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Doelling v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

March 20, 2015

JAY DOELLING, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ORDER

BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

Pending now before this Court is Plaintiff's Application for Attorney Fees Under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"). ECF No. 16.[1] With this Motion, Plaintiff requests an EAJA award of $4, 338.00. Id. On February 27, 2015, Defendant responded to this Motion and objects based on the application being filed untimely. ECF No. 19. On March 2, 2015, Plaintiff filed a reply and argues the deadline should be equitably tolled. ECF No. 20. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and conducting all post-judgment proceedings. ECF No. 9. Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this Order.

1. Background:

Jay Doelling ("Plaintiff") appealed to this Court from the Secretary of the Social Security Administration's ("SSA") denial of his request for disability benefits. ECF No. 1. On November 7, 2015, this Court reversed and remanded Plaintiff's case pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). ECF Nos. 15.

On February 16, 2015 Plaintiff filed the present Motion requesting an award of attorney's fees under the EAJA. ECF No. 16. With this Motion, Plaintiff requests an award of attorney's fees of $4, 338.00, representing 24.10 attorney hours at an hourly rate of $180.00. Id. On February 27, 2015, Defendant responded to this Motion and objects based on the application being filed untimely. ECF No. 19.

2. Applicable Law:

Pursuant to the EAJA, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A), a court must award attorney's fees to a prevailing social security claimant unless the Secretary's position in denying benefits was substantially justified. The Secretary has the burden of proving that the denial of benefits was substantially justified. See Jackson v. Bowen, 807 F.2d 127, 128 (8th Cir.1986) ("The Secretary bears the burden of proving that its position in the administrative and judicial proceedings below was substantially justified"). An EAJA application also must be made within thirty days of a final judgment in an action, See 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B), or within thirty days after the sixty day time for appeal has expired. See Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 298 (1993).

An award of attorney's fees under the EAJA is appropriate even though, at the conclusion of the case, the plaintiff's attorney may be authorized to charge and to collect a fee pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1). Recovery of attorney's fees under both the EAJA and 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1) was specifically allowed when Congress amended the EAJA in 1985. See Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 796 (2002) (citing Pub. L. No. 99-80, 99 Stat. 186 (1985)). The United States Supreme Court stated that Congress harmonized an award of attorney's fees under the EAJA and under 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1) as follows:

Fee awards may be made under both prescriptions [EAJA and 42 U.S.C. § 406(b)(1)], but the claimant's attorney must "refun[d] to the claimant the amount of the smaller fee."..."Thus, an EAJA award offsets an award under Section 406(b), so that the [amount of total past-due benefits the claimant actually receives] will be increased by the... EAJA award up to the point the claimant receives 100 percent of the past-due benefits."

Id. Furthermore, awarding fees under both acts facilitates the purposes of the EAJA, which is to shift to the United States the prevailing party's litigation expenses incurred while contesting unreasonable government action. See id.; Cornella v. Schweiker, 728 F.2d 978, 986 (8th Cir. 1984).

The statutory ceiling for an EAJA fee award is $125.00 per hour. See 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A). A court is only authorized to exceed this statutory rate if "the court determines that an increase in the cost of living or a special factor, such as the limited availability of qualified attorneys for the proceedings involved, justifies a higher fee." Id. A court may determine that there has been an increase in the cost of living, and may thereby increase the attorney's rate per hour, based upon the United States Department of Labor's Consumer Price Index ("CPI"). See Johnson v. Sullivan, 919 F.2d 503, 504 (8th Cir. 1990).

3. Discussion:

Defendant objects to an award of EAJA fees based on the application being filed untimely. ECF No. 19. Plaintiff filed a reply and argues the deadline should be equitably tolled. ECF No. 20.

There appears to be no dispute that the February 16, 2015, motion for EAJA fees is untimely. The Court issued a November 7, 2014, Judgment reversing and remanding the case pursuant to sentence four. ECF No. 15. The judgment became final on January 6, 2015 and the thirty day time limit for filing an EAJA motion ended on ...


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