United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
ORDER GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S UNOPPOSED
MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES PURSUANT TO THE EQUAL ACCESS
TO JUSTICE ACT
E. SELF, III, JUDGE
the Court is Plaintiff's Unopposed Motion for
Attorney's Fees [Doc. 30] pursuant to the Equal Access to
Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412,
following the remand of his claim for Social Security
benefits. See [Doc. 28].
EAJA provides that a prevailing plaintiff may recover
attorney's fees incurred in a suit against the United
States unless the position of the United States was
“substantially justified or . . . special circumstances
make an award unjust.” 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A).
On August 12, 2019, the Court remanded this action to the
Commissioner for further proceedings, and “[a] claimant
who obtains a court order remanding [his] Social Security
claim to the Commissioner for further proceedings is a
prevailing party for purposes of the EAJA.” Johnson
v. Colvin, No. 5:12-CV-460 (MTT), 2014 WL 657370, at *1
(M.D. Ga. Feb. 20, 2014) (citing Shalala v.
Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 300-01 (1993)).
as the prevailing party, now requests attorney's fees in
the amount of $7, 982.52, reflecting 40 hours of work, plus
$400.00 in costs, payable “directly to [his]
counsel.” [Doc. 30 at p. 1]; [Doc. 30-1 at p. 2]. The
Supreme Court, however, has held that the prevailing party,
not the prevailing party's counsel, is eligible to
recover attorney's fees under the EAJA as part of the
party's litigation expenses. Johnson, 2014 WL
657370, at *1 (citing Astrue v. Ratliff, 560 U.S.
586, 589 (2010)); see also Panola Land Buying Ass'n
v. Clark, 844 F.2d 1506, 1509-11 (11th Cir. 1988)
(recognizing that EAJA fees are awarded to the prevailing
plaintiff, not his counsel, in accordance with the specific
language of the EAJA). Following Ratliff, the
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has also affirmed that a
plaintiff, not his attorney, is the “prevailing
party” within the meaning of the EAJA. Reeves v.
Astrue, 526 F.3d 732, 736-38 (11th Cir.2008) (citing
Manning v. Astrue, 510 F.3d 1246, 1251 (10th Cir.
2007) (concluding that the EAJA makes it clear that certain
prevailing parties, not their attorneys, may recover
attorney's fees when the Government's action was not
substantially justified); see also United States v.
Adkinson, 256 F.Supp.2d 1297, 1318 (N.D. Fla. 2003)
(“[T]he [EAJA] fee award belongs to the client, and the
attorney has no independent right to the fee award under the
EAJA.”), aff'd, 360 F.3d 1257 (11th Cir.
2004) (per curiam).
in this district have already recognized the Reeves
court's statement that the EAJA statute “plainly
contemplates that the prevailing party will look to the
opposing party for costs incurred, while attorneys and other
service providers must look to the [prevailing] party for
compensation for their services.” See, e.g.,
Johnson, 2014 WL 657370, at *1 (quoting
Reeves, 526 F.3d at 736). Furthermore,
Ratliff unequivocally acknowledges that until 2006,
the Government “frequently paid EAJA fees in social
security cases directly to attorneys.” 560 U.S. at 597.
But since 2006, the Government has continued the direct
payment practice “only in cases where [a] plaintiff
does not owe a [federal] debt . . . and [properly] assigns
the right to receive the fees to [his] attorney.”
Plaintiff submitted an “Assignment of Equal Access to
Justice Act ‘EAJA' [F]ees” agreement along
with his Motion. [Doc. 30-5]. In this agreement, Plaintiff
purports to “transfer and assign [his] rights and
interests in any and all [EAJA fees] due and payable to [him]
. . . to [his] attorneys, Pierre Pierre Law, P.C., in
consideration of their services in representing [him] in
federal court.” [Doc. 30-5 at p. 1]. However, this
agreement is ineffective. Unquestionably, EAJA awards belong
to prevailing plaintiffs, see Ratliff, 560 U.S. at
593-94, and while it is true that attorney's fees awarded
under the EAJA may be assigned, these awards are claims
against the United States, and any assignment of them must
satisfy the Anti-Assignment Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3727.
