United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division
A. Roberts, United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Application for
Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. Section 2412, filed on
November 21, 2018. (Doc. 32.) Plaintiff requests
attorney's fees in the amount of $11, 183. Defendant
filed a Response in Opposition to Plaintiff's Application
for Fees Pursuant to the EAJA. (Doc. 33.) Defendant does not
object to an EAJA award; however, Defendant objects to the
amount Plaintiff seeks and requests the Court reduce the
amount of the award to what the Commissioner considers a
reasonable amount; i.e., no more than $7, 500.
Court may award fees and other expenses under the EAJA to the
prevailing party in a Social Security appeal, “unless
the court finds that the position of the United States was
substantially justified or that special circumstances make
the award unjust.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). A
position is “substantially justified” if it has a
“reasonable basis in law and fact, ” even if it
was a losing position. Goad v. Barnhart, 398 F.3d
1021, 1025 (8th Cir. 2005); see also Lauer v.
Barnhart, 321 F.3d 762, 764-65 (8th Cir. 2003) (holding
that the position taken must be “well founded in
fact”); Sawyers v. Shalala, 990 F.2d 1033,
1034 (8th Cir. 1993) (explaining the position must be
“justified to a degree that could satisfy a reasonable
person”) (citation omitted). The Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration (“the
Commissioner”) bears the burden of proving substantial
justification. Goad, 398 F.3d at 1025. With regard
to “special circumstances, ” few cases before the
Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals have addressed when this
exception applies. See Koss v. Sullivan, 982 F.2d
1226, 1229 (8th Cir. 1993) (finding without elaboration no
special circumstances, but noting that denial of fees to a
party whose action brought about a change in position would
be unjust); Jackson v. Bowen, 807 F.2d 127, 128 n.3
(8th Cir. 1986) (noting that this “exception helps to
ensure that the [Commissioner] can advance in good faith
novel but credible interpretations of law”) (citation
order to obtain an award for fees and expenses, the party
must file an application no later than 30 days from when the
judgment becomes final. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(B). The
party must allege that the Commissioner's position was
not substantially justified and specify the “amount
sought, including an itemized statement . . . [of] the actual
time expended and the rate at which fees and other expenses
were computed.” Id. The court may award
“reasonable attorney fees, ” which should not
exceed $125 per hour unless the court finds that the cost of
living or a special factor justifies a higher rate. 28 U.S.C.
§ 2412(d)(2)(A); see also Johnson v. Sullivan,
919 F.2d 503, 505 (8th Cir. 1990) (granting a higher attorney
fee rate based on unrebutted evidence of the Department of
Labor's Consumer Price Index, as well as information
about the attorney's experience and a recent award of
EAJA fees at the requested rate).
fees awarded under the EAJA are payable directly to the party
and not to the party's attorney. Astrue v.
Ratliff, 560 U.S. 586, 593-94 (2010). Accordingly, if
the party owes any “outstanding federal debts, ”
the government is entitled to offset the fee award by the
debt the party owes the government. Id. at 593.
Courts have recognized that while the award is made to the
party, payment of that award may be delivered to the
party's attorney if consistent with the practices of the
relevant agency and department. See Eads v.
Berryhill, No. 16-CV-97-LRR, 2017 WL 1196444, at *2
(N.D. Iowa Mar. 29, 2017); Kunik v. Colvin, No.
C13-3025-LTS, 2014 WL 1883804, at *3 (N.D. Iowa May 12,
2014); Kinseth v. Colvin, No. C12-3033-MWB, 2013 WL
6410982, at *2 (N.D. Iowa Dec. 9, 2013).
case, Defendant does not dispute that Plaintiff has satisfied
each of the conditions for an award of attorney's fees.
Rather, Defendant contests only the amount of the reasonable
award. The Court finds Plaintiff is the prevailing party in
this Social Security appeal. (Docs. 30, 31.) Plaintiff timely
filed an application for fees incurred in this action, which
included an itemized statement of the time expended and
computation rates. (Docs. 32, 32-1.) The Court also finds
that the information provided by Plaintiff justifies an
increase in the hourly rate. The Court further finds that
Defendant has not shown substantial justification or special
circumstances that support denying an award in this case.
seeks compensation for 46.93 hours of legal research, brief
drafting, and motion practice at the rate of $193.88 for a
total of $9, 098.79. In addition, Plaintiff seeks
compensation for 21.5 hours spent on reviewing, analyzing,
annotating and summarizing the contents of the administrative
record in this matter (which Plaintiff's attorney was not
involved in) at the rate of $96.94 for a total of $2, 084.21.
These two figures together total the amount Plaintiff seeks:
complains that Plaintiff's counsel spent too much time on
this matter. Defendant cites Coleman v. Astrue, No.
C05-3045-PAZ, 2007 WL 4438633, at *3 (N.D. Iowa Dec. 17,
2007) for the proposition that “routine disability
benefits cases commonly require 20 to 40 hours of attorney
time.” Defendant apparently believes that 40 hours is a
cap of some sort. In any event, 40 hours at $193.88 per hour
would result in fees of $7, 755.20.
about the precedent cited by Defendant persuades the Court
that such a cap exists, although, as discussed below, the
amounts allowed in other cases are relevant to determine
reasonableness. In addition, Defendant's counsel states
he reviewed prior EAJA awards in the Northern District of
Iowa where transcripts range from 1080 pages to 1701 pages.
The review allowed Defendant to total the number of pages in
the transcripts. Nowhere does Defendant attempt to assess
what issues were raised in those 11 cases, the relative
complexity of those cases, or how they compare to the
complexity of the issues raised in the case at bar.
Defendant's reference to the size of those transcripts
and the attorney fees awarded is not particularly helpful to
the Court in making the independent evaluation of the
reasonableness of this attorney's bill as required by
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 432-34 (1983).
instant case, Plaintiff's counsel filed a brief of 38
pages. While counsel should not be rewarded for filing
overlength briefs, the Court's review of the brief at
Docket 19 indicates that it is reasonably concise, addresses
related issues, and does not appear designed to increase
attorney's fees. Nevertheless, it is lengthy and
undoubtedly required substantial investment of time by
Plaintiff's counsel. In addition, Plaintiff's counsel
filed an eight-page reply brief, which appears similarly
well-suited to the scope and complexity of the issues at bar.
The Court notes that the Memorandum Order and Opinion by then
Chief Magistrate Judge C.J. Williams entered on August 23,
2018 was 17 pages in length. (Doc. 30.) Nevertheless, the
Court noted in its conclusion, “As noted, claimant
asserted other grounds of error. Because the Court has found
remand appropriate, however, the Court will not address these
additional grounds at this time.” In other words, the
Court required 17 pages to address only part of
Plaintiff's arguments. This is some indication of the
complexity of the issues presented, if counting pages is an
Court finds the 21.5 hours Plaintiff's counsel expended
at a lower hourly rate was reasonably necessary to
effectively represent Plaintiff. See Coleman, 2007
WL 4438633, at *3 (requiring an attorney to review the entire
record in order to represent a plaintiff competently).
addition, the Court finds the 61.41 hours that
Plaintiff's counsel seeks for reviewing and annotating
the record, drafting the joint stipulation of material facts,
and drafting both the primary and reply briefs reasonable.
See Handke v. Astrue, No. C06-4106-PAZ, 2008 WL
2095545, at *1 (N.D. Iowa May 16, 2008) (“The ...