Jefferson v. Commissioner of Social Security
ORDER granting 10 Unopposed Motion for Attorney Fees Under the EAJA. Signed by Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Becerra on 11/13/2023. See attached document for full details. (nsy)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
CASE NO. 1:23-cv-23091-JB
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
ORDER GRANTING UNOPPOSED CONSENT MOTION FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES
UNDER THE EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE ACT
THIS CAUSE came before the Court upon Plaintiff’s Unopposed Motion for Award of
Attorney’s Fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. See ECF No.
. Defendant, Kilolo Kijakazi, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, does not oppose the
Motion, id. at 5, and no response to the Motion has been filed. Upon due consideration of the
Motion, the pertinent portions of the record, and the relevant legal authorities, for the reasons that
follow, Plaintiff’s Motion for Attorney’s Fees is GRANTED.
Plaintiff filed this lawsuit seeking review of the Commissioner’s decision to deny her
application for social security disability benefits. See ECF No. . In response, Defendant filed
an Unopposed Motion to Remand requesting that the case be remanded back to the Commissioner
for further action. See ECF No. . The Court granted the Motion to Remand and entered Final
Judgment in favor of Plaintiff. See ECF No. . Plaintiff thereafter filed the instant motion for
attorney’s fees pursuant to the EAJA. See ECF No. .
The EAJA provides that “a court shall award to a prevailing party other than the United
States fees and other expenses . . . incurred by that party in any civil action . . . unless the court
finds that the position of the United States was substantially justified or that special circumstances
make an award unjust.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). There is no dispute that Plaintiff is the
prevailing party. Likewise, there is no dispute that the Commissioner’s position was not
substantially justified, nor is there a contention that special circumstances make an award of
attorney’s fees unjust. Accordingly, the undersigned finds that Plaintiff is entitled to recover her
The next question is the proper amount of that award. Plaintiff asks to recover $1,073.38
in attorney’s fees. See ECF No. . The supporting time descriptions of Plaintiff’s counsel reflect
that in 2023, he expended a total of 4.4 hours litigating the action in this Court at a requested hourly
rate of $243.95. Id. at 2.
The EAJA states in pertinent part that “[t]he amount of fees awarded under this subsection
shall be based upon prevailing market rates for the kind and quality of the services furnished,
except that . . . (ii) attorney fees shall not be awarded in excess of $125 per hour unless 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.” 28 U.S.C. §
2412(d)(2)(A). The EAJA establishes a two-step analysis for determining the proper hourly rate.
First, the Court must determine the market rate for similar services provided by lawyers of
reasonably comparable skills, experience, and reputation. Second, if the Court finds that the
market rate is greater than $125.00 per hour, the Court must determine whether to adjust the hourly
fee upward to take into account the increase in the cost of living or a special factor. Meyer v.
Sullivan, 958 F.2d 1029, 1033-34 (11th Cir. 1992).
The Commissioner does not dispute that the requested hourly rate of $243.95 is within the
range of the prevailing market rates for the kind and quality of the legal services furnished. Given
the absence of opposition, and based upon the Court’s own experience, the undersigned finds that
the rates sought are within the range of market rates in similar actions. See Norman v. Hous. Auth.
of Montgomery, 836 F.2d 1292, 1303 (11th Cir. 1988) (finding that the Court “is itself an expert
on the question [of a reasonable hourly rate] and may consider its own knowledge and experience
. . . .”).
However, because the requested hourly rate exceeds the $125 per hour statutory rate set by
the EAJA, the Court must consider whether to adjust the hourly rate to take into account the
increase in the cost of living or other special factors. Plaintiff does not contend that any special
factors warrant an upward adjustment of the hourly fee. Thus, the Court must determine whether
the higher hourly rate is permissible based upon an increase in the cost of living. Notably, the
application of the cost-of-living adjustment is “next to automatic.” Meyer, 958 F.2d at 1035 n.9.
As mentioned, the supporting time descriptions of Plaintiff’s counsel reflect that he
dedicated 4.4 hours to this litigation in 2023. See ECF No.  at 2. There is no dispute that the
requested hourly rate of $243.95 is warranted given the increase in the cost-of-living, nor is there
any dispute that this adjustment is proper. 1 There is also no dispute regarding the reasonableness
The cost-of-living adjustment is calculated by taking the Annual CPI rate for the relevant year
and subtracting from it the March 1996 rate and then dividing that number by the March 1996
rate. See Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, available at http://data.bls.gov/cgibin/surveymost?bls (check box next to “CPI for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) 1982-84=100” and
click on “Retrieve data” button, then check the box next to “include annual averages” and click on
“GO” button) (last visited November _, 2023); Sensat, 2018 WL 5257143, at *6 n.12. “The cost3
of the number of hours that Plaintiff’s counsel devoted to this action. The undersigned has carefully
reviewed the descriptions of work that Plaintiff’s counsel set forth in the Motion, as well as the
record in this action, and finds that the hours expended are reasonable.
