Carter v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
ORDER on Attorney Fees in favor of Dayna Kay Carter against Social Security Administration Commissioner in the amount of $4,203.90 re 12 MOTION for Attorney Fees EAJA filed by Dayna Kay Carter. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on May 15, 2012. (dmc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
HOT SPRINGS DIVISION
DAYNA K. CARTER
Civil No. 6:10-cv-06099
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Pending now before this Court is Plaintiff’s Application for Attorney Fees Under the Equal
Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”). ECF No. 12.1 With this Motion, Plaintiff requests an EAJA award
of $4,325.00. Id. On May 10, 2012, Defendant responded to this Motion and objects to the number
of hours claimed by Plaintiff counsel and the request that the EAJA payment be made directly to her,
instead of to Plaintiff. 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.
Dayna Carter (“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 March 2,
2012, this Court reversed and remanded Plaintiff’s case pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). ECF Nos. 10, 11.
On April 26, 2012 Plaintiff filed the present Motion requesting an award of attorney’s fees
under the EAJA. ECF No. 12. With this Motion, Plaintiff requests an award of attorney’s fees of
The docket numbers for this case are referenced by the designation “ECF. No.”
$4,325.00, representing 25.00 hours of attorney time at an hourly rate of $173.00. Id. On May 10,
2012, Defendant responded to this Motion and objects to Plaintiff counsel’s claimed hours and the
request that the EAJA payment be made directly to her, instead of to Plaintiff. ECF No. 14.
2. Applicable Law:
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).
In the present action, Plaintiff’s case was remanded to the SSA. ECF No. 11. Defendant
does not contest Plaintiff’s claim that she is the prevailing party, does not oppose her application for
fees under the EAJA, and does not object to the hourly rate she requested. ECF No. 14. The Court
construes this 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 $4,325.00 under the EAJA. ECF No. 12. Plaintiff requests
these attorney fees at a rate of $173.00 per hour for 25.00 hours of attorney work. Id. This hourly
rate of $173.00 per attorney hour is authorized by the EAJA as long as a CPI is submitted. See 28
U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A); Johnson, 919 F.2d at 504. In the present action, Plaintiff submitted a CPI.
ECF No. 13. Further, Defendant does not object to this hourly rate. ECF No. 14. Therefore, this
hourly rate is authorized by the EAJA, and this Court finds that Plaintiff is entitled to an hourly rate
of $173.00 per attorney hour.
Further, I have reviewed counsel’s itemization of time appended to Plaintiff’s application.
ECF No. 12. Defendant has only objected to some of the hours for which counsel seeks a fee award
and argues they are for work done at the administrative level and clerical type tasks and thus are not
recoverable under the EAJA. ECF No. 14.
Defendant objects to 0.30 hours for Review unfavorable decision from Appeals Council, and
review file on November 5, 2010, and argues this is for work done at the administrative level and
thus not recoverable under the EAJA. ECF No. 14, Pg. 3. This Court does not consider this to be
work done at the administrative level and Defendant’s objection is without merit.
Additionally, Defendant objects to a claimed 3.6 hours of attorney work as not compensable
under the EAJA based on an argument that the work is clerical in nature. ECF No. 14, Pgs. 3-4.
This Court finds these hours were not for clerical type tasks and thus are recoverable under the
EAJA. Finally, Defendant objects to Plaintiff counsel’s request for .50 hours for preparation and file
of Motion for Extension of Time on March 22, 2011, and for .20 hours for review of Order granting
extension of time on March 23, 2011. ECF No. 14, Pg. 3. This Court agrees these claimed hours
are not compensable under the EAJA. Thus, this Court finds that Plaintiff is entitled to an attorney’s
fee award under EAJA in the amount of $4,203.90, representing 24.3 hours of attorney time at an
hourly rate of $173.00.
Defendant claims the fees awarded should be paid directly to Plaintiff pursuant to Astrue v.
Ratliff, 130 S.Ct. 2521, 2528 (2010). ECF No. 17. Ratliff requires that attorney’s fees be awarded
to the “prevailing party” or the litigant. See id, 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 to Plaintiff’s attorney.
Based upon the foregoing, the Court awards Plaintiff $4,203.90 pursuant to the EAJA, 28
U.S.C. § 2412.
ENTERED this 15th day of May 2012.
/s/ Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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