Shalala v. Schaefer

LOCATION: Austin's Auto Body Shop and mobile home

DOCKET NO.: 92-311
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 509 US 292 (1993)
ARGUED: Mar 31, 1993
DECIDED: Jun 24, 1993

Randall J. Fuller - on behalf of the Respondent
William K. Kelley - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Shalala v. Schaefer

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 31, 1993 in Shalala v. Schaefer

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 92-311, Donna E. Shalala v. Richard H. Schaefer.

Mr. Kelley.

William K. Kelley:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The question in this case is whether respondent's application for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act was filed on time.

The case involves the interplay between two statutes, section 2412(d) of EAJA, and 42 United States Code, section 405(g), which is the provision in the Social Security Act that gives unsuccessful applicants for benefits a right to bring a cause of action challenging that decision in district court.

Respondent in this case applied for benefits, and his claim was denied at all levels of the administrative process.

He then filed a civil action pursuant to section 405(g) in district court.

The district court concluded that the agency had made a mistake and reversed the decision denying respondent benefits and remanded the case for further proceedings.

It is undisputed here that the court acted pursuant to sentence four of section 405(g).

That sentence gives district courts the authority to enter a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Secretary with or without remanding the case as well.

Respondent did not at that time file his EAJA fee application, but instead waited until after he was awarded benefits on remand and filed an application at that point.

We contend that that application was untimely.

Under the language of subsection (d)(1)(B) of EAJA, a fee application must be filed within 30 days of final judgment in the underlying civil action for which fees are being sought.

Subsection (d)(2)(G) of EAJA, in turn, defines the term final judgment to mean a judgment that is final and not appealable.

Sentence eight of section 405(g) says that the judgment entered pursuant to sentence four is a final judgment.

It follows under the language of these statutes that respondent's fee application was due at the time that the sentence for judgment was entered and this case was remanded to the Secretary.

Now, this Court's recent decisions in Sullivan against Finkelstein and Melkonyan against Sullivan confirm our reading of the statute as correct.

In Finkelstein, the Court held that sentence four remands constitute a final judgment and that such judgments are appealable.

In that decision, the Court said that any action a court takes under sentence four must include a judgment, whether or not a remand is included as well.

That conclusion followed from the language of sentence four which the Court in Finkelstein said, quote, directs the entry of a judgment.

The statute does not say that a district court can do anything under sentence four without also entering a judgment.

Antonin Scalia:

Well, what if a court makes a mistake?

Isn't that possible?

I mean to say that the court should have entered a judgment is not necessarily to say that the court did enter a judgment.

William K. Kelley:

In Finkelstein, Justice Scalia, that very argument was made, and the Court rejected that point saying that regardless of the label the district court attaches to its order, it is a judgment and it is final and effective as such.

Antonin Scalia:

It shall be deemed a judgment whether the court says so or not.

William K. Kelley:

Yes, otherwise a court would simply be free to act contrary to what the statute permits.

Now, sentence six of section 405(g) stands in contrast to sentence four, for in that sentence Congress gave district courts the authority to remand cases without entering judgment and also to require the Secretary to return to district court after the remand for further proceedings in district court, at which point a judgment would then be entered.

The unanimous opinion a year later in Melkonyan confirmed... further confirms our reading here.

In Melkonyan, the Court said explicitly that section 405(g) only authorizes district courts to act pursuant to the procedures of sentence four or sentence six.