SHALALA, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES v. SCHAEFER
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT
Argued March 31, 1993
Decided June 24, 1993
In 1986, respondent Schaefer filed a claim for Social Security disability benefits, which was denied by petitioner Secretary at the administrative level. Schaefer sought judicial review and, on April 4, 1989, the District Court reversed the administrative denial of benefits and remanded the case to the Secretary pursuant to the fourth sentence of 42 U.S.C. 405(g). Schaefer was awarded benefits on remand and, in July 1990, he returned to the District Court and filed for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). In opposing the motion, the Secretary noted that the EAJA required Schaefer to file his application within 30 days of "final judgment" in the action, 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(B), and argued that the 30-day clock began running when the District Court's sentence-four remand order of April 4, 1989, became final, which would have occurred at the end of the 60 days for appeal provided under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a). The District Court awarded fees to Schaefer, holding that a sentence-four remand order is not a final judgment where a court retains jurisdiction and plans to enter a judgment after remand proceedings are complete. The Court of Appeals affirmed on the same basis.
SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, SOUTER, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 303.
William K. Kelley argued the cause pro hac vice for petitioner. On the briefs were Solicitor General Starr, Acting Solicitor General Bryson, Assistant Attorney General Gerson, Deputy Solicitor General Mahoney, Edwin S. Kneedler, and William Kanter.
Randall J. Fuller argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Brian Wolfman and David C. Vladeck. *
[ Footnote * ] Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for Legal Services of Northern California, Inc., et al. by Gary F. Smith and Gill Deford; and for the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives by Nancy G. Shor and Kirk B. Roose.
JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case concerns the proper timing of an application for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) in a Social Security case. Under 42 U.S.C. 405(g), a claimant has the right to seek judicial review of a final [509 U.S. 292, 294] decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services denying Social Security benefits. One possible outcome of such a suit is that the district court, pursuant to sentence four of 405(g), will enter "a judgment . . . reversing the decision of the Secretary . . . [and] remanding the cause for a rehearing." The issue here is whether the 30-day period for filing an application for EAJA fees begins immediately upon expiration of the time for appeal of such a "sentence-four remand order" or sometime after the administrative proceedings on remand are complete.
In 1986, respondent Richard Schaefer filed an application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 49 Stat. 622, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 401 et seq. (1988 ed. and Supp. III). He was denied benefits at the administrative level, and sought judicial review by filing suit against the Secretary as authorized by 405(g). Schaefer and the Secretary filed cross-motions for summary judgment. On April 4, 1989, the District Court held that the Secretary had committed three errors in ruling on Schaefer's case and entered an order stating that "the Secretary's decision denying disability insurance benefits to [Schaefer] is reversed, that the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment are denied, and that the case is remanded to the Secretary for further consideration in light of this Order." App. to Pet. for Cert. 27a.
In accordance with this order, Schaefer's application for benefits was reconsidered at the administrative level, and was granted. On July 18, 1990, Schaefer returned to the District Court and filed an application for attorney's fees pursuant to EAJA. In response, the Secretary noted that Schaefer was required to file any application for EAJA fees "within thirty days of final judgment in the action," 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(B), and argued that the relevant "final judgment" in the case was the administrative decision on [509 U.S. 292, 295] remand, which had become final on April 2, 1990. The District Court stayed action on Schaefer's EAJA application pending this Court's imminent ruling in Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89 (1991).
Melkonyan was announced shortly thereafter, holding that a final administrative decision could not constitute a "final judgment" for purposes of 2412(d)(1)(B). Id., at 96. In light of Melkonyan, the Secretary changed positions to argue that EAJA's 30 day clock began running when the District Court's April 4, 1989, order (not the administrative ruling on remand) became final, which would have occurred at the end of the 60 days for appeal provided under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a). Thus, the Secretary concluded, Schaefer's time to file his EAJA application expired on July 3, 1989, over a year before the application was filed. The District Court, however, found Schaefer's EAJA application timely under the controlling Circuit precedent of Welter v. Sullivan, 941 F.2d 674 (CA8 1991), which held that a sentence-four remand order is not a final judgment where "the district court retain[s] jurisdiction . . . and plan[s] to enter dispositive sentence four judgmen[t]" after the administrative proceedings on remand are complete. Id., at 675. The District Court went on to rule that Schaefer was entitled to $1,372.50 in attorney's fees.
