United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
HONORABLE MARK E. FORD MAGISTRATE JUDGE
now before this Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney
Fees Under the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”). ECF Nos. 15, 16. The matter is before
the undersigned by consent of the parties. ECF No. 6.
March 30, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion for attorney's
fees and costs under 28 U.S.C. § 2412, the Equal Access
to Justice Act (hereinafter “EAJA”), requesting
$4, 193.50 representing a total of 19.40 attorney hours for
work performed in 2015 at an hourly rate of $190.00, .50
attorney hours for work performed in 2015 at a rate of
$190.00, and 5.50 paralegal hours at an hourly rate of
$75.00. ECF No. 16-3. On April 7, 2016, the Commissioner
filed a objecting to the hourly rate sought and the number of
hours Plaintiff's counsel is requesting. ECF No. 18. The
Plaintiff filed a reply on February 16, 2016, conceding the
hourly rate is excessive, but contending the number of hours
requested is both reasonable and compensable under the EAJA.
ECF No. 19.
to 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A), the court must award
attorney's fees to a prevailing social security claimant
unless the Commissioner's position in denying benefits
was substantially justified. The burden is on the
Commissioner to show substantial justification for the
government's denial of benefits. Jackson v.
Bowen, 807 F.2d 127, 128 (8th Cir. 1986). Under
Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 302 (1993), a
social security claimant who obtains a sentence-four judgment
reversing the Commissioner's denial of benefits and
remanding the case for further proceedings is a prevailing
EAJA requires an attorney seeking fees to submit “an
itemized statement ... stating the actual time expended and
the rate at which fees and other expenses were
computed.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B). Attorneys
seeking fees under federal fee-shifting statutes such as the
EAJA are required to present fee applications with
“contemporaneous time records of hours worked and rates
claimed, plus a detailed description of the subject matter of
the work.” Id. Where documentation is
inadequate, the court may reduce the award accordingly.
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983).
EAJA is not designed to reimburse without limit. Pierce
v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 573 (1988). In determining a
reasonable attorney's fee, the court will in each case
consider the following factors: time and labor required; the
novelty and difficulty of questions involved; the skill
required to handle the problems presented; the preclusion of
employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case, the
attorney's experience, ability, and reputation; the
benefits resulting to the client from the services; the
customary fee for similar services; the contingency or
certainty of compensation; the results obtained; and, the
amount involved. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424,
430 (1983). Further, the Court can determine the
reasonableness and accuracy of a fee request, even in the
absence of an objection by the Commissioner. Clements v.
Astrue, 2009 WL 4508480 (W.D. Ark. Dec. 1, 2009);
see also Decker v. Sullivan, 976 F.2d 456, 459 (8th
Cir. 1992) (“although the issue was not raised on
appeal, fairness to the parties requires an accurately
calculated attorney's fee award.”).
present action, Plaintiff's case was remanded by this
Court pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
The Commissioner does not contest Plaintiff's claim that
he is the prevailing party and does not oppose his
application for fees under the EAJA. ECF No. 18. The Court
construes this lack of opposition to this application as an
admission that the government's decision to deny benefits
was not “substantially justified” and that
Plaintiff is the prevailing party and entitled to receive an
award under the EAJA.
general rule, attorney fees may not be awarded in excess of
$125.00 per hour - the maximum statutory rate under §
2412(d)(2)(A) - unless the Court finds that an increase in
the cost of living or a special factor such as the limited
availability of qualified attorney's justifies a higher
fee. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A). The decision to increase
the hourly rate is not automatic, though, and remains at the
discretion of the district court. McNulty v.
Sullivan, 886 F.2d 1074 (8th Cir. 1989). In Sanders
v. Astrue, 2012 WL 19422 (W.D. Ark. Jan 3, 2012), this
Court decided to follow the approach set forth in Knudsen
v. Barnhart, 360 F.Supp.2d 963, 969-974 (N.D. Iowa
2004), wherein the Court found that “a reasonable
balance between accuracy and ease of computation would be to
require attorneys to adjust fees using the CPI available and
applicable to the year when services were performed.”
Id. at 974. In this case, we find that an increase
in the cost of living justifies a higher fee. However,
Plaintiff is only entitled to reimbursement at the hourly
rate of $187.00 for attorney work performed in 2015 and
$188.00 for the work performed in 2016.
Commissioner objects to a total of 1.30 paralegal hours and
.10 attorney hours, arguing that the tasks performed were
clerical in nature and did not require any legal expertise.
We are governed by Granville House, Inc. v. Department of
HEW,813 F.2d 881, 884 (8th Cir. 1987), which held that
work which could have been completed by support staff is not
compensable under the EAJA. This case asserts that it is the