Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Astrue v. Ratliff: Who Owns Court Awarded Attorney's Fees?

The United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of Astrue v. Ratliff on February 22, 2010.

In this case, the Social Security Administration argued that an award of fees and other expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d), is payable to the prevailing party in Social Security cases and that an award of such attorneys’ fees is subject to an administrative offset to satisfy the prevailing party’s debt, if any, to the United States.

The SSA Claimant countered that because the award belongs to the party’s attorney and not to the party itself, the award of attorneys’ fees cannot be subject to an offset for a debt that is not his or her own.

The result in this case will have a serious impact on the ability of low-income claimants to retain counsel in cases before the Social Security Administration that are subject to the Equal Access to Justice Act.

A full summary of the case and the arguments of the respective parties has been compiled by the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell Law School. That summary can be viewed at THIS LINK.

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