The Secretary fared no better on appeal. The Eighth Circuit declined the Secretary's suggestion for en banc reconsideration of Welter, and affirmed the District Court in an unpublished per curiam opinion. Judgt. order reported at 960 F.2d 1053 (1992). The Secretary filed a petition for certiorari, urging us to reverse the Court of Appeals summarily. We granted certiorari, 506 U.S. 97 (1992), and set the case for oral argument.
The first sentence of 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(B) provides:
In cases reviewing final agency decisions on Social Security benefits, the exclusive methods by which district courts may remand to the Secretary are set forth in sentence four and sentence six of 405(g), which are set forth in the margin. 1 See Melkonyan, supra, at 99-100. Schaefer correctly [509 U.S. 292, 297] concedes that the District Court's remand order in this case was entered pursuant to sentence four. 2 He argues, however, that a district court proceeding under that provision need not enter a judgment at the time of remand, but may postpone it and retain jurisdiction pending completion of the administrative proceedings. That argument, however, is inconsistent with [the plain language of sentence four,] which [authorizes a district court to enter a judgment "with or without" a remand order, not a remand order "with or without a judgment.] See Sullivan v. Finkelstein, 496 U.S. 617, 629 (1990). Immediate entry of judgment (as opposed to entry of judgment after post-remand agency proceedings have been completed and their results filed with the court) is, in fact, the principal feature that distinguishes a sentence-four remand from a sentence-six remand. See Melkonyan, 501 U.S., at 101 -102.
Nor is it possible to argue that the judgment authorized by sentence four, if it includes a remand, does not become a "final judgment" - as required by 2412(d) - upon expiration of the time for appeal. If that were true, there would never be any final judgment in cases reversed and remanded for further agency proceedings (including those which suffer that fate after the Secretary has filed the results of a sentence-six remand). Sentence eight of 405(g) states that "[t]he judgment of the court" - which must be a reference to a sentence-four judgment, since that is the only judgment authorized by 405(g) - "shall be final except that it shall be [509 U.S. 292, 298] subject to review in the same manner as a judgment in other civil actions." Thus, when the time for seeking appellate review has run, the sentence-four judgment fits squarely within the term "final judgment" as used in 2412(d), which is defined to mean "a judgment that is final and not appealable." 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(2)(G). We described the law with complete accuracy in Melkonyan when we said:
On the last point, Schaefer is right. Given the facts recited by the Court in Hudson, the remand order there could have been authorized only under sentence four. See 490 U.S., at 880 -881; cf. n. 2, supra. However, the facts in Hudson also show that the District Court had not terminated the case, but had retained jurisdiction during the remand. And that was a central element in our decision, as the penultimate sentence of the opinion shows:
Schaefer's second argument is that a sentence-four remand order cannot be considered a "final judgment" for purposes of 2412(d)(1)(B) because that provision requires the party seeking fees to submit an application "show[ing] that [he] is a prevailing party." That showing, Schaefer contends, cannot be made until the proceedings on remand are complete, since a Social Security claimant does not "prevail" until he is awarded Social Security benefits. The premise of this argument is wrong. No holding of this Court has ever denied prevailing-party status (under 2412(d)(1)(B)) to a plaintiff who won a remand order pursuant to sentence four of 405(g). Dicta in Hudson stated that "a Social Security [509 U.S. 292, 301] claimant would not, as a general matter, be prevailing party within the meaning of the EAJA merely because a court had remanded the action to the agency for further proceedings." 490 U.S., at 887 . But that statement (like the holding of the case) simply failed to recognize the distinction between a sentence-four remand, which terminates the litigation with victory for the plaintiff, and a sentence-six remand, which does not. The sharp distinction between the two types of remand had not been made in the lower court opinions in Hudson, see Hudson v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 839 F.2d 1453 (CA11 1988); App. to Pet. for Cert. in Sullivan v. Hudson, O.T. 1988, No. 616, pp. 17a-20a (setting forth unpublished District Court opinion), was not included in the question presented for decision, 5 and was mentioned for the first time in the closing pages of the Secretary's reply brief, see Reply Brief for Petitioner in Sullivan v. Hudson, O.T. 1988, No. 616, pp. 14-17. It is only decisions after Hudson - specifically Finkelstein and Melkonyan - which establish that the sentence-four, sentence-six distinction is crucial to the structure of judicial review established under 405(g). See Finkelstein, 496 U.S., at 626 ; Melkonyan, 501 U.S., at 97 -98.
