In our last post we discussed the possibility that the government may pay attorney’s fees after an applicant successfully appeals a denial of Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability benefits. Attorney’s fees are not guaranteed if an applicant wins benefits on appeal however because an applicant has to prove that the initial denial of benefits was not “substantially justified” under the Equal Access to Justice Act. In the case of the Portland applicant who waited over nine years for a determination of his benefits and attorney’s fees, an appeals court determined that the applicant was not entitled to benefits because the initial denial of his application was substantially justified.
The administrative law judge that denied the Portland applicant’s claim cited three things to discredit the applicant’s credibility:
- A finding that the applicant lied about driving halfway to the hearing.
- The applicant’s 18-year-old criminal history from California.
- An opinion from a treating physician which was inconclusive regarding whether the applicant was malingering.
The district court rejected the ALJ’s reasoning because the applicant corrected his statements about who drove to the hearing and the applicant’s criminal history was too old and did not involve deceit-related crime. The district court also found that the medical opinion regarding possible malingering did not outweigh the doctors that corroborated the applicant’s subjective complaints.
The applicant’s request for attorney’s fees was ultimately denied however because the ALJ’s consideration of the applicant’s criminal history was not illegal despite being against the Federal Rules of Evidence. The ALJ’s assessment regarding the applicant’s potential malingering and testimony regarding who drove to the hearing also had “some basis” in the record and therefore had a reasonable basis in law and fact.
Source: Hardisty v. Astrue, 3:06-cv-01670-BR, U.S. 9 Cir. App. 2010