Peoples v. Astrue
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER entered GRANTING 23 Motion for Attorney Fees (EAJA). It is ORDERED that Plaintiff be AWARDED anEAJA attorney'S fee in the amount of $1,620.43, as further set out. Signed by Magistrate Judge Bert W. Milling, Jr on 4/10/2013. (clr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Commission of Social Security,1
CIVIL ACTION 12-0392-M
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Pending before the Court is Plaintiff’s Attorney’s
Application for Attorney Fees Under the Equal Access to Justice
Act (hereinafter EAJA), with supporting Documentation (Doc. 23),
and Defendant’s Response to Plaintiff’s Application for
Attorney’s Fees (Doc. 24).
After consideration of the pertinent
pleadings, it is ORDERED that the Motion be GRANTED and that
Plaintiff be AWARDED an EAJA attorney’s fee in the amount of
Plaintiff filed this action on June 14, 2012 (Doc. 1).
Carolyn W. Colvin became the Commissioner of Social Security on
February 14, 2013. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(d), Colvin is
substituted for Michael J. Astrue as Defendant in this action. No
further action needs to be taken as a result of this substitution. 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
January 25, 2013, the undersigned Judge entered a Memorandum
Opinion and Order, reversing the decision of the Commissioner,
and remanding this action for further proceedings (Doc. 21).
Judgment was entered in favor of Plaintiff and against Defendant
On February 25, 2013, William T. Coplin, Jr., counsel for
Plaintiff, filed an Application for Attorney Fees Under the
EAJA, in which he requests a fee of $1,620.43, computed at an
hourly rate of $184.14 for 8.8 hours spent in this Court (Doc.
Defendant, in her Response filed on March 5, 2013, stated
that she objected to an award of attorney’s fees under EAJA as
the Government’s position in this case was substantially
justified; Defendant also stated that payment made should be
made to Plaintiff rather than to her attorney (Doc. 24).
The EAJA requires a court to
award to a prevailing party . . . fees and
other expenses . . . incurred by that party
in 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.
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
See Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292 (1993).
As set out above, there are three statutory conditions that
must be satisfied before EAJA fees may be awarded under 28
U.S.C. § 2412.
See Myers v. Sullivan, 916 F.2d 659, 666 (11th
First, the claimant must file an application for
fees within the thirty-day period.
a prevailing party.
Second, the claimant must be
Third, the Government’s position must not
be substantially justified.
Defendant apparently concedes that Plaintiff became the
prevailing party when the Court remanded this action, Schaefer,
509 U.S. 300-302, and that the fee motion was timely filed.
However, she does not concede that the original administrative
decision denying benefits was not substantially justified (Doc.
With regard to this last condition, in order for Plaintiff
to recover attorney’s fees under the EAJA, the Government must
fail “to establish that its positions were ‘substantially
justified’ or that there exist ‘special circumstances’ which
countenance against the awarding of fees.”
Myers, 916 F.2d at
666 (interpreting and referring to 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A)).
That means that the Government must show that there was a
“reasonable basis both in law and fact” for the positions it
Myers, 916 F.2d at 666 (citations omitted).
notes that “[a]n examination of whether the government’s
position was substantially justified encompasses an evaluation
of both the agency’s preligitation conduct and the subsequent
litigation positions of the Justice Department. . . . Unless the
government can establish that all of its positions were
substantially justified, the claimant is entitled to receive
Myers, 916 F.2d at 666 n.5 (citations
Though Defendant bears the burden of showing that its
position was substantially justified, “[t]he fact that the
government lost its case does not raise a presumption that the
government’s position was not substantially justified.”
v. United States, 740 F.2d 843, 850 (11th Cir. 1984).
In the Memorandum Opinion and Order dated January 25, 2013
(Doc. 21), the Court found as follows:
The ALJ’s other proffered reason for
rejecting the Neuropsychologist’s opinion is
“because it is not consistent with the objective
evidence of record and the residual functional
capacity of the claimant” (Tr. 20). The Court
notes, however, that the ALJ did not state what
the evidence was that he was using as the basis
for rejecting Goff’s conclusions. The Court notes
that there is no other evidence of record
regarding People’s mental impairments and that
the only evidence given any weight by the ALJ
came from ME Anderson who testified that she had
a mental health disorder; the ME also
acknowledged that a person experiencing both high
blood pressure and diabetes could suffer
cognitive loss (Tr. 41, 43).
In this record, Neuropsychologist Goff is
the only expert who provided an evaluation of
Peoples’ mental abilities and limitations; that
was done after an examination and administering a
battery of tests. The ALJ points to no evidence
to dispute Goff’s conclusions, choosing only to
find that that the opinion was paid for and
unsupported by unspecified, objective evidence
(Tr. 20). Without more, the Court cannot say
that the ALJ’s conclusion is supported by
(Doc. 21, pp. 13-14) (footnote omitted).
