Mastrio v. Sebelius
A court can reject a magistrate's recommendation to reduce attorneys' fees to a "prevailing party" by one third, because the plaintiff did not inform the defendant she might request fees. The plaintiff administrator requested injunctive relief, to prevent the defendant from denying coverage for home health services to Eileen Prendergast, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease. Then U.S. District Judge Alan Nevas granted the plaintiff's motion for a temporary restraining order, and Prendergast received benefits until she passed away. In 2011, the parties filed a consent motion to dismiss. After the plaintiff's complaint was dismissed, the plaintiff moved to open and requested attorneys' fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act. The defendant argued that the plaintiff's request was not filed timely, within 30 days of final judgment on Feb. 27, 2009, the date the plaintiff's suit was removed from the active docket. The court was not persuaded that was the date of "final judgment." The defendant also argued that the plaintiff did not qualify as a "prevailing party." Because Judge Nevas considered the merits and ordered the defendant to restore benefits, the plaintiff qualified as a "prevailing party." The plaintiff is entitled to fees for legal work between 2008 and 2010, because "prevailing party" status, once established, did not terminate when the parties reached a voluntary resolution. The plaintiff also is entitled to fees for legal work required to restore the plaintiff's case to the active docket. The plaintiff's failure to inform the defendant she might request attorneys' fees did not merit a reduction in fees. The court did not approve the magistrate's recommendation to reduce attorneys' fees 33 percent, because the plaintiff did not inform the defendant she might request fees. That did not merit an across-the-board reduction, let alone one of such magnitude. Plaintiff's attorneys could not have achieved a more successful result. Four attorneys represented the plaintiff, and the court found that there was some duplication, when the attorneys prepared for and attended the injunction hearing. The court reduced the 2008 attorneys' fee request 15 percent, as a result of duplication of work, and awarded $74,245.