Frost v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
JUDGMENT: granting 9 Motion for Attorney Fees under EAJA in the amount of $2,178.00. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on October 3, 2012. (cnn)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
EL DORADO DIVISION
LOTTIE MARIE FROST
Civil No. 1:11-cv-01050
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Pending now before this Court is Plaintiff’s Motion for Attorney’s Fees Pursuant to the Equal
Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”). ECF No. 9. Defendant has responded to this Motion, and
Defendant claims the requested hourly rate is excessive. ECF No. 14. The Parties have consented
to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including
conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and conducting all post-judgment
proceedings. ECF No. 3. Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this Order.
Lottie Marie Frost (“Plaintiff”) appealed to this Court from the Secretary of the Social
Security Administration’s (“SSA”) denial of her request for disability benefits. ECF No. 1. On July
11, 2012, Plaintiff’s case was reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). ECF Nos. 7-8.
On September 10, 2012, Plaintiff filed the present Motion requesting an award of attorney’s
fees under EAJA. ECF No. 9. With this Motion, Plaintiff requests an award of attorney’s fees of
$2,280.13, representing 12.50 hours at an hourly rate of $182.41. Id. Defendant responded to this
Motion on October 1, 2012, and Defendant objects to Plaintiff’s requested hourly rate as being
excessive. ECF No. 14.
Pursuant to the EAJA, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A), a court must award attorney's fees to a
prevailing social security claimant unless the Secretary’s position in denying benefits was
substantially justified. The Secretary has the burden of proving that the denial of benefits was
substantially justified. See Jackson v. Bowen, 807 F.2d 127, 128 (8th Cir.1986) (“The Secretary
bears the burden of proving that its position in the administrative and judicial proceedings below was
substantially justified”). An EAJA application also must be made within thirty days of a final
judgment in an action, See 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B), or within thirty days after the sixty day time
for appeal has expired. See Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 298 (1993).
An award of attorney’s fees under the EAJA is appropriate even though, at the conclusion
of the case, the plaintiff’s attorney may be authorized to charge and to collect a fee pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 406(b)(1). Recovery of attorney’s fees under both the EAJA and 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1) was
specifically allowed when Congress amended the EAJA in 1985. See Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535
U.S. 789, 796 (2002) (citing Pub. L. No. 99-80, 99 Stat. 186 (1985)). The United States Supreme
Court stated that Congress harmonized an award of attorney’s fees under the EAJA and under 42
U.S.C. § 406(b)(1) as follows:
Fee awards may be made under both prescriptions [EAJA and 42 U.S.C. §
406(b)(1)], but the claimant’s attorney must “refun[d] to the claimant the amount of
the smaller fee.”. . .“Thus, an EAJA award offsets an award under Section 406(b),
so that the [amount of total past-due benefits the claimant actually receives] will be
increased by the . . . EAJA award up to the point the claimant receives 100 percent
of the past-due benefits.”
Id. Furthermore, awarding fees under both acts facilitates the purposes of the EAJA, which is to
shift to the United States the prevailing party’s litigation expenses incurred while contesting
unreasonable government action. See id.; Cornella v. Schweiker, 728 F.2d 978, 986 (8th Cir. 1984).
The statutory ceiling for an EAJA fee award is $125.00 per hour. See 28 U.S.C. §
2412(d)(2)(A). A court is only authorized to exceed this statutory rate if “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.” Id. A court may determine that there
has been an increase in the cost of living, and may thereby increase the attorney’s rate per hour,
based upon the United States Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index (“CPI”). See Johnson
v. Sullivan, 919 F.2d 503, 504 (8th Cir. 1990). See also General Order 39 (“Attorney’s Fees Under
the Equal Access to Justice Act”).
In the present action, Plaintiff’s case was remanded to the SSA. ECF Nos. 7-8. Defendant
does not contest Plaintiff’s claim that she is the prevailing party and does not oppose her application
for fees under the EAJA. ECF No. 14. The Court construes the lack of opposition to this application
as an admission that the government’s decision to deny benefits was not “substantially justified” and
that Plaintiff is the prevailing party.
Plaintiff requests a total award of $2,280.13, representing 12.50 hours of work at an hourly
rate of $182.41 for the years 2011 and 2012. ECF No. 9. Defendant objects to the hourly rate
requested for 2011 and 2012 as being excessive. ECF No. 14. Defendant claims Plaintiff is only
entitled to $174.00 per hour for work performed in 2011 (12.0 hours) and $180.00 per hour for work
performed in 2012 (.5 hour). ECF No. 14.
Plaintiff’s requested hourly rate is authorized by the EAJA as long as the CPI-South Index
justifies the enhanced rate. See General Order 39. See also 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A); Johnson,
919 F.2d at 504. In the present action, Plaintiff has requested $182.41 per hour for work performed
in 2011 and 2012. ECF No. 9. Based upon the CPI-South Index, this hourly rate is not authorized.
Thus, this Court finds Plaintiff is only entitled to $174.00 per hour for work performed in 2011 and
180.00 per hour for work performed in 2012.
Further, Plaintiff has requested 12.50 hours for attorney work performed during 2011 and
2012. ECF No. 10. Plaintiff has submitted an itemized bill in support of that request. Id.
Defendant has raised no objections to this request. ECF No. 14. Having reviewed Plaintiff’s
itemized bill, this Court finds that it is reasonable and should be granted.
Defendant claims the fees awarded should be paid directly to Plaintiff pursuant to Ratliff.
ECF No. 14. Ratliff requires that attorney’s fees be awarded to the “prevailing party” or the litigant.
See Astrue v. Ratliff, 130 S.Ct. 2521, 2528 (2010). Thus, these fees must be awarded to Plaintiff,
not to Plaintiff’s attorney. However, if Plaintiff has executed a valid assignment to Plaintiff’s
attorney of all rights in an attorney’s fee award and Plaintiff owes no outstanding debt to the federal
government, the attorney’s fee may be awarded directly to Plaintiff’s attorney.
Based upon the foregoing, the Court awards Plaintiff $2,178.00 in attorney’s fees pursuant
to the EAJA, 28 U.S.C. § 2412.
ENTERED this 3rd day of October 2012.
/s/ Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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