Combs v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
ORDER granting 12 Motion for attorney fees in the amount of $3850.00. This amount should be paid in addition to, and not out of, any past due benefits which plaintiff may be awarded in the future. Further, any EAJA award by this Court should be made payable to plaintiff and not counsel. Signed by Honorable James R. Marschewski on June 27, 2012. (rw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
FORT SMITH DIVISION
TINA COMBS, On behalf of K.C.
CIVIL NO. 11-2014
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner
Social Security Administration
ORDER ON MOTION FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES
Plaintiff, Tina Combs, on behalf of K.C., appealed the Commissioner’s denial of benefits to
this court. ECF No. 1. On February 27, 2012, judgment was entered remanding Plaintiff’s case to
the Commissioner pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). ECF No. 11. Plaintiff now
moves for a total of $3,850.00 in attorney’s fees and costs under 28 U.S.C. § 2412, the Equal Access
to Justice Act (“EAJA”), requesting compensation for 28.00 attorney hours at a rate of $125.00 and
reimbursement of $350.00 for work completed in 2011-2012. ECF Nos. 12-15. Defendant filed a
response making no objection to the requested EAJA fee award but did object to Plaintiff counsel’s
request that fees be paid directly to him instead of to Plaintiff. ECF No. 17.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A), the court must award attorney’s fees to a prevailing
social security claimant unless the Commissioner’s position in denying benefits was substantially
justified. The burden is on the Commissioner to show substantial justification for the government’s
denial of benefits. Jackson v. Bowen, 807 F.2d 127, 128 (8th Cir. 1986). After reviewing the file,
we find Plaintiff is a prevailing party in this matter. Under Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 302
(1993), a social security claimant who obtains a sentence-four judgment reversing the
Commissioner’s denial of benefits and remanding the case for further proceedings is a prevailing
An award of attorney’s fees under the EAJA is appropriate even though at the conclusion of
the case, Plaintiff’s attorney may be authorized to charge and 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. Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S.
789, 796, 122 S.Ct. 1817, 1822, 152 L.Ed.2d 996 (2002), citing Pub.L. 99-80, § 3, 99 Stat. 186
To permit a fee award under the EAJA, assuming, of course, that the necessary
standard is met, in addition to that allowed by the district court out of a claimant’s
past-due benefits does no more than reimburse the claimant for his or her expenses
and results in no windfall for the attorney.
Meyers v. Heckler, 625 F.Supp. 228, 231 (S.D.Ohio 1985). Furthermore, awarding fees under both
acts facilitates the purpose of the EAJA, which is to shift to the United States the prevailing party’s
litigation expenses incurred while contesting unreasonable government action. Id. See also Cornella
v. Schweiker, 728 F.2d 978 (8th Cir.1984).
The EAJA further requires an attorney seeking fees to submit “an itemized statement...stating
the actual time expended and the rate at which fees and other expenses were computed.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 2412(d)(1)(B). Attorneys seeking fees under federal fee-shifting statutes such as the EAJA are
required to present fee applications with “contemporaneous time records of hours worked and rates
claimed, plus a detailed description of the subject matter of the work.” Id. Where documentation
is inadequate, the court may reduce the award accordingly. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433
In determining a reasonable attorney’s fee, the court will in each case consider the following
factors: time and labor required; the difficulty of questions involved; the skill required to handle the
problems presented; the attorney’s experience, ability, and reputation; the benefits resulting to the
client from the services; the customary fee for similar services; the contingency or certainty of
compensation; the results obtained; and the amount involved. Allen v. Heckler, 588 F.Supp. 1247
However, the EAJA is not designed to reimburse without limit. Pierce v. Underwood, 487
U.S. 552, 573 (1988). The district court is “in the best position to evaluate counsel’s services and
fee request, particularly when the court has had the opportunity to observe firsthand counsel’s
representation on the substantive aspects of the disability claim.” Hickey v. Secretary of HHS, 923
F.2d 585, 586 (8th Cir. 1991) (quoting Cotter v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 359, 361 (8th Cir. 1989)). The
court can determine the reasonableness and accuracy of a fee request, even in the absence of an
objection by the Commissioner. See Decker v. Sullivan, 976 F.2d 456, 459 (8th Cir. 1992)
(“Although the issue was not raised on appeal, fairness to the parties requires an accurately
calculated attorney’s fee award.”).
