attorney fees - EAJA - payment to plaintiff v. payment to counsel
Vongphady v. Astrue - ED Pa. - March 11, 2008
The language of the EAJA dictates that attorney fees are to be awarded to the plaintiff and not plaintiff's counsel. This conclusion is supported by Congressional intent and case law from the Third, Eight, Tenth, and Federal Circuits.
Sixth Circuit decisions that attorney fees under EAJA are awarded for the benefit of the party, but are not for the party to keep and can be directly awarded to the attorney, are inconsistent with the language of the statute. Unlike attorney fees paid pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 406(b) that are paid directly to the attorney out of the plaintiff’s social security benefits, the fees paid pursuant to EAJA are a punishment to the government for taking a position that was not substantially justified and are paid out of the Social Security Administration’s funds to the plaintiff. See, e.g., Phillips v. GSA, 924 F.2d 1577, 1582 (Fed.Cir. 1991) (Attorney fees awarded pursuant to EAJA must be awarded to the prevailing party, not the attorney, and if they were awarded, the plaintiff had an obligation to turn them over to the attorney.)