GAJARSA, Circuit Judge.
Plaintiff-Appellant Libas, Ltd. ("Libas") appeals the denial of its petition for attorneys' fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"). 28 U.S.C. § 2412 (2000). The Court of International Trade denied Libas' petition, which it filed in association with litigation concerning the United States Customs Service ("Customs") classification of fabric that Libas imports from India. Libas, Ltd. v. United States, No. 95-01-00014, slip op. at 1 (Ct. Int'l Trade May 16, 2001) ("Order"); see Libas, Ltd. v. United States, 944 F.Supp. 938 (Ct. Int'l Trade 1996), vacated-in-part by 193 F.3d 1361 (Fed.Cir.1999) (finding that the Court of International Trade erred in crediting the testimony of Customs' experts because the tests used by such experts to evaluate Libas' fabric were not shown to be sufficiently reliable under the analysis set forth in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm. Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993)), additional proceedings at 118 F.Supp.2d 1233 (Ct. Int'l Trade 2000) (ordering reliquidation of the fabric after determining that classification was not supported by the evidence). Because the Court of International Trade did not sufficiently explain its rationale for denying Libas' EAJA petition for attorneys' fees and expenses, we vacate and remand.
Customs classified Libas' imported cotton fabric as power-loomed. Libas contended that its fabric was hand-loomed, and that the government of India certified the fabric as hand-loomed. Libas, 193 F.3d at 1363. Customs tested the fabric using a particular laboratory test and upon classifying the fabric as power-loomed, Libas' duty rates were higher than under the hand-loomed classification. Id. Libas challenged the classification. It initially lost before the Court of International Trade, but on remand from appeal to this court it obtained relief. Libas, 118 F.Supp.2d at 1238. The Court of International Trade determined in proceedings on remand that the Customs test did not meet the requisite standards of reliability, and accordingly found that the evidence supported "the
Under the theory that it had prevailed in the litigation, Libas petitioned for attorneys' fees and expenses under EAJA, which provides in relevant part:
28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A) (2000) (emphases added).
The government requested, and the court granted, three extensions of time to respond to Libas' petition. However, the court denied the government's fourth extension request. The government thereafter filed a response with an application to file out-of-time. The court denied the petition to file out-of-time, but in the same Order denied Libas' EAJA petition for attorneys' fees and expenses.
In its Order, the Court of International Trade's complete discussion for denying Libas' unopposed petition is as follows:
Order at 1.
Libas timely appealed this denial. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(5).
This court reviews a trial court's denial of an EAJA claim for attorneys' fees and expenses under an abuse of discretion standard. Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 558, 108 S.Ct. 2541, 101 L.Ed.2d 490 (1988); RAMCOR Servs. Group, Inc. v. United States, 185 F.3d 1286, 1288 (Fed.Cir.1999). However, the trial court's discretion is not without limits and the abuse of discretion standard does not dilute our meaningful examination of the trial court's decision. Hendler v. United States, 952 F.2d 1364, 1380, 1383 (Fed. Cir.1991).
Given the perplexing brevity of the court's Order denying Libas' petition, this appeal presents an issue of first impression for this circuit: whether a trial court's denial of an EAJA petition for attorneys' fees and expenses can be upheld under an abuse of discretion standard when the government provides no evidence that its position was substantially justified and the trial court does not sufficiently explain its basis for denying the EAJA petition for attorneys' fees and expenses. Under general principles of appellate review, and following the decisions of our sister circuits, we hold that such a denial cannot stand, particularly in light of the government's failure to put forth any evidence in support of its position. Kerin v. United States Postal Serv., 218 F.3d 185 (2d Cir.2000); United States v. Hallmark Constr. Co., 200 F.3d 1076 (7th Cir.2000); United States v. Eleven Vehicles, 200 F.3d 203 (3d Cir.2000); Hayes v. Heckler, 785 F.2d 1455 (9th Cir.1986); and United States v. First Nat'l Bank of Circle, 732 F.2d 1444 (9th Cir.1984). However, the trial court can consider the government's failure to submit evidence as an admission that its position was not substantially justified and so state in its opinion. We therefore vacate the Court of International Trade's Order and remand for the court to grant Libas' petition or provide a specific
The EAJA statute provides that a trial court must award attorney's fees where: (i) the claimant is a "prevailing party"; (ii) the government's position was not substantially justified; (iii) no "special circumstances make an award unjust"; and (iv) the fee application is timely submitted and supported by an itemized statement. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A)-(B); INS v. Jean, 496 U.S. 154, 158, 110 S.Ct. 2316, 110 L.Ed.2d 134 (1990). It is uncontested that Libas was the prevailing party and that the fee application was timely filed and adequately supported. In addition, the government alleged no "special circumstances." Therefore, the only question for us on appeal is whether the district court abused its discretion in finding without explanation that the government's position was substantially justified.