Hudson's dicta that remand does not generally confer prevailing-party status relied on three cases, none of which supports that proposition as applied to sentence-four remands. Hanrahan v. Hampton, 446 U.S. 754, 758 -759 (1980), rejected an assertion of prevailing-party status, not by virtue of having secured a remand, but by virtue of having obtained a favorable procedural ruling (the reversal on appeal of a directed verdict) during the course of the judicial proceedings. Hewitt v. Helms, 482 U.S. 755 (1987), held [509 U.S. 292, 302] that a plaintiff does not become a prevailing party merely by obtaining "a favorable judicial statement of law in the course of litigation that results in judgment against the plaintiff;" id., at 763 (emphasis added). (A sentence-four remand, of course, is a judgment for the plaintiff.) And the third case cited in Hudson, Texas State Teachers Assn. v. Garland Independent School Dist., 489 U.S. 782 (1989), affirmatively supports the proposition that a party who wins a sentence-four remand order is a prevailing party. Garland held that status to have been obtained "[i]f the plaintiff has succeeded on any significant issue in litigation which achieve[d] some of the benefit . . . sought in bringing suit." Id., at 791-792 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Obtaining a sentence-four judgment reversing the Secretary's denial of benefits certainly meets this description. See also Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103 (1992).
Finally, Schaefer argues that, even if the District Court should have entered judgment in connection with its April 4, 1989, order remanding the case to the Secretary, the fact remains that it did not. And since no judgment was entered, he contends, the 30-day time period for filing an application for EAJA fees cannot have run. We agree.
An EAJA application may be filed until 30 days after a judgment becomes "not appealable" - i.e., 30 days after the time for appeal has ended. See 2412(d)(1)(B), (d)(2)(G); see also Melkonyan, 501 U.S., at 102 . Rule 4(a) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure establishes that, in a civil case to which a federal officer is a party, the time for appeal does not end until 60 days after "entry of judgment," and that a judgment is considered entered for purposes of the rule only if it has been "entered in compliance with Rul[e] 58 . . . of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure." Fed. Rules App. Proc. 4(a)(1), (7). Rule 58, in turn, requires a district court to set forth every judgment "on a separate document," and provides that "[a] judgment is effective only when so set [509 U.S. 292, 303] forth." See United States v. Indrelunas, 411 U.S. 216, 220 (1973) (per curiam).
Since the District Court's April 4 remand order was a final judgment, see infra, at 7, a "separate document" of judgment should have been entered. It is clear from the record that this was not done. The Secretary does not dispute that, but argues that a formal "separate document" of judgment is not needed for an order of a district court to become appealable. That is quite true, see 28 U.S.C. 1291; Bankers Trust Co. v. Mallis, 435 U.S. 381 (1978) (per curiam); Finkelstein, supra, at 628, n. 7, but also quite irrelevant. EAJA's 30-day time limit runs from the end of the period for appeal, not the beginning. Absent a formal judgment, the District Court's April 4 order remained "appealable" at the time that Schaefer filed his application for EAJA fees, and thus the application was timely under 2412(d)(1). 6
[ Footnote 2 ] Sentence-six remands may be ordered in only two situations: where the Secretary requests a remand before answering the complaint or where new, material evidence is adduced that was for good cause not presented before the agency. See 405(g) (sentence six); Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89, 99 -100, and n. 2 (1991); cf. Sullivan v. Finkelstein, 496 U.S. 617, 626 (1990). The District Court's April 4, 1989, remand order clearly does not fit within either situation.
