Hurlocker v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
ORDER granting re 22 motion for Attorney Fees and awarding fees in the amount of $2773.80. 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 December 4, 2013. (sh)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
FORT SMITH DIVISION
AURORA A. HURLOCKER
CIVIL NO. 12-2144
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Social Security Administration
ORDER ON MOTION FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES
Plaintiff, Aurora A. Hurlocker, appealed the Commissioner’s denial of benefits to this court.
ECF No. 1. On July 16, 2013, judgment was entered remanding Plaintiff’s case to the Commissioner
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). ECF No. 21. Plaintiff now moves for a total of
$2,773.80 in attorney’s fees and costs under 28 U.S.C. § 2412, the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), requesting compensation for 13.70 attorney hours in 2012 and 2013 at a rate of $174.00
and 5.20 paralegal hours at a rate of $75.00. ECF No. 23, Ex. 2. Defendant does not object to the
attorney hourly rate requested for 2012 and 2013, nor does Defendant object to the requested
paralegal hours. ECF No. 24 at 2. Although not expressly requested, the Commissioner mentions
that EAJA is payable to Plaintiff and not to counsel. ECF No. 24 at 2.
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,
the undersigned finds 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
1. Attorney Hourly Rate
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 $174.00 for work
performed in 2012-2013. ECF No. 23, Ex. 2. Counsel presented a link to the CPI as evidence that
this rate is a proper reflection of the cost of living. ECF No. 23, Ex. 6. Defendant does not object
to this rate, and the court finds it to be reasonable. ECF No. 24 at 2. Accordingly, the undersigned
finds that counsel is entitled to an hourly rate of $174.00.
2. Paralegal Hourly Rate
Counsel requests 5.20 paralegal hours at a rate of $75.00. ECF No. 23 at 3. The
Commissioner makes no objection to the rate or time requested. ECF No. 24 at 2. Accordingly, the
undersigned finds the requested hours and rate reasonable and finds counsel is entitled to 5.20
paralegal hours at a rate of $75.00, for a total of $390.00.
3. Fees Payable Directly to Plaintiff’s Attorney
Although Counsel includes a limited power of attorney and assignment with his brief,
Counsel does not expressly request fees be paid directly to him rather than to Plaintiff. ECF Nos.
23, 23, Ex. 5. However, the Commissioner notes the Supreme Court held an EAJA fee award is
payable to the prevailing litigant, not the attorney. Astrue v. Ratliff, 130 S.Ct. 2521, 2524, 25272528 (2010). The Commissioner also notes that as a matter of practice the EAJA award can be made
payable to Plaintiff, but properly mailed to Plaintiff’s counsel. ECF No. 24 at 1.
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 EAJA for 13.70 attorney
hours in 2012 and 2013 at the rate of $174.00 per hour, in addition to 5.20 paralegal hours at a rate
of $75.00, for a total attorney's fee award of $2,773.80. 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. 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 4th day of December 2013.
/s/ J. Marschewski
HONORABLE JAMES R. MARSCHEWSKI
CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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