Defendant, in his response (Doc. 24), states that there was
a reasonable basis in law and fact for the Commissioner’s
Specifically, the Government argues that there was
evidence in the record supporting the ALJ’s decision though the
ALJ did not point to it in making the determination (Doc. 24).
As set out above, in the Memorandum Opinion and Order, the
Court finds that, based upon a review of the entire record, the
ALJ’s decision is not supported by substantial evidence because
the ALJ failed to articulate the basis for his conclusions.
Government’s arguments are no more convincing now than they were
when they were previously placed before the Court; it is
necessary for the ALJ to articulate the reasons for his
decisions and not expect the Government to fulfill that role
once the matter comes before the Court.
Government’s position was not substantially justified (Doc. 24).
Having found that the three prerequisites have been
satisfied, the Court will now discuss the fee to be awarded in
The EAJA, like 42 U.S.C. § 1988, is a fee-shifting
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 (1983) (§ 1988)).
this lodestar method of calculation, the United States Supreme
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 section, ‘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 attorneys’
Application and supporting documentation, and after
consideration of the reasonableness of the hours claimed, finds
that Plaintiff’s counsel’s time expended in prosecuting this
action for a total of 8.8 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, justified a higher
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
upward . . . to take into account an
increase in the cost of living, or a special
Meyer, 958 F.2d at 1033-34 (citations and footnote omitted).2
The applicant bears the burden of producing satisfactory
evidence that the requested rate is in line with prevailing
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.
Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11 (1984).
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
Norman v. City of Montgomery, 836 F.2d 1292, 1303
(11th Cir. 1988).
Where the 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
Since 2001, 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 (S.D. Ala. October 25,
2001); and Square v. Halter, Civil Action 00-0516-BH-L (S.D.
Ala. April 12, 2001).
However, in 2007, in an action before
Judge Cassady, a formula was approved and used to adjust the
Subsequent to Meyer, the cap was raised from $75.00 per hour to
prevailing market hourly rate to account for the ever-increasing
cost of living.
Lucy v. Barnhart, Civil Action 06-0147-C (S.D.
Ala. July 5, 2007 (Doc. 32)).
As set out in Lucy, the formula
to be used in calculating all future awards of attorney’s fees
under the EAJA is:
“‘($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.’”
32, at p. 11) (quoting Lucy, Doc. 31, at p. 2).
also adopts this formula in EAJA fee petition actions for use in
arriving at the appropriate hourly rate.
The temporal midpoint in this action was October 5, 2012,
the complaint having been filed on June 14, 2012 (Doc. 1), and
the Court having entered its Memorandum Opinion and Order and
Judgment on January 25, 2013 (Docs. 21-22).
October 2012 was 224.504.
The CPI-U for
Plugging the relevant numbers into
the foregoing formula renders the following equation:
Completion of this equation renders an hourly
$125.00 per hour, as set out above in 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A).
“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. Civil Action 06-0147-C (S.D.
Ala. Doc. 31, at p. 3).
rate of $184.14.
This hourly rate for 8.8 hours equals
The Court notes that, in the application for Attorney’s
Fees, counsel for Plaintiff requests that any award of
attorney’s fees be paid to Plaintiff’s attorney rather than to
Plaintiff (Doc. 23).
The Government argues that payment should
only go to the Plaintiff (Doc. 24, pp. 6-7).
As noted earlier, EAJA allows a Court to make an “award to
a prevailing party.”
28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A).
In Panola Land
Buying Ass’n v. Clark, 844 F.2d 1506, 1509 (11th Cir. 1988), the
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals stated that “[i]t is readily
apparent that the party eligible to recover attorneys’ fees
under the EAJA as part of its litigation expenses is the
See also Reeves v. Astrue, 526 F.3d 732, 738
(11th Cir. 2008), cert. denied, 129 S.Ct. 724 (2008) (“We
conclude the EAJA means what it says:
attorney’s fees are
awarded to the ‘prevailing party,’ not to the prevailing party’s
The United States Supreme Court, in the unanimous
decision of Astrue v. Ratliff, 130 S.Ct. 2521, 2524 (2010), held
“that a § 2412(d) fees award is payable to the litigant and is
therefore subject to a Government offset to satisfy a preexisting debt that the litigant owes the United States,”
removing any doubt as to whom the award should be paid.
In this action, Peoples has specifically “agree[d] to pay
William T. Coplin, Jr., all attorneys fees awarded [her] under
EAJA, agreed[d] that they may be mailed to or made payable to
William T. Coplin, Jr., directly, and assign all rights [she
has] to seek and receive them to William T. Coplin, Jr.” (Doc.
However, under the reasoning of Reeves and
Ratliff, the Court finds that the award should be paid to
Plaintiff Tricia Peoples and not to her attorney.
In conclusion, it is ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Application
be GRANTED as set out above and that Plaintiff be AWARDED an
EAJA attorney’s fee in the amount of $1,620.43.
DONE this 10th day of April, 2013.
s/BERT W. MILLING, JR.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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