[ Footnote 3 ] The Secretary not only failed to object to the District Court's retention of jurisdiction, but affirmatively endorsed the practice as a means of accommodating the lower court cases holding that a 405(g) plaintiff does not become a prevailing party until Social Security benefits are actually awarded. Reply Brief for Petitioner in Sullivan v. Hudson, O.T. 1988, No. 616, pp. 12-13. Those precedents were highly favorable to the Government, of course, because they relieved the Secretary of liability for EAJA fees in all cases where Social Security benefits were ultimately denied. But they were also at war with the view - expressed later in the [509 U.S. 292, 300] Secretary's Hudson reply brief - that a sentence-four remand order is a "final judgment" in the civil action. Id., at 16. Essentially, the Secretary in Hudson wanted it both ways: he wanted us to regard retention of jurisdiction as proper for purposes of determining prevailing-party status, but as improper for purposes of awarding fees on remand.
[ Footnote 4 ] JUSTICE STEVENS says that our holding "overrul[es]" Sullivan v. Hudson 490 U.S. 877 (1989). Post, at 304, 311. We do not think that is an accurate characterization. Hudson remains good law as applied to remands ordered pursuant to sentence six. And since the distinction between sentence-four and sentence-six remands was neither properly presented nor considered in Hudson, see supra, at 299 and n. 3, and infra, at 8-9, limiting Hudson to sentence-six cases does not "overrule" the decision even in part. See Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 631 (1993). We agree with JUSTICE STEVENS that, until today, there has been some contradiction in our case law on this subject. In resolving it, however, we have not simply chosen Melkonyan's dicta over Hudson, but have grounded our decision in the text and structure of the relevant statutes, particularly 405.
[ Footnote 5 ] As formulated in the Secretary's petition, the question on which the Court granted certiorari in Hudson was: "Whether Social Security administrative proceedings conducted after a remand from the courts are "adversary adjudications" for which attorney fees are available under the [EAJA]." Pet. for Cert. in Sullivan v. Hudson, O.T. 1988, No. 616, p. I.
[ Footnote 6 ] We disagree with JUSTICE STEVENS' assertion that "the respondent has prevailed precisely because the District Court in this case did enter a remand order without entering a judgment." Post, at 305, n. 2 (emphasis in original). By entering a sentence-four remand order, the District Court did enter a judgment; it just failed to comply with the formalities of Rule 58 in doing so. That was error but, as detailed in the text, the relevant rules and statutes impose the burden of that error on the party seeking to assert an untimeliness defense, here the Secretary. Thus, contrary to JUSTICE STEVENS' suggestion, see ibid. our ruling in favor of respondent is not at all inconsistent with the proposition that sentence four and sentence six provide the exclusive methods by which district courts may remand a 405 case to the Secretary.
JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom JUSTICE BLACKMUN joins, concurring in the judgment.
In Sullivan v. Hudson, 490 U.S. 877 (1989), a case, like this one, in which a federal court reversed the Secretary of [509 U.S. 292, 304] Health and Human Services' claims determination and remanded the case to the Social Security Administration (Agency) for reconsideration (a so-called "sentence-four" remand), we held that claimants who are otherwise eligible for attorneys, fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412(d), are entitled to reimbursement for fees incurred on remand. In so holding, it was our understanding, consistent with "prevailing party" jurisprudence in other areas of the law, 490 U.S., at 886 -887, that "[n]o fee award at all would have been available to [the claimant] absent successful conclusion of the remand proceedings," id., at 889.
