United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
PETER R. CURRIS, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S UNOPPOSED MOTION FOR AWARD
OF ATTORNEY'S FEES PURSUANT TO EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE
S. SNEED UNTIED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Unopposed
Motion for Award of Attorney's Fees Pursuant to Equal
Access to Justice Act (“Motion”). (Dkt. 24.)
Plaintiff moves the Court to award his attorney's fees
pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). For the
reasons stated below, the Motion is granted.
October 13, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Complaint seeking review
of the denial of his claim for Social Security benefits by
the Commissioner of Social Security. (Dkt. 1.) The Court
entered an Order on Plaintiff's Complaint, finding that
the Commissioner's decision did not employ proper legal
standards and remanding this case to the Commissioner for
further administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). (Dkt. 22.) Judgment was entered on
January 27, 2017. (Dkt. 23.) Plaintiff filed the Motion on
April 27, 2017, as the prevailing party in this action. (Dkt.
Motion, Plaintiff seeks attorney's fees for 1.8 hours of
work performed in 2015 at an hourly rate of $188.47, 34.9
hours of work performed in 2016 at an hourly rate of $193.09,
and 0.2 hours of work performed in 2017 at an hourly rate of
$195.06, by attorney Enrique Escarraz, III. The requested
fees total $7, 177.10. The Commissioner does not oppose the
relief requested. (Dkt. 24 at 2.)
entry of a favorable judgment in a Social Security case, a
prevailing party may obtain attorney's fees under the
EAJA. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A); Monroe v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 569 F.App'x 833, 834
(11th Cir. 2014). The EAJA requires the court to award
attorney's fees to a party who prevails against the
United States in litigation unless the court finds that the
government's position in the litigation was
“substantially justified” or that special
circumstances make such an award unjust. 28 U.S.C. §
2412(d); Jackson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 601
F.3d 1268, 1271 (11th Cir. 2010).
may recover an award of attorney's fees under the EAJA if
the following prerequisites are met: (1) the party seeking
the award is the prevailing party; (2) the application for
such fees, including an itemized justification for the amount
sought, is timely filed (i.e., filed within thirty days of
final judgment in the action); (3) the claimant had a net
worth of less than $2 million at the time the complaint was
filed; (4) the position of the government was not
substantially justified; and (5) no special circumstances
exist that would make an award unjust. 28 U.S.C. §
2412(d). A party who obtains a fourth sentence remand in a
Social Security case is considered a prevailing party under
the EAJA. Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 302
(1993). To be “substantially justified” under the
EAJA, the government's position must be “justified
to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable person, ”
which requires that the government's position have a
reasonable basis in both law and fact. Monroe, 569
F.App'x at 834 (internal quotation and citation omitted).
consideration of the Motion and the applicable law, the Court
finds that Plaintiff is entitled to an award of
attorney's fees in this case. First, Plaintiff is the
prevailing party in this case after having obtained a
sentence-four remand. Schaefer, 509 U.S. at 302.
Second, the Motion, which was filed on April 27, 2017, was
timely filed within thirty days of the final judgment in this
action. This case was remanded with judgment entered on
January 27, 2017. (Dkt. 23.) Pursuant to Federal Rule of
Appellate Procedure 4(a)(1)(B), either party has sixty days
to file an appeal. Therefore, the judgment became final on
March 28, 2017, and the Motion was filed prior to the
expiration of the thirty-day deadline of April 27, 2017.
See Martindale v. Sullivan, 890 F.2d 410, 413, n.5
(11th Cir. 1989); Jones v. Colvin, No.
8:13-CV-2900-T-33AEP, 2015 WL 7721334, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Nov.
30, 2015). Additionally, the Commissioner does not dispute
the timeliness of the Motion. Third, the Motion asserts that
Plaintiff is not excluded from eligibility for an award under
the EAJA by any of the exclusions set forth in the Act. (See
Dkt. 26 ¶ 2.) Fourth, the Commissioner's position
was not substantially justified in this case, and the
Commissioner does not dispute this issue. Finally, the Court
does not find that any special circumstances exist to
indicate that an award of attorney's fees in this case
would be unjust.
Motion, Plaintiff requests that the hourly rate of the fees
awarded be increased to reflect the increase in the cost of
living. (Dkt. 25.) Under the EAJA, the amount of
attorney's fees to be awarded “shall be based upon
prevailing market rates for the kind and quality of the
services furnished, ” except that attorney's fees
shall not exceed $125 per hour unless the court determines
that an increase in the cost of living or a special factor
justifies a higher fee. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A).
Plaintiff proposes an hourly rate of $188.47 in 2015, an
hourly rate of $193.09 in 2016, and an hourly rate of $195.06
in 2017, for work performed by attorney Enrique Escarraz,
III. (Dkts. 24, 25.) The Court finds that Plaintiff is
entitled to an increase in the fees awarded, and the
Commissioner does not oppose Plaintiff's request. In
total, Plaintiff seeks $7, 117.10 in attorney's fees for
36.9 hours of attorney time expended in litigating this case,
which is represented in Plaintiff's itemization of the
hours expended and the activities performed. (Dkt.
25-2.) The Commissioner does not oppose the fees
requested. As such, the Court finds that 36.9 hours is
reasonable and that $7, 117.10 is a reasonable fee in this
Plaintiff requests that the fee award be paid directly to
Plaintiff's attorney. Although EAJA fee awards belong to
the party, not the party's attorney, Reeves v.
Astrue, 526 F.3d 732, 738 (11th Cir. 2008), such fees
may be paid directly to a plaintiff's attorney in cases
in which the plaintiff does not owe a debt to the government
and assigns the right to such fees to the attorney.
Astrue v. Ratliff, 560 U.S. 586, 597 (2010). In this
case, Plaintiff has assigned the EAJA award to his attorney.
(Dkt. 26.) Therefore, the award is payable directly to
Plaintiff's counsel if Plaintiff is not indebted to the
federal government; otherwise, the award is payable directly
to Plaintiff. Accordingly, it is
Plaintiff's Unopposed Motion for Award of Attorney's
Fees Pursuant to Equal Access to ...