United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
LEE A. CALLAWAY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
RANDAL HALL, CHIEF JUDGE
the Court is Plaintiff's motion to vacate or alter
judgment under the Equal Access to Justice Act
("EAJA"). (Doc. 27.) For the following reasons,
Plaintiff's Motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED
filed the present action on October 14, 2015, seeking review
of the Social Security Administration's denial of
Plaintiff's claim for benefits under the Social Security
Act. (Compl., Doc. 1, ¶ 2.) The appeal was referred to
the magistrate court for review and recommendation. (Order,
Doc. 9.) On January 17, 2017, the magistrate court issued its
report and recommendation, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), that the Commissioner of Social Security's final
decision be reversed. (Magistrate Judge's R. & R.,
Doc. 17.) The Court adopted the report and recommendation on
February 9, 2017. (Order, Doc. 19.) On March 13, 2017,
Plaintiff filed his Motion for Attorney's Fees under the
Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). (Doc.
21.) The motion for attorney's fees was referred to the
magistrate court. (Docket, Apr. 4, 2017.) On July 26, 2017,
the magistrate court entered an Order granting in part and
denying in part Plaintiff's motion for attorney's
fees. (Order, Doc. 26.) Plaintiff challenges the
attorney's fees award as void, and, alternatively, argues
that the award should be altered.
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure establish that "the
court . . . may refer a motion for attorney's fees to a
magistrate judge under Rule 72(b) as if it were a dispositive
pretrial matter." Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(2)(D). When
considering a dispositive pretrial matter assigned
"without the parties' consent," pursuant to
Rule 72, w[t]he magistrate judge must enter a
recommended disposition." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(1).
Moreover, neither the Local Rules nor 28 U.S.C. § 636
provide authority to enter a dispositive order on a contested
attorney's fees motion without the parties' consent.
An order of a magistrate court exceeding its statutory
jurisdiction is to be vacated. Brown v. United
States, 748 F.3d 1045, 1058, 1072 (11th Cir. 2014).
argues that the magistrate court entered an order determining
attorney's fees without the parties' consent. As a
result, Plaintiff's position is that the magistrate court
entered the July 26th Order in excess of its authority.
Defendant does not contest this point. Plaintiff, therefore,
asks this Court to reconsider the July 26th Order under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) (4).
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(4), "[o]n
motion and just terms, the court may relieve a party . . .
from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following
reasons: . . . (4) the judgment is void." A judgment is
generally void under Rule 60(b)(4) "if the court that
rendered it lacked jurisdiction of the subject matter."
Burke v. Smith, 252 F.3d 1260, 1263 (11th Cir. 2001)
(citation omitted). Additionally, "[a] judgment ... is
void for Rule 60(b)(4) purposes if the rendering court was
powerless to enter it." Id.
to grant a motion pursuant to Rule 60(b) is within the
court's sound discretion. Arthur v. Thomas, 739
F.3d 611, 628 (11th Cir. 2014). However, "a district
court's failure to vacate a void judgment is per
se an abuse of discretion." Oldfield v. Pueblo
De Bahia Lora, S.A., 558 F.3d 1210, 1217 (11th Cir.
2009). The Court finds that Plaintiff's motion for
attorney's fees was a contested dispositive motion on
that issue. The magistrate court's Order resolving that
motion, without the consent of the Parties, exceeded the
magistrate's authority. The proper resolution of
Plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees is a report
and recommendation pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure 52(d)(2)(D) and 72(b). Accordingly, the Order is
void. Following this Circuit's precedent, the Court must
vacate the July 26th Order.
requests that upon the Court concluding that the July 26th
Order was entered without jurisdiction, "The District
Judge may then re-refer Plaintiff's motion for attorney
fees to the Magistrate Judge for the Magistrate Judge to
issue a report and recommendation." (Mot. to Vacate,
Doc. 27, at 2.) The Court concludes re-referring the motion
is unnecessary. Federal courts across the country, in similar
circumstances, have determined that when a magistrate order
should have been issued as a report and recommendation, the
order may be treated as such. See, e.g., David
v. District of Columbia, 252 F.R.D. 56, 58-59 (D.D.C.
Sept. 11, 2008) (citing Leyse v. Corp. Collection
Servs., 557 F.Supp.2d 442, 443 (S.D.N.Y. 2008);
Sieverdinq v. Colo. Bar Ass'n, No. 02-cv-01950,
2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 70777, at *6 (D. Colo. Sept. 27,
2006)). The Court does the same here.
on the foregoing, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that
Plaintiff's motion to vacate or alter judgment (Doc. 27)
is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. The
July 26, 2017 Order (Doc. 26) is VACATED and
will be treated as a REPORT AND
RECOMMENDATION. As such, Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 72(b)(2) governs the time for objections to the
Report and Recommendation. The Parties shall have
FOURTEEN (14) DAYS from the date of this
Order to object to the Report and Recommendation. A party may
then respond within FOURTEEN (14) DAYS of
being served with the objection.