The Contract with America Advancement Act of 1996, passed on March 29, 1996, amended
the EAJA and increased the statutory ceiling for the EAJA fee awards from $75.00 to $125.00 per
hour. See 28 U.S.C. § 2 412(d)(2)(A). Attorney’s fees may not be awarded in excess of $125.00 per
hour, the maximum statutory rate under § 2412(d)(2)(A), unless the court finds that an increase in
the cost of living or a special factor such as the limited availability of qualified attorneys justifies a
higher fee. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A). The decision to increase the hourly rate is not automatic and
remains at the discretion of the district court. McNulty v. Sullivan, 886 F.2d 1074 (8th Cir. 1989).
In Johnson v. Sullivan, 919 F.2d 503 (8th Cir. 1990), the court stated that the hourly rate may be
increased when there is “uncontested proof of an increase in the cost of living sufficient to justify
hourly attorney’s fees of more than $75.00 an hour,” such as a copy of the Consumer Price Index
In this instance, counsel requests attorney’s fees at an hourly rate of $125.00. ECF No. 12.
Counsel did not request a cost of living adjustment nor did she present a link to the CPI as evidence
that this rate is a proper reflection of the cost of living. ECF Nos. 12-15. Defendant does not object
to this rate, and the court finds it to be reasonable. ECF 17, at 1. Accordingly, the undersigned finds
that counsel is entitled to an hourly rate of $125.00.
Fees Payable Directly to Plaintiff’s Attorney
Counsel requests that all fees be paid directly to him rather than to Plaintiff. ECF Nos. 12,15.
In support of his position, Counsel contends Plaintiff has assigned her right to EAJA fees and
expenses to him. ECF No. 15; See also ECF No. 12. The Commissioner contends that Plaintiff has
not executed a valid assignment under the Anti-Assignment Act (“A-A Act”) as the Government has
not waived the A-A Act requirements and cannot accept the assignment as valid. ECF No. 17, at 2-3
(citing Astrue v. Ratliff, 130 S.Ct. 2521, 2524 (2010).
According to the A-A Act, an assignment may be made “only after a claim is allowed, the
amount of the claim is decided, and a warrant for payment of the claim has been issued.” 31. U.S.C.
§ 3727(b). Additionally, the assignment shall specify the warrant, must be made freely, and must
be attested to by two witnesses. Id. The court finds that these requirements have not been met since
the EAJA order has not yet been issued. Furthermore, the undersigned feels that the task of
determining whether outstanding debts exist is best left to the government. Accordingly, pursuant
to Ratliff, the EAJA award should be made payable to Plaintiff. Ratliff, 130 S.Ct. at 2528. And, in
keeping with the common practice of this court, the court directs the EAJA award be mailed to
Based on the above, the court awards Plaintiff's attorney fees under the EAJA for 28.00
attorney hours at the rate of $125.00 per hour and reimbursement of filing fees of $350.00, for a total
attorney's fee award of $3,850.00. This amount should be paid in addition to, and not out of, any
past due benefits which Plaintiff may be awarded in the future. Further, this award should be made
payable directly to Plaintiff, but properly mailed to Plaintiff’s attorney.1 The parties are reminded
that the award under the EAJA will be taken into account at such time as a reasonable fee is
determined pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406, in order to prevent double recovery by counsel for the
IT IS SO ORDERED this 27th day of June 2012.
/s/ J. Marschewski
HONORABLE JAMES R. MARSCHEWSKI
CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
On June 14, 2010, the Supreme Court overturned Ratliff v. Astrue, 540 F.3d 800, 802 (8th Cir. 2008), and
held that an EAJA fee award is payable to the prevailing litigant, not the prevailing litigant’s attorney. Astrue v.
Ratliff, 130 S.Ct. 2521, 2252-2253 (2010). Therefore, any EAJA fee awarded by this court should be payable
directly to Plaintiff, but properly mailed to Plaintiff’s attorney.
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