment. Shortly thereafter, this application for fees was filed.


The Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA") provides that a court shall award attorneys' fees against the United States to a prevailing party "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. Sec. 2412(d)(1)(A). The Act was intended to award "private litigants the expenses of seeking review of or defending against unreasonable government action" and "to encourage litigants of limited means to vindicate their rights by challenging regulations or agency actions that they would otherwise comply with in order to avoid paying the costs of litigation." Russell v. National Mediation Board, 764 F.2d 341, 344 (5th Cir.) ("Russell I "), vac. on other grounds and remanded, 775 F.2d 1284 (5th Cir.1985) ("Russell II ").

On August 5, 1985, Congress reenacted and amended the EAJA. A panel of this court has, after a careful review of the pertinent statutory provisions, concluded that, inter alia, the clarifying amendments of the new statute apply to fee applications pending on the date of enactment. Russell II, supra, 775 F.2d at 1285-88. As this fee application was still pending on August 5,

Page 1130

1985, the amendments to the EAJA clearly apply.

Both prior to and after the 1985 amendments to the EAJA, a successful EAJA petitioner had to show that he was the prevailing party. There is no doubt that such was the case with Herron. The government could then oppose the fee application by arguing either that its position was substantially justified or that, due to special circumstances, an award of attorneys' fees to the petitioner would be unjust. This was true prior to the enactment of the 1985 amendments and remains the law at present--the 1985 amendments only purported to clarify the meaning of "position of the United States" and "substantial justification." Although these clarifying amendments apply to this case, Russell II, supra, and we discuss them below, we conclude that they do not affect its outcome.

Congress has now specifically defined the phrase "position of the United States."...

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