Dotson v. Astrue

Filing 25

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION recommending that Plf's 23 MOTION for Attorney Fees Under the Equal Access to Justice Act be granted, & that Plf be awarded an EAJA attny's fee in the amount of $2,000.00. Objections to R&R due by 1/23/2009. Signed by Magistrate Judge Bert W. Milling, Jr on 1/8/09. (tot)

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA SOUTHERN DIVISION MATTIE T. DOTSON, Plaintiff, vs. MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant. : : : : : : : : : : : CIVIL ACTION 08-0095-CG-M REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's attorney's Motion for Award of Attorney's Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, with supporting Affidavit (Doc. 23) and Defendant's Notice of Intent Not to Object to Plaintiff's Application for Attorney's Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act 28 U.S.C. 2412 (Doc. 24). After consideration of the pertinent pleadings, it is recommended that the Motion be granted and that Plaintiff be awarded an EAJA attorney's fee in the amount of $2,000.001. In the Motion for Award of Attorney's Fees, counsel for Plaintiff requests that any award of attorney's fees be paid to Plaintiff's attorney rather than to Plaintiff. However, there is no supporting documentation, such as a signed fee agreement or an assignment of the fee, attached. In Panola Land Buying Ass'n v. Clark, 844 F.2d 1506, 1509 (11th Cir. 1988), the Court stated: "It is readily apparent that the party eligible to recover attorneys' fees under the EAJA as part of its litigation expenses is the prevailing party." See also, Reeves v. Astrue, 526 F.3d 732, 738 (11th Cir. 2008) ("We conclude the EAJA means what it says: attorney's fees are awarded to the "prevailing party," not 1 1 Plaintiff filed this action on February 14, 2008 (Doc. 1). On October 30, 2008, the undersigned Judge entered a Report and Recommendation, in which it was recommended that the decision of the Commissioner be reversed, that this action be remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with the Orders of this Court, and that judgment be entered in favor of Plaintiff and against Defendant (Doc. 19). By Order and Judgement entered November 18, 2008, Chief Judge Granade adopted the Report and Recommendation, reversing the decision of the Commissioner and remanding this action for further administrative proceedings (Doc. 21). Judgment was entered in favor of Plaintiff and against Defendant (Doc. 22). On November 25, 2008, Bradley H. Ezell, counsel for Plaintiff, filed a Motion for Award of Attorney's Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, in which he requests a fee of $2,000.00, computed at an hourly rate of $125.00 for 16 hours spent in this Court (Doc. 23). Defendant in his Notice filed December 9, 2008, stated that he does not oppose Plaintiff's Motion (Doc. 24). The EAJA requires a court to award to a prevailing party ... fees and other expenses ... incurred by that party in to the prevailing party's attorney.") In the absence of any evidence that Plaintiff assigned her right to collect EAJA attorney fees to her attorney, the award should be paid to Plaintiff, not Plaintiff's attorney. 2 any civil action ..., including proceedings for judicial review of Agency action, brought by or against the United States ..., unless the court finds that the position of the United States was substantially justified or that special circumstances make an award unjust. 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A). The EAJA further requires that a prevailing party file an application for attorney's fees within thirty days of final judgment in the action. 2412(d)(1)(B). 28 U.S.C. The court's judgment is final sixty days after it is entered, which is the time in which an appeal may be taken pursuant to Rule 4(a) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. See Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 113 S.Ct. 2625, 2632 (1993). Defendant concedes that Plaintiff became the prevailing party when the Court remanded this action, Schaefer, 113 S.Ct. at 2631, that the fee motion was timely filed; however, he does not concede that the original administrative decision denying benefits was not substantially justified (Doc. 24). The EAJA, like 42 U.S.C. 1988, is a fee-shifting statute. The Supreme Court has indicated that "`the most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.'" Watford v. Heckler, 765 F.2d 1562, 1586 (11th Cir. 1985)(EAJA), quoting Hensley v. Eckerhartt, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 1939 (1983)( 1988). 3 In describing this lodestar method of calculation, the United States Supreme Court stated: This calculation provides an objective basis on which to make an initial estimate of the value of a lawyer's services. The party seeking an award of fees should submit evidence supporting the hours worked and the rates claimed. Where the documentation of hours is inadequate, the district court may reduce the award accordingly. The district court also should exclude from this initial fee calculation hours that were not "reasonably expended" .... Cases may be overstaffed, and the skill and experience of lawyers vary widely. Counsel for the prevailing party should make a good-faith effort to exclude from a fee request hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary, just as a lawyer in private practice ethically is obligated to exclude such hours from his fee submission. In the private sector, `billing judgment' is an important component in fee setting. It is no less important here. Hours that are not properly billed to one's client also are not properly billed to one's adversary pursuant to statutory authority. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434 (citations omitted). professional judgment in billing under EAJA. Counsel must use A lawyer should only be compensated for hours spent on activities for which he would bill a client of means who was seriously intent on vindicating similar rights. Norman v. Housing Authority, 836 F.2d 1292, 1301 (11th Cir. 1988). The Court, after examination of Plaintiff's attorney's Motion and supporting Affidavit, and after consideration of the reasonableness of the hours claimed, finds that Plaintiff's 4 counsel's time expended in prosecuting this action for a total of 16 hours is reasonable. With respect to a determination of the hourly rate to apply in a given EAJA case, the express language of the Act provides in pertinent part as follows: The amount of fees awarded under this subsection shall be based upon prevailing market rates for the kind and quality of the services furnished, except that ... attorney fees shall not be awarded in excess of $125 per hour unless the court determines that an increase in the cost of living or a special factor, such as the limited availability of qualified attorneys for the proceedings involved, justifies a higher fee. 