Stewart v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
ORDER on Attorney Fees in the amount of $3,707.30. This amount should be paid in addition to, and not out of, any past due benefits which plaintiff may be awarded in the future. Signed by Honorable James R. Marschewski on March 25, 2013. (lw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
FORT SMITH DIVISION
BRYAN D. STEWART
Civil No. 2:11-cv-02256-JRM
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,1 Commissioner
Social Security Administration
ORDER ON MOTION FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES
Plaintiff, Bryan D. Stewart, appealed the Commissioner’s denial of benefits to this Court.
ECF No. 1. On December 28, 2012, the undersigned remanded Plaintiff’s case to the
Commissioner pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). ECF Nos. 13-14. Plaintiff now
moves for a total of $3,707.30 in attorney’s fees under 28 U.S.C. § 2412, the Equal Access to
Justice Act (“EAJA”), requesting compensation for 20.20 attorney hours at an hourly rate of
$174.00 for work performed in 2011, 2012, and 2013, and 3.85 paralegal hours at an hourly rate
of $50.00. ECF Nos. 15-16. The Commissioner filed a timely response, stating no objections.
ECF No. 18.
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
On February 14, 2013, Carolyn W. Colvin became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security.
Pursuant to Rule 25(d)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Carolyn W. Colvin has been substituted for
Commissioner Michael J. Astrue as the defendant in this suit.
reviewing the case, the undersigned finds that 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 sentencefour judgment reversing the Commissioner’s denial of benefits and remanding the case for
further proceedings is a prevailing party.
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 (1985).
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 (1983).
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 (W.D.N.Y. 1984). 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).
Counsel requests attorney’s fees at an hourly rate of $174.00 for work performed in 2011,
2012, and 2013. ECF No. 15, Ex. 2. Counsel’s requested rate is consistent with Amended
General Order 39, which sets forth the maximum hourly rate for EAJA fees in the Western
District of Arkansas. As such, the undersigned finds counsel is entitled to $174.00 for work
performed in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
The court next addresses the number of hours counsel spent working on this case.
Counsel requests a total of 20.20 attorney hours for work performed in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
ECF No. 15, Ex. 1. The undersigned finds counsel’s requested time is reasonable and will award
the full 20.20 hours.
Counsel also requests compensation for 3.85 paralegal hours at an hourly rate of $50.00.
ECF No. 15, Ex. 2. A prevailing party that satisfies EAJA's other requirements may recover
paralegal fees at prevailing market rates. Richlin Sec. Service Co. v. Chertoff, 553 U.S. 571, 572
(2008). The undersigned finds $50.00 per hour for paralegal work to be reasonable and will
award the full 3.85 hours.
Based on the above, the court awards Plaintiff fees under the EAJA for 20.20 attorney
hours at an hourly rate of $174.00 for work performed in 2011, 2012, and 2013, and 3.85
paralegal hours at an hourly rate of $50.00, for a total attorney's fee award of $3,707.30. 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
may be properly mailed to Plaintiff’s attorney.2 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 Plaintiff.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 25th day of March 2013.
/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 may be properly mailed to Plaintiff’s attorney.
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