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Social Security Attorney's Fee Award Payable to the Litigant

By FindLaw Staff on June 14, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Astrue v. Ratliff, No. 08-1322, involved an action against the Social Security Administration for Social Security benefits.  The Supreme Court reversed the Eighth Circuit's reversal of the district court's order that plaintiff's attorney lacked standing to contest an offset imposed by the U.S. against attorney's fees received by plaintiff, holding that a 28 U.S.C. section 2412(d)(1)(A) attorney's fee award was payable to the litigant and was therefore subject to an offset to satisfy the litigant's preexisting debt to the government.

As the Court wrote:  "Section 204(d) of the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), codified in 28 U. S. C. §2412(d), provides in pertinent part that "a court shall award to a prevailing party . . . fees and other expenses . . . in any civil action . . . brought by or against the United States . . . unless the court finds that the position of the United States was substantially justified." We consider whether an award of "fees and other expenses" to a "prevailing party" under §2412(d) is payable to the litigant or to his attorney. We hold that a §2412(d) fees award is payable to the litigant and is therefore subject to a Government offset to satisfy a pre-existing debt that the litigant owes the United States."

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