Appealed from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (Sept. 5, 2008)
Oral argument: Feb. 22, 2009
EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE ACT, SOCIAL SECURITY
Petitioner, Michael J. Astrue (“Astrue”), argues 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. Respondent, Catherine G. Ratliff (“Ratliff”), counters that an award of attorneys’ fees should go to the prevailing party’s attorney as compensation for services rendered. Astrue asserts that an award of attorneys’ fees is subject to an administrative offset to satisfy the prevailing party’s debt, if any, to the United States. Ratliff argues 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 Eighth Circuit held that Congress intended attorneys’ fees awarded under EAJA to go to the prevailing party’s attorney and not to the prevailing party. The Supreme Court must resolve whether an award of attorneys’ fees under EAJA is payable to the prevailing party rather than the party’s attorney and, therefore, is subject to an administrative offset for a pre-existing debt owed by the prevailing party to the federal government.