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Johnson v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

August 18, 2014

EUNICE RENAE JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social, Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

KARON OWEN BOWDRE, Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the court on the Plaintiff's "Motion for Award of Attorney Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)." (Doc. 10). In her application for fees under the EAJA, the Plaintiff requests fees in the amount of $2, 254.35 for 11.75 hours of work at an hourly rate of $191.86. The Commissioner, in her opposition to the motion (doc. 12), challenges the total number of hours and hourly rate requested, and contests the Plaintiff's attorney's request to have the fee paid directly to him. Id. For the following reasons, the court finds that the motion is due to be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part; the court will GRANT the request for fees but will reduce the amount as explained below.

The EAJA allows the award of attorneys fees and other expenses against the Government provided that

1) the party seeking such fees is the "prevailing party" in a civil action brought by or against the U.S.;
2) an application for such fees, including an itemized justification for the amount requested, is timely filed within 30 days of final judgment in the action;
3) the position of the government is not substantially justified; and
4) no special circumstances make an award unjust.

28 U.S.C. §§ 2412(d)(1)(A), (B). The absence of any one of the above factors shall preclude an award of fees. See id.

The Commissioner does not dispute the issues of prevailing party status, substantial justification, or timeliness. The court agrees and finds that the Plaintiff has met these factors and that an award of fees under the EAJA is appropriate. The Commissioner does object, however, to the amount of service hours requested, 11.75 hours, arguing that these hours include time for various clerical tasks and excessive time for routine tasks. The Commissioner also contests the hourly rate requested and paying the fee directly to the Plaintiff's counsel.

The number of hours that are reasonable and fair depends on many factors, such as the number and novelty of the issues raised, the complexity of the facts, etc. The court has examined the entire record in the case and finds the following regarding the Commissioner's objection regarding the number of hours claimed:

As noted above, the court finds that 2.75 hours of those requested were not reasonably expended, and are disallowed. The remaining 9.0 hours were reasonably expended, and the court will allow such hours.

The Government contests the hourly rate of $191.86 per hour requested in the motion and argues that, "using the very formula Plaintiff identified in his petition (Doc. 10-2 at 3-4), to which the Commissioner has no objection, yields a maximum hourly rate of $186.74." (Doc. 12 at 7). In his calculation of the $191.86 hourly rate, counsel for the Plaintiff mistakenly identifies the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for January 2014 as 233.916; that CPI is for "All Urban Consumers" and not "All Urban Consumers" for South Urban, which is 227.673, as required by the formula. As such, using the Plaintiff's own formula, the court finds that $186.74 is the appropriate hourly rate.

The court finds that an attorneys fee for 9.0 hours at the rate of $186.74 per hour for a total of $1, 680.66 is reasonable and fair for the work performed in this matter, especially because this case was voluntarily remanded at the Commissioner's request before the parties submitted any briefs. Therefore, the court finds the motion for an award of an attorney's fee is due to be granted in that amount.

Counsel for the Plaintiff requests that the court award the attorneys fee directly to him. The Government objects and argues that, without a valid assignment, the court must pay the EAJA fees directly to the Plaintiff. The court agrees. The motion fails to discuss or attach a valid assignment between counsel and the Plaintiff. Also, the Government specifically indicates in its response that it does not waive the requirements of the Anti-Assignment Act. (Doc. 12 at 8). Because no valid assignment exists in the record, the court finds that the law requires that the EAJA fees be paid directly to the Plaintiff. See Astrue v. Ratliff, 560 U.S. 586 (2010).

In sum, the court finds that the motion for EAJA fees is due to be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. The court will grant the motion to the extent that it requests a reasonable attorneys fee, but instead of awarding the amount requested of $2, 254.35, the court will award the reduced amount of $1, 680.66, which it finds to be reasonable and fair, payable directly to the Plaintiff.


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