Accordingly, assignments of claims against the United States
are permitted only after (1) a claim is allowed; (2) the
amount of the claim is decided; (3) a warrant for payment is
issued; and (4) the assignment itself specifies the warrant,
is made freely, and is signed by two witnesses. 31 U.S.C.
§ 3727(b); see also Gooding v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., No. 6:18-cv-348-Orl-37LRH, 2019 WL 5005435, at *2
(M.D. Fla. Sept. 20, 2019); Gibson v. Colvin, No.
4:03-cv-90, 2013 WL 2422611, at *6 (S.D. Ga. June 3, 2013).
In addition to these four statute-based requirements, the
person making the assignment “shall [also] acknowledge
it before an official who may acknowledge a deed, and the
official shall certify the assignment.” 31 U.S.C.
reasons stated below, the attempted “assignment”
between Plaintiff and his counsel simply does not satisfy the
Anti-Assignment Act. First, it was executed on April 19,
2018, six days before Plaintiff filed his Complaint against
the Commissioner of Social Security. Compare [Doc. 1
at p. 4] with [Doc. 30-5 at p. 1]. Therefore,
“assignment” was clearly not made “after a
claim [for attorney's fees was] allowed.” [Doc.
30-5 at p. 1]; see also 31 U.S.C. § 3727(b). In
fact, it was made well before the Court awarded
attorney's fees in this case under the EAJA and certainly
before the Court determined the amount to be awarded. Second,
and most notably, Plaintiff's “agreement”
does not mention a warrant for payment, lacks two witness
signatures, and fails to include any acknowledgment before an
appropriate official as well as that official's
certification. 31 U.S.C. § 3727(b). Accordingly, the
Court must award the fees directly to Plaintiff, not to his
Government-in its discretion-later determines Plaintiff does
not owe a debt to the United States, it may waive the
Anti-Assignment Act's requirements and pay the EAJA fee
award directly to Plaintiff's counsel. See,
e.g., Gooding, 2019 WL 5005435, at *2 (holding
that “[t]he [G]overnment, though, may exercise its
discretion to honor the assignment if it determines that . .
. Plaintiff does not owe a debt to the government”);
Arthur Pew Const. Co. v. Lipscomb, 965 F.2d 1559,
1576 (1992) (holding that the Government may recognize the
assignment of its obligations to another and waive the
protection of anti-assignment statutes if it chooses). Such
decision, however, is for the Commissioner, not the Court.
the unopposed nature of Plaintiff's Motion and
Plaintiff's willingness to permit his attorney to receive
the EAJA fees, there is nothing indicating (to the Court)
that the Commissioner is aware of and has waived the defects
in Plaintiff's purported assignment. See
generally [Doc. 30-1]; [Doc. 30-2]. Assuredly, the Court
is fully aware that Plaintiff's counsel is well-practiced
as a social security disability attorney; however, an
assumption that the Commissioner is aware of such obvious
defects and omissions from the requirements of the
Anti-Assignment Act is simply too reaching. [Doc. 30-2 at
¶ 10]. Without more, an order issuing the award of
attorney's fees directly to Plaintiff's counsel would
run afoul to the plain text of 31 U.S.C. § 3727 and the
case law to which the Court is bound.
the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for
Attorney's Fees [Doc. 30] in the amount of $7, 982.52,
plus $400.00 in costs, but DIRECTS that the
money be paid directly to Plaintiff and not to his counsel.
However, notwithstanding the Court's ruling in this
Order, should the Government, after determining that
Plaintiff does not owe a federal debt, elect to exercise its
discretion and waive the Anti-Assignment Act's
requirements, the Court will leave to the parties the
determination of to whom the EAJA fees shall be paid.