Castillo v. Saul
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff Robert Castillo's Petition for Award of Attorney Fees [ECF No. 26 ] is GRANTED. IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant Commissioner of Social Security Administration shall pay attorneys f ees under the Equal Access Justice Act in the amount of Four Thousand Two Hundred and Fifty-Three Dollars and Eighty Cents ($4,253.80). IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that said award shall be made payable to Plaintiff Robert Castillo. Signed by Magistrate Judge Stephen R. Welby on 3/31/2021. (AFO)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
ANDREW M. SAUL,
Commissioner of Social Security
Case No. 4:19-CV-3309 SRW
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Robert Castillo’s Petition for Award of
Attorney Fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. ECF No.
26. On December 21, 2020, this Court reversed the Commissioner’s decision and remanded
Plaintiff’s case for further proceedings. Plaintiff now seeks attorney’s fees in the amount of Four
Thousand Two Hundred and Fifty-Three Dollars and Eighty Cents ($4,253.80). This amount is
based on multiplying 20.45 hours of attorney time by a rate of $208.01 per hour. Plaintiff
requests compensation at the statutory hourly rate of $125.00 plus a cost-of-living adjustment,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d), for a total hourly fee of $208.01. Plaintiff requests the Court
make the fee payable to her attorney, Kristen N. Van Fossan, as assignee.
The Commissioner filed a response which states he has no objection to Plaintiff’s request
for attorney fees under the EAJA in the amount of $4,253.80 to be paid by the Social Security
Administration. ECF No. 28. The Commissioner, however, asserts that the EAJA fee is “payable
to Plaintiff as the litigant and may be subject to offset to satisfy a pre-existing debt that the
litigant owes to the United States.” Id. at 1.
The Court has reviewed Plaintiff’s Petition for an Award of Attorney Fees under the
EAJA, and concludes the statutory requirements are met. By Order and Judgment of Remand
dated December 21, 2020, the Court remanded this case to defendant Commissioner for further
proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A claimant seeking judicial review
of a final decision denying Social Security disability benefits may recover attorney’s fees if he or
she receives a “sentence four” remand. See Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 295-96 (1993).
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). The
hourly rate should be increased, however, where there is “uncontested proof of an increase in the
cost of living sufficient to justify hourly attorney’s fees of more than [$125] per hour,” such as
the Consumer Price Index. Johnson v. Sullivan, 919 F.2d 503, 504, 505 (8th Cir. 1990). In this
case, Plaintiff has presented uncontested evidence of an increase in the cost of living. The Court
agrees with Plaintiff that a cost of living increase is appropriate as requested.
Because Plaintiff prevailed and is not otherwise precluded from receiving attorney fees,
the Court finds that he is entitled to attorney’s fees in the amount of Four Thousand Two
Hundred and Fifty-Three Dollars and Eighty Cents ($4,253.80). Despite Plaintiff’s request for
the Court to make the fee payable directly to Plaintiff’s attorney, as an assignee, the Court must
instead make the fee payable to Plaintiff as the litigant. See Astrite v. Ratliff, 560 U.S. 586, 593
(2010) (holding that EAJA fees are payable to the prevailing party and may be subject to offset
to satisfy any pre-existing debt owed to the United States); see also Johnson v. Colvin, No. 4:11CV-1599 AGF, 2013 WL 5567711, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Oct. 9, 2013) (“The Court understands
Ratliff to require that the EAJA award be made directly to Plaintiff.”)
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff Robert Castillo’s Petition for Award of
Attorney Fees [ECF No. 26] is GRANTED.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant Commissioner of Social Security
Administration shall pay attorney’s fees under the Equal Access Justice Act in the amount of Four
Thousand Two Hundred and Fifty-Three Dollars and Eighty Cents ($4,253.80).
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that said award shall be made payable to Plaintiff Robert
So Ordered this 31st day of March, 2021.
/s/ Stephen R. Welby
STEPHEN R. WELBY
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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