United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division
BARRY A. BRYANT U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
now before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for
Attorney's Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice
Act (“EAJA”). ECF No. 17. Defendant responded to
this Motion and raised no objections to this Motion. ECF No.
18. 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. 7. Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this
11, 2018, Belinda Bearden (“Plaintiff”) appealed
to the Court from the Secretary of the Social Security
Administration's (“SSA”) denial of her
request for disability benefits. ECF No. 1. On March 7, 2019,
Plaintiff's case was reversed and remanded pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). ECF Nos. 15-16.
10, 2019, Plaintiff filed this Motion. ECF No. 17. With this
Motion, Plaintiff requests an award of $4, 174.80 under the
EAJA. Id. This includes 21.30 hours of attorney work
at an hourly rate of $196.00 for work performed in 2018 and
2019. Id. Defendant has no objections to
Plaintiff's Motion or her requested fees. ECF No. 18.
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).
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
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). See also General
Order 39 (“Attorney's Fees Under the Equal Access
to Justice Act”).
present action, Plaintiff's case was remanded to the SSA.
ECF Nos. 15-16. Defendant does not contest Plaintiff's
claim that she is the prevailing party and does not oppose
her application for fees under the EAJA. ECF No. 18. The
Court construes the 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.
requests a total award of $4, 174.80 under the EAJA. ECF No.
17. This includes 21.30 hours of attorney work at an hourly
rate of $196.00 for work performed in 2018 and 2019.
Id. This attorney hourly rate is authorized by the
EAJA as long as the CPI-South Index justifies this enhanced
rate. See General Order 39. See also 28
U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A); Johnson, 919 F.2d at
504. In the present action, the Court finds the CPI-South
Index authorizes $196.00 for 2018 and 2019. Thus, the Court
awards that hourly rate.
claims the fees awarded should be paid directly to Plaintiff
pursuant to Astrue v. Ratliff, 560 U.S. 586, 130
S.Ct. 2521 (2010). ECF No. 18. Ratliff requires that
attorney's fees be awarded to the “prevailing
party” or the litigant. See Id. 130 S.Ct. at
2528. Thus, these fees must be awarded to Plaintiff, not to
Plaintiff's attorney. However, if Plaintiff has executed
a valid assignment to Plaintiff's attorney of all rights
in an attorney's fee award and Plaintiff owes no
outstanding debt to the federal government, the
attorney's fee may be awarded directly to Plaintiff's