Trade Updates for Week of June 21, 2017

 

United States Court of International Trade

 

EAJA Fees Award in Trade Adjustment Assistance Case

In Former Employee of Marlin Firearms Co. v. United States Secretary of Labor Slip Op. 17-72, Court No. 11-00060, plaintiff sought to recover legal fees, under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), for the administrative review and litigation over Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) provided to employees of Marlin, a sporting rifle manufacturer in Connecticut. Marlin was bought by Remington, another gun manufacturer, and Marlin’s plant was shut down. On the behalf of Marlin’s employees, the Connecticut State Department petitioned the U.S. Department of Labor (Labor) for TAA available to workers who lost their jobs because of trade competition.  In Labor’s initial review they found that assistance could not be given to Marlin’s employees because imports have not affected the plant. This case was then initiated. Before Labor filed an answer, both parties agreed to file for a voluntary remand. Both parties agreed that Labor was to conduct a more intense investigation.  On remand, Labor found Marlin’s employees eligible for TAA benefits. Plaintiff then submitted application for attorney fees under the EAJA.  Labor responded that the application was improper and that fees should not be awarded. 

The Court identified three factors that are needed to recover attorney fees under the EAJA. The factors included the following: the application must be filed on time, the party seeking recovery must be the prevailing party, and the fees must be reasonable. The first issue, the court dealt with was defendant’s argument that the application was filed prematurely. The EAJA requires that “a party seeking an award of fees and other expenses submit its application within thirty days of final judgement.” Id. at 5.  Marlin’s employee’s application was filed prior to a final judgment by the court, and this was why Labor argued that it was filed prematurely.  The court looked at the legislative history and case law regarding the statute and found “this language as creating only a final deadline to submit applications.” Id. at 6. Thus, the Court found that plaintiff’s application was not filed prematurely.

The next issue was whether the plaintiff was the prevailing party in the case. The general rule is that a party only prevails when a court order is sufficient to change the relationship between the parties. In the context of administrative remands, when a plaintiff succeeds on remand because of an agency error the plaintiff qualifies as a prevailing party if the court retains jurisdiction and the agency admits the error.  In this case, the Court maintained jurisdiction over the case, even when on remand to the agency. In addition, in its voluntary consent to the remand, Labor stated that “existing surveys may be insufficient.” Id. at 9.  Although, Labor does not explicitly admit an error, the court sees this as evidence of admitting one. The Court was unable to differentiate this scenario from previous case law and found that the plaintiff was the prevailing party.

The final issue was whether the plaintiff’s requested $40,792.35 for 283 hours of work in the application was reasonable. The EAJA allows collection only of reasonable attorney fees and “hours that are excessive redundant or otherwise unnecessary should be excluded.” Id. at 11. The court says that any hours that “were not contemporaneously billed cannot be recovered.” Id. at 12. The court also stated that the twenty-five page brief for which over 100 hours were charged, appeared unreasonable. The court reduced the award by taking out any fees it finds unreasonable. The court let the plaintiff recover around $16,000 for 113 total hours of work.