Two Terms later, in Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89 (1991), we stated in dicta that, in sentence-four remand cases, the 30-day period in which claimants must submit their EAJA fee applications begins to run when the district court issues its remand order. Id., at 101-102. That statement was in obvious tension with the holding of Hudson, for it makes little sense to start the 30-day EAJA clock running before a claimant even knows whether he or she will be a "prevailing party" under EAJA by securing benefits on remand.
The question presented in this case is how best to reconcile this tension in our cases. If we reject the Government's rather bizarre proposal of requiring all Social Security claimants who achieve a sentence-four remand to file a protective EAJA application within 30 days of the remand order, and then update or amend their applications if they are successful on remand, see Brief for Petitioner 26-30, we are left with essentially two alternatives. We can [overrule] Hudson and endorse Melkonyan's dicta that the 30-day clock under EAJA begins to run once the district court issues a sentence-four remand order. That is the path followed by the majority. Alternatively, we can repudiate the dicta in Melkonyan and reaffirm the understanding of EAJA that we had at the time we decided Hudson: that fees are available [509 U.S. 292, 305] for services rendered on remand before the Agency, and the 30-day EAJA clock begins to run when the district court enters a final, dispositive judgment for EAJA purposes once the proceedings on remand have been completed. That is the path followed by the Court of Appeals in this case and several Courts of Appeals that have struggled with the tension between Hudson and Melkonyan. 1 Because that approach accords with a proper understanding of the purposes underlying EAJA and, in my view, common sense, I would affirm not only the judgment of the Court of Appeals, but its reasoning as well.
The major premise underlying the Court's contrary decision today is that there is sharp distinction, for purposes of EAJA, between remands ordered pursuant to sentence four and sentence six of 42 U.S.C. 405(g). 2 Legal expenses incurred in a "sentence-six" remand may be recoverable under EAJA, the Court suggests, whereas such expenses incurred in a sentence-four remand, the far more common of the two, are most definitely not recoverable. Ante, at 298-300. While this dichotomy has the superficial appeal of purporting to "harmoniz[e] the remand provisions of 405(g) with the EAJA requirement that a "final judgment" be entered in the civil action in order to trigger the EAJA filing period," [509 U.S. 292, 306] Melkonyan, 501 U.S., at 102 , 3 it directly contradicts, in my view, the admonition repeated in our cases that "the language of [EAJA] must be construed with reference to the purpose of . . . EAJA and the realities of litigation against the Government." Sullivan v. Finkelstein, 496 U.S. 617, 630 (1990). See also Sullivan v. Hudson, 490 U.S., at 889 -890.
As explained above, our decision in Hudson was based in part on the premise that prevailing party status for purposes of EAJA could not be determined until after proceedings on remand were completed. I find unpersuasive the Court's attempt to distinguish cases relied upon in Hudson that we previously characterized as "for all intents and purposes identical." Id., at 886; see ante, at 301-302. 4 Nevertheless, [509 U.S. 292, 307] the Court's holding today that a claimant who secures nothing more than an order instructing the Secretary to try again is a "prevailing party" does undermine one premise of our decision in Hudson. It is, however, only one premise. Hudson stood on broader grounds, and I continue to believe that our opinion in that case correctly explained why legal services performed in agency proceedings on remand are properly within the coverage of EAJA:
That sound and eminently reasonable conclusion was not undermined by our decision in Sullivan v. Finkelstein, [509 U.S. 292, 309] 496 U.S. 617 (1990), the case that first drew the distinction between sentence-four and sentence-six remands. To be sure, there is language in Finkelstein that supports the Court's conclusion today that a final judgment must accompany a sentence-four remand order and that such a judgment starts the 30-day clock for filing a fee application under EAJA. But Finkelstein, unlike Hudson, was not a case interpreting EAJA. The question presented was whether the District Court order invalidating Agency regulations as inconsistent with the Social Security Act was a "final decision" within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. 1291, and thus subject to immediate appeal by the Secretary. In holding that it was, we were careful to note that the issue presented was "appealability," not "the proper time period for filing a petition for attorney's fees under EAJA." 496 U.S., at 628 -629, n. 8. More directly, we expressly declined respondent's invitation to import into our analysis of appealability under 1291 our reasoning and analysis of the EAJA in Hudson. See 496 U.S., at 630 .
