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Phillips v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

May 16, 2017

CRYSTAL PHILLIPS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          VIRGINIA M. HERNANDEZ CONVINGTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This cause comes before the Court pursuant to Plaintiff Crystal Phillips' Unopposed Motion for Attorney Fees Under the Equal Access to Justice Act (Doc. # 20), filed on April 27, 2017. Plaintiff is seeking an award of $4, 693.90 in attorney's fees and is not seeking an award of costs. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the motion.

         A. Eligibility for Award of Fees

         The Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412, requires an award of attorney's fees and costs to any party prevailing in litigation against the United States, including proceedings for judicial review of Social Security Administration Agency action, unless the Court determines that the position of the United States was substantially justified or that special circumstances exist and make an award unjust. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A).

         Under the EAJA, a party may recover an award of attorney's fees against the government provided the party meets five requirements: (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; (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) there are no special circumstances which would make an award unjust. See 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1) and (2).

         1. Prevailing Party

         The Judgment in this case reversed the final decision of the Commissioner and remanded the case for further consideration pursuant to sentence four of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. ## 18-19). "[A] party who wins a sentence-four remand order is a prevailing party." Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 302 (1993). Thus, Plaintiff qualifies as the prevailing party in this action.

         2. Timely Application

         The EAJA requires a prevailing party to file an application for attorney's fees within thirty days of final judgment in the action. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B). This case was remanded upon order of this Court on March 15, 2017. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(1)(B), either party had 60 days to file an appeal. The judgment became final on May 15, 2017, and the request for attorney's fees was presented in advance of the 30-day deadline of June 14, 2017. Thus, the application, although prematurely filed, is considered timely and is ready to be granted.

         3. Claimant's Net Worth

         Plaintiff's counsel represents to the Court that Phillips' net worth was less than $2 million at the time this action was filed (Doc. # 20 at 1), and the Commissioner does not contest this assertion. Accordingly, the Court finds this requirement to be satisfied.

         4. Lack of Substantial Justification

         The burden of proving substantial justification is on the government. Stratton v. Bowen, 827 F.2d 1447, 1450 (11th Cir. 1987). "Therefore, unless the Commissioner comes forth and satisfies [this] burden, the government's position will be deemed not substantially justified." Kimble ex rel. A.G.K. v. Astrue, No. 6:11-cv-1063, 2012 WL 5877547, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 20, 2012). In this case, the Commissioner does not dispute the issue of substantial justification. Thus, the Court finds that the government's position was not substantially justified.

         5. No ...


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