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(2)(A)(Supp. 1997). In Meyer v. Sullivan, 958 F.2d 1029 (11th Cir. 1992), the Eleventh Circuit determined that the EAJA establishes a two-step analysis for determining the appropriate hourly rate to be applied in calculating attorney's fees under the Act. The first step in the analysis, ... is to determine the market rate for "similar services [provided] by lawyers of reasonably comparable skills, experience, and reputation." ... The second step, which is needed only if the market rate is greater than $75 per hour, is to determine whether the court should adjust the hourly fee take into account an increase in the cost of living, or a special factor. Id. at 1033-34 (citations omitted & footnote omitted)2. The Subsequent to Meyer, the cap was raised from $75.00 per hour to $125.00 per hour, as set out above in 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(2)(A)(Supp. 1997). 2 5 applicant bears the burden of producing satisfactory evidence that the requested rate is in line with prevailing market rates. NAACP v. City of Evergreen, 812 F.2d 1332, 1338 (11th Cir. 1987). Satisfactory evidence at a minimum is more than the affidavit of the attorney performing the work. 104 S.Ct. 1541, 1547 n.11 (1984). Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, Where the fees or time claimed seem expanded or there is lack of documentation or testimony in support, the court may make an award on its own experience. Norman v. City of Montgomery, 836 F.2d 1292, 1303 (11th Cir. 1988). Where documentation is inadequate, the court is not relieved of its obligation to award a reasonable fee, but the court traditionally has had the power to make such an award without the need of further pleadings or an evidentiary hearing. Id. For years, the prevailing market rate in the Southern District of Alabama has been $125.00 per hour. See e.g., Smith v. Massanari, Civil Action 00-0812-P-M (October 25, 2001); Boone v. Apfel, Civil Action 99-0965-CB-L (August 30, 2001); Lee v. Massanari, Civil Action 00-0518-RV-S (June 29, 2001); Willits v. Massanari, Civil Action 00-0530-RV-C (May 4, 2001); and Square v. Halter, Civil Action 00-0516-BH-L (April 12, 2001). Recently, in an action before Judge Cassady, that rate was increased to account for the ever-increasing cost of living. Barnhart, CA 06-0147-C. Lucy v. In Lucy, the Court adopted the following 6 formula to be used in calculating all future awards of attorney's fees under the EAJA: "`($125/hour) x (CPI-U Annual Average "All Items Index", South Urban, for month and year of temporal midpoint3)/152.4, where 152.4 equals the CPI-U of March 1996, the month and year in which the $125 cap was enacted.'" (Id. At 11, quoting Doc. 31, at 2). The undersigned has adopted this formula for determining the appropriate hourly rate in other actions when requested. However, in this instance, Plaintiff's attorney has not requested an enhanced hourly rate and, therefore, none is recommended. In conclusion, it is recommended that Plaintiff's attorney's Motion be granted as set out above and that Plaintiff be awarded an EAJA attorney's fee in the amount of $2,000.00. MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S EXPLANATION OF PROCEDURAL RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES FOLLOWING RECOMMENDATION AND FINDINGS CONCERNING NEED FOR TRANSCRIPT 1. Objection. Any party who objects to this recommendation or anything in it must, within ten days of the date of service of this document, file specific written objections with the clerk of court. Failure to do so will bar a de novo determination by the district judge of anything in the recommendation and will bar an attack, on appeal, of the factual findings of the magistrate judge. See 28 U.S.C. 636(b)(1)(C); Lewis v. Smith, 855 F.2d 736, 738 (11th Cir. 1988); Nettles v. Wainwright, 677 F.2d 404 (5th Cir. Unit B, 1982)(en banc). The procedure for challenging "The appropriate endpoint for computing the cost of living adjustment is the temporal midpoint of the period during which the compensable services were rendered[;] ... [t]he temporal midpoint is calculated by computing the number of days from the date the claim was prepared until the date of the Magistrate or District Judge's Order and Judgment." Lucy v. Barnhart, CA 060147-C, Doc. 31, at 3. 7 3 the findings and recommendations of the magistrate judge is set out in more detail in SD ALA LR 72.4 (June 1, 1997), which provides that: A party may object to a recommendation entered by a magistrate judge in a dispositive matter, that is, a matter excepted by 28 U.S.C. 636(b)(1)(A), by filing a "Statement of Objection to Magistrate Judge's Recommendation" within ten days after being served with a copy of the recommendation, unless a different time is established by order. The statement of objection shall specify those portions of the recommendation to which objection is made and the basis for the objection. The objecting party shall submit to the district judge, at the time of filing the objection, a brief setting forth the party's arguments that the magistrate judge's recommendation should be reviewed de novo and a different disposition made. It is insufficient to submit only a copy of the original brief submitted to the magistrate judge, although a copy of the original brief may be submitted or referred to and incorporated into the brief in support of the objection. Failure to submit a brief in support of the objection may be deemed an abandonment of the objection. A magistrate judge's recommendation cannot be appealed to a Court of Appeals; only the district judge's order or judgment can be appealed. 2. Transcript (applicable where proceedings tape recorded). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1915 and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), the magistrate judge finds that the tapes and original records in this action are adequate for purposes of review. Any party planning to object to this recommendation, but unable to pay the fee for a transcript, is advised that a judicial determination that transcription is necessary is required before the United States will pay the cost of the transcript. DONE this 8th day of January, 2009. s/BERT W. MILLING, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 8

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