This court has previously discussed 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A) when interpreting another subsection of § 2412, noting that the imperative language of § 2412(d)(1)(A), "a court shall award," requires that the government bears the burden of proving its position was substantially justified. Neal & Co. v. United States, 121 F.3d 683, 686 (Fed.Cir.1997); see also Hallmark, 200 F.3d at 1079 (noting the language of § 2412(d)(1)(A) does not create a presumption that the prevailing party will recover attorneys' fees and expenses, but that the government has the burden to prove its position was substantially justified).
In order to review the Court of International Trade's determination that the government met this burden, it is imperative that the court explain its rationale supporting its conclusion that the government's position was substantially justified. This completes the record for review and undergirds the appeals process. See Cabot Corp. v. United States, 788 F.2d 1539, 1543 (Fed.Cir.1986) (noting, in the context of the final judgment rule, that a complete record is required for efficient appellate review, and that the requirement of a complete record helps avoid piecemeal litigation). Such an explanation is particularly important here because Libas "can expect an award of `fees and other expenses' unless the government offers substantial justification for its position." Neal, 121 F.3d at 686. The record reveals that despite three separate requests for extension of time to reply to Libas' petition, the government failed to submit any response justifying its position. While the government attempted to file a proposed response, the government's motion for leave to file out-of-time was denied, and therefore this response is not part of the record before us.
The government argues on appeal that it is "readily apparent" from the opinions issued by the Court of International Trade that the government's position was substantially justified. This argument ignores the burden-placing imperative language of § 2412(d)(1)(A) and derides the concept of appellate review. Moreover, there is ample support from our sister circuits that the government's argument should be rejected in favor of a sunlit process whereby the court explains in its denial why the government's position was substantially justified. See Kerin, 218 F.3d at 193 (vacating and remanding a trial court's order disposing of an EAJA petition for attorneys' fees and expenses, and requesting a "thorough explanation of the reasons for the award"); Eleven Vehicles, 200 F.3d at 211 (noting in review of an EAJA petition for attorneys' fees that the trial "court ... may have been correct in its conclusions but regrettably did not explain how it reached them," and relying in part on support from Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983) (civil rights attorneys' fees award) and Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1187 (3d Cir.1990) (section 1988 attorneys'
Accordingly, we hold that when the government fails to advance any reasoning showing its position was substantially justified, the court in denying an EAJA claim must provide a basis for denial or in the alternative may grant the motion by relying on the government's failure to timely submit any evidence or explanation to carry its burden of proving its position was substantially justified as an admission, and so state in its opinion. On remand the trial court should, within its discretion, and with a certain degree of specificity sufficient to allow this court ample basis to review its conclusions, determine whether or not the government's position was substantially justified. This determination should be based on the record before the trial court, without any additional submissions by the parties.
Finally, we have considered the parties' other arguments and assertions, but find no need to reach these additional perspectives in order to dispose of this appeal.
The Court of International Trade failed to sufficiently explain its denial of Libas' unopposed EAJA petition for attorneys' fees and expenses, and by doing so it abused its discretion. Accordingly, its denial Order is vacated and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Costs to appellant.