Astrue v. Ratliff
In Astrue v. Ratliff, 560 U.S. 586 , 589 (2010), the Supreme Court confronted a similar question: whether an award of attorneys fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) could be paid directly to the attorney. 560 U.S. at 589.
The attorney in Ratliff sought direct payment, because the government asserted a right to offset the judgment against the litigants preexisting debt. Id.
Within the EAJA context, the Supreme Court held that a fees award is payable to the litigant and is therefore subject to a Government offset to satisfy a pre-existing debt that the litigant owes the United States. Id.
The Supreme Court so held, even though it recognized the practical reality that attorneys are the beneficiaries and, almost always, the ultimate recipients of the fees that the statute awards to prevailing parties. Id. at 598.
The Court extended Ratliff to the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) context in $186,416.00 I, holding that attorney fees awarded under CAFRA are payable to the claimant, not to claimants attorney. 642 F.3d at 754.
The Court further observed that direct payment to the attorney is the exception, not the rule. . . . Unless the statute specifies payment to the litigants attorney, payment to the attorney is not assumed. Id. at 756.