In Melkonyan, we changed course. The distinction that we had drawn between the question of appealability under 1291 and eligibility for fees under EAJA was blurred; in Melkonyan, we imported whole-cloth our analysis from Finkelstein, which, again, concerned 1291, into our analysis of when the 30-day limitations period for filing an EAJA fee application began to run. It was in that case that we first crafted the rigid distinction between a sentence-four remand and a sentence-six remand for purposes of EAJA, and stated in dicta that the "final judgment in the action" referred to in 2412(d)(1)(B) of EAJA was the judgment entered concomitantly with a sentence-four remand order.
In my opinion, we should abandon that dicta. While the distinction between a sentence-four and a sentence-six remand may have some force for purposes of appealability, it is a distinction without a difference when viewed, as it should be, "with reference to the purpose of the EAJA and [509 U.S. 292, 310] the realities of litigation against the Government." Finkelstein, 496 U.S., at 630 . Regardless of whether the remand is ordered pursuant to sentence four or sentence six, the claimant will be dependent on the lawyer's services on remand in order to secure the benefits to which he or she may be entitled. If anything, recovery of fees in cases remanded pursuant to sentence four is more important for purposes of effectuating the goals of EAJA than the recovery of fees in sentence-six cases. As we explained in Finkelstein, a sentence-six remand frequently occurs because the claimant seeks to present new evidence of which neither the Agency nor the claimant was aware at the time the Secretary's benefits determination was made. Id., at 626. Thus, in many sentence-six cases, the added expenses incurred by the claimant on remand cannot be attributed to any wrongful or unjustified decisions by the Secretary. That is not the case, of course, with a sentence-four remand; a court's order to remand a case pursuant to sentence four of 405(g) necessarily means that the Secretary has committed legal error. The claimant is sent back to the administrative proceedings, with all the expenses incurred therein, precisely because of decisions made by the Secretary. For the reasons we articulated in Hudson, fees incurred under these circumstances should be covered under EAJA.
Claimants have 30 days from "final judgment in the action" to file an application for fees. 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(B). In Hudson, the Government conceded that the "final judgment" referred to in 2412(d)(1)(B) was a judgment entered in the district court after the proceedings on remand were completed. Hudson, 490 U.S., at 887 . In my view, nothing in Finkelstein, a case interpreting a different statute, undermined that common sense understanding of the procedural steps that must be taken to become eligible for a fee award: (1) secure a remand order; (2) prevail on remand; and (3) have an appropriate judgment entered. I would therefore disavow the dicta in Melkonyan and hold, as did the court [509 U.S. 292, 311] below and the Courts of Appeals for two other Federal Circuits, 5 that:
[ Footnote 1 ] See, e.g., Hafner v. Sullivan, 972 F.2d 249, 252 (CA8 1992); Labrie v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 976 F.2d 779, 785 (CA1 1992); Gutierrez v. Sullivan, 953 F.2d 579, 584 (CA10 1992).
[ Footnote 2 ] See ante, at 296-297, n. 1. The Court reasons that remands can be ordered only pursuant to sentence six or sentence four, and that Congress left no room for hybrids or for cases that did not fit neatly into either category. Thus, referring to "the plain language of sentence four," ante, at 297, the Court assumes that the sentence "authorizes a district court to enter a judgment `with or without' a remand order, not a remand order `with or without' a judgment," ibid. Ironically, when we come to the end of the Court's opinion, we learn that the respondent has prevailed precisely because [the District Court in this case did enter a remand order without entering a judgment.]
[ Footnote 3 ] The EAJA, 28 U.S.C. 2412, provides in relevant part:
[ Footnote 4 ] As we explained in Hudson: