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CORREA v. HECKLER

May 1, 1984

ANDREITA CORREA, Planitiff, against MARGARET M. HECKLER, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: WARD

WARD, District Judge

On July 19, 1983, this Court reversed a decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (the "Secretary") *fn1" denying plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits, pursuant to section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff's attorneys, associated with the Legal Services for the Elderly, now move for allowances of attorneys' fees and litigation costs in the amount of $16,151.50 pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d) (the "EAJA"). They seek reimbursement from the United States for attorneys' fees and costs incurred between January 1979 and November 1983 in connection with plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits. For the reasons hereinafter stated, plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

 BACKGROUND

 The procedural history of this case is unusually lengthy and complex. Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits on October 5, 1977. Her application was initially denied on December 27, 1977, and was denied again after reconsideration on April 3, 1978. At plaintiff's request, a de novo hearing was held on June 15, 1978. On August 2, 1978, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") rendered a written decision denying benefits on the ground that plaintiff's impairment did not prevent her from engaging "in light and sedentary physical activity" and that she had the "residual functional capacity to engage in the various jobs cited during the course of the hearing." On November 22, 1978, this determination became the final decision of the Secretary when it was adopted by the Appeals Council.

 Plaintiff, who had not been represented by counsel during the aforementioned proceedings, filed this acton through her primary attorney on January 18, 1979 (the "first district court proceedings"). This Court, by decision and order entered on November 26, 1979, dismissed plaintiff's action, on the grounds that the decision of the Secretary was supported by substantial evidence and that "good cause" did not exist for a remand.

 Plaintiff thereafter appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. On appeal, plaintiff argued for reversal or remand, on the ground that the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404(P), which had been enacted after the denial of her application for disability insurance benefits, should be applied to her case because she had established inability to return to her former work. After filling a brief opposing reversal of this Court's decision, counsel for the Secretary suggested permitting plaintiff to reapply for benefits and staying the appeal pending disposition of the new application. The Second Circuit directed the parties to attempt to stipulate as to the disposition of the appeal.

 On April 16, 1980, the Secretary submitted to the Second Circuit a memorandum from the Appeals Council which stated, inter alia, that the Appeals Council would not agree to a voluntary remand. Instead, the Secretary submitted a proposed stipulation which would stay the appeal and permit plaintiff to start over with a new application. Plaintiff, in turn, submitted a proposed counter-order which would remand the case to the Secretary for a new hearing.

 On May 1, 1980, the Court of Appeals remanded the case to this Court with instructions to resolve the conflict between the parties or to remand the case to the Secretary.This Court, with the agreement of the parties, vacated its prior judgment and remanded the case to the Secretary for further action.

 On August 20, 1980, the Appeals Council vacated its prior determination, and remanded the case to an ALJ. The Appeals Council also directed the ALJ to obtain a consultative orthopedic examination, a psychological capacities evaluation, a consultative psychiatric examination with psychological testing, and a residual functional capacities examination. The Appeals Council directed the ALJ to evaluate the case sequentially, as ordered by the Court, and to return the case with a recommended decision.

 In accordance with this order, plaintiff was sent to various doctors for evaluation over the next five months. She also submitted additional evidence from her own doctors. A new hearing was held on March 31, 1981, at which plaintiff appeared and testified. A vocational expert testified as well.

 The ALJ issued his recommended decision on May 28, 1981. Based on the vocational and medical evidence, the ALJ found that plaintiff could not engage in her past work as a sewing machine operator. He determined that although plaintiff retained the functional capacity for sedentary work, her skills were not transferable to other work because of her age and education. Therefore, using the medical-vocational regulations, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had been under a disability since October 5, 1977.

 This recommended decision was sent to the Appeals Council, which, on July 23, 1981, again remanded the case to the ALJ for further administrative action. The Appeals Council gave two reasons for this remand: first, that there was a conflict in the residual functional capacity assessments of two of the doctors; and second, that further clarification was needed of the finding that plaintiff's skills were not transferable to other jobs.

 After the Appeals Council's rejection of the ALJ's recommended decision and remand to the ALJ, plaintiff moved for an order of this Court directing the Secretary to complete all administrative proceedings expeditiously or, in the alternative, to award benefits to plaintiff on the basis of the ALJ's recommended decision. This motion was withdrawn upon plaintiff's receipt of the final administrative decision in December 1981.

 In accordance with the remand by the Appeals Council, the ALJ conducted another hearing on September 22, 1981, and reviewed all the evidence. Once again, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had been disabled since October 1977. With respect to the two conflicting medical reports in question, the ALJ indicated that he had given little weight to either, finding neither particularly reliable. Another hearing was held at which both plaintiff's physician and a vocational expert testified.The ALJ once again ...


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