May 21, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Buckhannon Interpretation of “Prevailing Party” Applies to EAJA Claims

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Iqbal v. Holder, Jr. on Tuesday, August 21, 2012.

Shahid Iqbal, a citizen of Pakistan, applied for naturalization with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Because of an ongoing background check, USCIS did not act on his application within 120 days after he took the naturalization examination. Iqbal petitioned the district court pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1447(b) and, among other relief, asked the court “to review his application, determine that he met the citizenship requirements, grant him naturalization, and issue a Certificate of Citizenship.” USCIS denied Iqbal’s petition because he had not met the physical presence requirements and moved to dismiss his petition as moot, or for the court to decline jurisdiction. The district court held the filing of the § 1447(b) vested exclusive jurisdiction in it and then remanded the matter to USCIS. In its remand order, the court stated, “The USCIS may determine how to best proceed on remand. Nothing in this order is intended to require the USCIS to change its earlier determination of the merits of the application.”

Iqbal filed a motion for attorney fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. § 2412, which mandates an award to a prevailing party other than the United States. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the denial of an EAJA award because Iqbal was not a prevailing party under 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). The district court had not ordered the USCIS to make any determination by a date certain or to grant Iqbal naturalization. In making this determination, the Tenth Circuit specifically adopted the interpretation of “prevailing party” in Buckhannon Board & Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Dep’t of Health & Human Resources, 532 U.S. 598 (2001) and held that Buckhannon’s interpretation applies to EAJA claims. To be considered a prevailing party, there must be some judicial imprimatur on a legal change between the parties; a voluntary change is not enough.

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