United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division
CAMERON MCGOWAN CURRIE Senior United States District Judge
matter is before the court on Plaintiff's petition for
attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice
Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. ECF. No. 27.
In her petition, Plaintiff seeks an award of attorney's
fees in the amount of $9, 095.21, representing 48.50 attorney
hours at the rate of $187.53 per hour, and requests that the
payment be directed to her attorney and not to Plaintiff.
Commissioner filed a response indicating that it does not
oppose payment of EAJA fees to Plaintiff, but argues that the
fees requested by Plaintiff's counsel are unreasonable
and should be reduced. ECF. No. 28. The Commissioner also
argues that any award of fees should be directed to
Plaintiff. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants
Plaintiff's motion, awarding attorney's fees in the
amount of $9, 095.21.
the EAJA, a court shall award reasonable attorney's fees
to a prevailing party in certain civil actions against the
United States unless it finds that the government's
position was substantially justified or that special
circumstances make an award unjust. 28 U.S.C. §
2412(d)(1)(A) (2010). The government has the burden of proving
that its position was substantially justified. Crawford
v. Sullivan, 935 F.2d 655, 658 (4th Cir. 1991).
“The government's position must be substantially
justified in both fact and law.” Thompson v.
Sullivan, 980 F.2d 280, 281 (4th Cir. 1992).
Substantially justified does not mean “justified to a
high degree, but rather justified in substance or in the main
- that is, justified to a degree that could satisfy a
reasonable person.” Pierce v. Underwood, 487
U.S. 552, 565 (1988) (internal quotations omitted). When
determining whether Defendant's position was
substantially justified, the court should avoid an
issue-by-issue analysis and should consider the totality of
the circumstances. Roanoke River Basin Ass'n v.
Hudson, 991 F.2d 132, 138-39 (4th Cir. 1993). The
district court has broad discretion to set the attorney-fee
amount. “[A] district court will always retain
substantial discretion in fixing the amount of an EAJA award.
Exorbitant, unfounded, or procedurally defective fee
applications . . . are matters that the district court can
recognize and discount.” Comm'r v. Jean,
496 U.S. 154, 163 (1990).
Commissioner does not oppose the award of attorney's
fees. However, she challenges the reasonableness of the
amount of fees sought, arguing that the hours claimed are
excessive and should be reduced. ECF. No. 28.
Commissioner argues that the number of hours expended in
preparing Plaintiff's briefs in this case is excessive.
Plaintiff's counsel spent 33.5 hours researching and
writing Plaintiff's 21-page opening brief, and 11.2 hours
researching and writing her 10-page reply brief, for a total
of 48.5 hours. This time included approximately 18 hours
spent reading, reviewing, and summarizing the record, which
consisted of a 471-page transcript, among other documents and
medical records. The court has reviewed the billing tasks for
preparing the opening brief, as well as the reply brief, and
finds that the attorney time is reasonable.
the Government argues that EAJA fees must be awarded directly
to Plaintiff, so that the government can confirm that
Plaintiff owes no qualifying, pre-existing debt that may be
offset. The Supreme Court, in Astrue v. Ratliff, 560
U.S. 586, 598 (2010), held that the EAJA requires
attorney's fees to be awarded directly to the litigant.
See also Stevens v. Astrue, 656 F.3d 131, 139 (4th
Cir. 2009) (“[W]e conclude that the plain language of
the EAJA provides that attorney's fees are payable to the
prevailing party - in this case the Social Security claimants
- and not the attorney.”). Although Plaintiff has
submitted an assignment of the fees in this case to her
attorney, the Commissioner argues that any award of fees will
be contingent on the determination that Plaintiff owes no
qualifying, pre-existing debt to the government. This is
consistent with Ratliff and Stevens.
Accordingly, the court directs the fee award be made payable
directly to Plaintiff.
reasons set forth above, the court grants, in part,
Plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees under the
EAJA. The court awards $9, 095.21 for attorney's fees
directly to Plaintiff.