TN 1 (05-86)

GN 03990.001 Equal Access to Justice Act - General

A. General Provisions

The Equal Access to Justice (EAJA) was enacted as a means of permitting persons to obtain reimbursement of expenses incurred (e.g., legal fees, expert witness fees, etc.) in the course of court actions and certain administrative proceedings involving government agencies. Prior to enactment of the EAJA, such expenses were borne by the person taking action against the government agency. The framers of the EAJA believed that because of the greater resources and expertise of the government agency, persons were often deterred from seeking review of, or defending against, adverse governmental actions.

The EAJA provides that reimbursement of legal fees and other expenses will apply only in those covered proceedings in which the person prevails against the agency, but will not apply if the court finds that the position of the agency was substantially justified or that special circumstances would make an award unjust. Payments allowed under the provisions of the act will be made out of the agency's administrative expense account.

B. SSA Claims Adjudicated Below the Court Level

The provisions of the EAJA apply to agency proceedings which are “adversary adjudications.” The EAJA describes “adversary adjudication” as an adjudication under section 554 of title 5 of the United States Code in which the agency's position is represented by counsel. Since SSA's position is not usually “represented by counsel” in claims adjudicated at the administrative level, the EAJA does not apply to Social Security claims through the Appeals Council level, with the exception of cases conducted under the “Adjudicatory Improvement Project” (AIP).

Under AIP, SSA representatives actively participate in hearings before Administrative Law Judges in certain hearings offices. Such cases may fall under the provisions of the EAJA. Any inquiries concerning these cases should be referred to:


    Adjudicatory Improvement Project

    Office of General Counsel
    Correspondence Control Staff
    Altmeyer Room 617
    6401 Security Blvd.
    Baltimore, Maryland 21235
    Attn: Class Action Coordinator

C. SSA Claims Decided by the Court

EAJA may apply to SSA claims decided by the court. In order to be considered for reimbursement of legal fees and other expenses incurred in the course of litigation, the party must have prevailed against SSA, and, within 30 days of a final favorable judgment, submit to the court a petition (i.e., application) which shows:

  1. 1. 

    that the party is a prevailing party;

  2. 2. 

    that the party meets all conditions of eligibility (e.g., net worth of not more than $2 million);

  3. 3. 

    the amount sought, including an itemized statement from the attorney, agent or expert witness appearing on behalf of the party, stating the time expended and the rate at which the
    expenses were computed; and

  4. 4. 

    a statement that the position of SSA was not substantially justified.

The court will then either set the amount to be reimbursed to the claimant and order SSA to pay, or the court will deny the application.

The EAJA is silent concerning the definition of the term “substantially justified.” However, initial court decisions which have addressed this issue have characterized the standard as one of “reasonableness.” In cases where SSA has shown that its position had a reasonable basis both in law and fact, no EAJA awards have been made.

D. Effective Date

The provisions of the EAJA were effective on October 1, 1981, and apply to adversary adjudications and litigated Social Security claims pending on, or commenced on or after that date.

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GN 03990.001 - Equal Access to Justice Act - General - 02/07/2002
Batch run: 11/02/2017