Finally, the undersigned evaluates whether the award of attorney’s fees should be payable
to Plaintiff or Plaintiff’s counsel. In Astrue v. Ratliff, the Supreme Court held that EAJA fee
awards are awarded to the litigant, rather than to the litigant’s attorney, and therefore EAJA fee
awards are subject to a Government offset to satisfy a pre-existing debt that the litigant owes to
the United States. 560 U.S. 586, 589 (2010). The Supreme Court noted that nothing in the statute
or its holding affects the prevailing party’s contractual right to assign his or her right to receive the
fee to an attorney. Id. at 596–98; Montgomery v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., No. 617-cv-1886-ORLGJK, 2019 WL 2515824, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 6, 2019). In order for an assignment to be valid, it
must comply with the Anti-Assignment Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3727(b). 2 Milanes v. Berryhill, No. 15cv-23171, 2017 WL 3493145, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Aug. 14, 2017). However, the Government can
waive the requirements of the Anti-Assignment Act. Sensat v. Berryhill, No. 15-cv-24727, 2018
of-living percentage increase is then applied to the statutory rate of $125.00 to derive the adjusted
hourly rate permitted by the EAJA.” Id.
The Anti-Assignment Act states in pertinent part that:
[A] transfer or assignment of any part of a claim against the United States . . . or
the authorization to receive payment for any part of the claim . . . 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. The assignment shall specify the warrant,
must be made freely, and must be attested to by 2 witnesses. The person making
the assignment shall acknowledge it before an official who may acknowledge a
deed, and the official shall certify the assignment. The certificate shall state the
official completely explained the assignment when it was acknowledged. An
assignment under this subsection is valid for any purpose.
31 U.S.C. §§ 3727(a)–(b).
WL 5257143 at *7 n.14 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 22, 2018); see also Arthur Pew Const. Co. v. Lipscomb,
965 F.2d 1559, 1576 (11th Cir. 1992) (holding that the government may recognize the assignment
of its obligations to another and waive the protection of anti-assignment statutes if it chooses);
Delmarva Power & Light Co. v. United States, 542 F.3d 889, 893 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (holding that
the government may waive the Anti–Assignment Act’s prohibition in section 3727(a) against the
assignment of claims).
In the Motion, Plaintiff requests that attorney’s fees be paid directly to her attorney unless
Plaintiff owes a federal debt. See ECF No.  at 1, 6. Plaintiff executed an assignment of EAJA
fees (the “Assignment”), a copy of which is attached to the Motion. See ECF No. [10-1].
Specifically, the Assignment states that “I hereby assign any entitlement that I may have to a fee
under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412(d), to my attorney, David B. Goetz.
I acknowledge that the fee compensates my attorney for representing me before the United States
District Court. Therefore, I ask that the EAJA award be made payable to David B. Goetz and not
to me as Plaintiff.” Id.
Given the Commissioner’s lack of opposition, the undersigned finds that the Commissioner
has waived the requirements of the Anti-Assignment Act. See Sensat, 2018 WL 5257143, at *7
n.14 (finding that the Commissioner waived the requirements of the Anti-Assignment Act by not
objecting to the plaintiff’s request that the payment be made directly to counsel even though the
assignment failed to satisfy the Anti-Assignment Act); see also Milanes, 2017 WL 3493145, at *2
(noting that the commissioner had waived the requirements of the Anti-Assignment Act, subject
to plaintiff owing a federal debt, even though the assignment did not satisfy the requirements of
the Anti-Assignment Act). Accordingly, the attorney’s fees award shall be payable to Plaintiff’s
counsel, subject to offset against any pre-existing debt Plaintiff may owe to the United States.
Based on the foregoing, it is hereby ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that Plaintiff’s
Unopposed Petition for Award of Attorney’s Fees, ECF No. , is GRANTED. Pursuant to the
Equal Access to Justice Act, Plaintiff is awarded $1,073.38 in reasonable attorney’s fees. The
foregoing funds should be made payable to counsel for Plaintiff so long as the United States
Department of Treasury determines that Plaintiff has no outstanding debts to the United States that
are subject to offset.
DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers at Miami, Florida, on November 13, 2023.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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