United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division
RHONDA A. SIMMONS PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT
ERIN L. WIEDEMANN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Rhonda A. Simmons, appealed the Commissioner's denial of
benefits to this Court. On June 20, 2018, judgment was
entered remanding Plaintiff's case to the Commissioner
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc.
16). Plaintiff now moves for an award of $1, 444.07 in
attorney's fees under 28 U.S.C. § 2412, the Equal
Access to Justice Act (hereinafter “EAJA”),
requesting compensation for 7.60 attorney hours of work
before the Court at an hourly rate of $155.00 for work
performed 2017 and 2018; 3.20 paralegal hours of work before
the Court at an hourly rate of $75.00; and $26.07 in
expenses. (Docs. 17-18). Defendant filed a response to
Plaintiff's application, stating that she does not oppose
an award to Plaintiff in the amount requested. (Doc. 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
party. After reviewing the file, the Court finds that
Plaintiff is a prevailing party in this matter.
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 customary fee; whether the fee is fixed or
contingent; time limitations imposed by the client or the
circumstances; the amount involved and the results obtained;
the attorney's experience, reputation and ability; the
“undesirability” of the case; the nature and
length of the professional relationship with the client; and
awards in similar cases. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461
U.S. 424, 430 (1983).
the EAJA is not designed to reimburse without limit.
Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 573 (1988). 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”).
EAJA further 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, 461 U.S. at 433 (1983).
attorney requests an award under the EAJA at an hourly rate
of $155.00 for 7.60 hours of work performed in 2017 and 2018,
which he asserts was devoted to the representation of
Plaintiff in this Court. The party seeking attorney fees
bears the burden of proving that the claimed fees are
reasonable. Id., 461 U.S. at 437. Attorney's
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
attorneys justifies a higher fee. 28 U.S.C.
§2412(d)(2)(A). The decision to increase the hourly rate
is not automatic and remains at the discretion of the
district court. McNulty v. Sullivan, 886 F.2d 1074
(8th Cir. 1989). In Johnson v. Sullivan, 919 F.2d
503 (8th Cir. 1990), the Court stated that the hourly rate
may be increased when there is “uncontested proof of an
increase in the cost of living sufficient to justify hourly
attorney's fees of more than [the maximum statutory
hourly rate], ” such as a copy of the Consumer Price
Index (CPI). Plaintiff's counsel submitted a CPI in
support of his requested hourly rate. The Court will
therefore award Plaintiff's counsel an hourly rate of
counsel has also requested 3.20 paralegal hours of work at
the rate of $75.00 per hour. The Court finds $75.00 per hour
for paralegal work to be reasonable.
Court next addresses the number of hours Plaintiff's
counsel claims he spent working on this case. The Court has
reviewed the itemized statement, and finds the amount of 7.60
attorney hours and 3.20 paralegal hours is reasonable.
counsel seeks reimbursement for $26.07 in postage. Such
expenses are recoverable under the EAJA and the Court finds
$26.07 is reasonable. See Kelly v. Bowen, 862 F.2d
1333, 1335 (8th Cir. 1988).
upon the foregoing, the Court finds that Plaintiff is
entitled to an attorney's fee award under the EAJA for:
7.60 hours for attorney work performed in 2017 and 2018, at
an hourly rate of $155.00; and 3.20 paralegal hours at an
hourly rate of $75.00, for a total attorney's fee of $1,
418; and $26.07 in expenses. This amount should be paid in
addition to, and not out of, any past due benefits which
Plaintiff may be awarded in the future. Based upon the
holding in Astrue v. Ratliff, 130 S.Ct. 2521 (2010),
the EAJA award should be paid directly to Plaintiff.
parties are reminded that the award herein under the EAJA
will be taken into account at such time as a reasonable fee
is determined pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406, in order ...