The Ninth Circuit has invalidated $183,160 in attorney fees that had been awarded to Western Watersheds Project for work the group did in the Interior Board of Land Appeals, prior to filing a lawsuit in federal court in Idaho (Western Watersheds Project v. U.S. Dep’t of the Interior, 10-35836).
In its ruling today (Wednesday, April 25), the appeals court said U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill had relied incorrectly on a 1989 Supreme Court decision that dealt with “a very unusual type of social security case” (Sullivan v. Hudson, 490 U.S. 877, 1989). In that decision, the court found that fees could be awarded for administrative proceedings under § 2412(d)(1)(A) if the administrative proceedings were “intimately tied to the resolution of the judicial action,” and “necessary to the attainment of the results Congress sought to promote by providing for fees.”
Relying upon this language, the district court here awarded fees incurred in the administrative proceedings. It reasoned that the administrative proceedings were “intimately tied” to its resolution of the district court action because the court was called upon to review the administrative proceedings and relied upon the record compiled by WWP before the ALJ. It concluded that WWP should be compensated for that work as well as the work done in district court. Under its reasoning, fees would be recoverable for most administrative proceedings in which the district court relies on the administrative record.
But Hudson is a different type of case, the Ninth Circuit said. And, it added, the Supreme Court has subsequently clarified and narrowed the exception to the general rule prohibiting the award of fees for administrative proceedings.
The Court, within two years after Hudson, emphasized that because [the Equal Access to Justice Act] is a partial waiver of sovereign immunity it “must be strictly construed in favor of the United States.” Ardestani v. INS, 502 U.S. 129, 137 (1991). Following this principle, the Court has stated consistently that fees for administrative proceedings can only be awarded under § 2412(d)(1)(A) if the district court ordered the further proceedings, and the district court action remained pending until the conclusion of the administrative proceedings. See Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89, 96-97 (1991).
The court said its own decisions have narrowly construed Hudson, and that Congress “has spoken directly to the subject of fees for administrative grazing-permit proceedings and has
rejected them. Section 504(a) allows administrative fee awards to prevailing parties in administrative proceedings that involve ‘adversary adjudications,’ but goes on to exclude
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