3.81 General provisions.§ 3.81 General provisions.
(a) Purpose of these rules. The Equal Access to Justice Act, 5 U.S.C. 504 (called “the Act” in this subpart), provides for the award of attorney fees and other expenses to eligible individuals and entities who are parties to adversary adjudicative proceedings under part 3 of this title. The rules in this subpart describe the parties eligible for awards, how to apply for awards, and the procedures and standards that the Commission will use to make them.
(1) When an eligible party will receive an award. An eligible party will receive an award when:
(i) It prevails in the adjudicative proceeding, unless the Commission's position in the proceeding was substantially justified or special circumstances make an award unjust. Whether or not the position of the agency was substantially justified will be determined on the basis of the administrative record as a whole that is made in the adversary proceeding for which fees and other expenses are sought; or
(ii) The agency's demand is substantially in excess of the decision of the adjudicative officer, and is unreasonable when compared with that decision, under all the facts and circumstances of the case. Demand means the express final demand made by the agency prior to initiation of the adversary adjudication, but does not include a recitation by the agency of the statutory penalty in the administrative complaint or elsewhere when accompanied by an express demand for a lesser amount.
(b) When the Act applies. (1) Section 504(a)(1) of the Act applies to any adversarial adjudicative proceeding pending before the Commission at any time after October 1, 1981. This includes proceedings begun before October 1, 1981, if final Commission action has not been taken before that date.
(2) Section 504(a)(4) applies to any adversarial adjudicative proceeding pending before the Commission at any time on or after March 29, 1996.
(c) Proceedings covered. (1) The Act applies to all adjudicative proceedings under part 3 of the rules of practice as defined in § 3.2, except hearings relating to the promulgation, amendment, or repeal of rules under the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.
(d) Eligibility of applicants. (1) To be eligible for an award of attorney fees and other expenses under the Act, the applicant must be a party to the adjudicative proceeding in which it seeks an award. The term party is defined in 5 U.S.C. 551(3). The applicant must show that it meets all conditions of eligibility set out in this subpart.
(2) The types of eligible applicants are as follows:
(i) An individual with a net worth of not more than $2 million;
(ii) The sole owner of an unincorporated business who has a net worth of not more than $7 million, including both personal and business interests, and not more than 500 employees;
(iii) A charitable or other tax-exempt organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. 501(c)(3)) with not more than 500 employees;
(iv) A cooperative association as defined in section 15(a) of the Agricultural Marketing Act (12 U.S.C. 1141j(a)) with not more than 500 employees;
(v) Any other partnership, corporation, association, unit of local government, or organization with a net worth of not more than $7 million and not more than 500 employees; and
(vi) For purposes of receiving an award for fees and expenses for defending against an excessive Commission demand, any small entity, as that term is defined under 5 U.S.C. 601.
(3) Eligibility of a party shall be determined as of the date the proceeding was initiated.
(4) An applicant who owns an unincorporated business will be considered as an “individual” rather than a “sole owner of an unincorporated business” if the issues on which the applicant prevails are related primarily to personal interests rather than to business interests.
(5) The employees of an applicant include all persons who regularly perform services for remuneration for the applicant, under the applicant's direction and control. Part-time employees shall be included on a proportional basis.
(6) The net worth and number of employees of the applicant and all of its affiliates shall be aggregated to determine eligibility. Any individual, corporation or other entity that directly or indirectly controls or owns a majority of the voting shares or other interest of the applicant, or any corporation or other entity of which the applicant directly or indirectly owns or controls a majority of the voting shares or other interest, will be considered an affiliate for purposes of this part, unless the Administrative Law Judge determines that such treatment would be unjust and contrary to the purposes of the Act in light of the actual relationship between the affiliated entities. In addition, the Administrative Law Judge may determine that financial relationships of the applicant other than those described in this paragraph constitute special circumstances that would make an award unjust.
(7) An applicant that participates in a proceeding primarily on behalf of one or more other persons or entities that would be ineligible is not itself eligible for an award.
(e) Standards for awards. (1) For a prevailing party:
(i) A prevailing applicant will receive an award for fees and expenses incurred after initiation of the adversary adjudication in connection with the entire adversary adjudication, or on a substantive portion of the adversary adjudication that is sufficiently significant and discrete to merit treatment as a separate unit unless the position of the agency was substantially justified. The burden of proof that an award should not be made to an eligible prevailing applicant is on complaint counsel, which may avoid an award by showing that its position had a reasonable basis in law and fact.
(ii) An award to prevailing party will be reduced or denied if the applicant has unduly or unreasonably protracted the proceeding or if special circumstances make an award unjust.
(2) For a party defending against an excessive demand:
(i) An eligible applicant will receive an award for fees and expenses incurred after initiation of the adversary adjudication related to defending against the excessive portion of a Commission demand that is substantially in excess of the decision of the adjudicative officer and is unreasonable when compared with that decision under all the facts and circumstances of the case.
(ii) An award will be denied if the applicant has committed a willful violation of law or otherwise acted in bad faith or if special circumstances make an award unjust.
(f) Allowable fees and expenses. (1) Awards will be based on rates customarily charged by persons engaged in the business of acting as attorneys, agents and expert witnesses, even if the services were made available without charge or at a reduced rate to the applicant.
(2) No award for the fee of an attorney or agent under these rules may exceed the hourly rate specified in 5 U.S.C. 504(b)(1)(A). No award to compensate an expert witness may exceed the highest rate at which the Commission paid expert witnesses for similar services at the time the fees were incurred. The appropriate rate may be obtained from the Office of the Executive Director. However, an award may also include the reasonable expenses of the attorney, agent, or witness as a separate item, if the attorney, agent or witness ordinarily charges clients separately for such expenses.
(3) In determining the reasonableness of the fee sought for an attorney, agent or expert witness, the Administrative Law Judge shall consider the following:
(i) If the attorney, agent or witness is in private practice, his or her customary fee for similar services, or, if an employee of the applicant, the fully allocated cost of the services;
(ii) The prevailing rate for similar services in the community in which the attorney, agent or witness ordinarily performs services;
(iii) The time actually spent in the representation of the applicant;
(iv) The time reasonably spent in light of the difficulty or complexity of the issues in the proceeding; and
(v) Such other factors as may bear on the value of the services provided.
(4) The reasonable cost of any study, analysis, engineering report, test, project or similar matter prepared on behalf of a party may be awarded, to the extent that the charge for the service does not exceed the prevailing rate for similar services, and the study or other matter was necessary for preparation of the applicant's case.
(5) Any award of fees or expenses under the Act is limited to fees and expenses incurred after initiation of the adversary adjudication and, with respect to excessive demands, the fees and expenses incurred in defending against the excessive portion of the demand.
(g) Rulemaking on maximum rates for attorney fees. If warranted by an increase in the cost of living or by special circumstances (such as limited availability of attorneys qualified to handle certain types of proceedings), the Commission may, upon its own initiative or on petition of any interested person or group, adopt regulations providing that attorney fees may be awarded at a rate higher than the rate specified in 5 U.S.C. 504(b)(1)(A) per hour in some or all the types of proceedings covered by this part. Rulemaking under this provision will be in accordance with Rules of Practice part 1, subpart C of this chapter.