New efforts to curb EAJA abuse

Aug 16, 2013

When the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) was created, it was intended to allow the proverbial David to take on Goliath in our modern litigative arena. It was not intended as a pool of free money to allow special interest groups to paralyze government agencies with lawsuits then sue them again for inaction. Since this abuse has become the norm, efforts have been made to get EAJA back to its original purpose.

The newest efforts came in the form of the Judgment Fund Transparency Act (S. 1420) and Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act (H.R. 2919). The Senate bill was recently introduced to the Senate by Sens. Deb Fischer, R-NE, Chuck Grassley, R-IA, and Mike Crapo, R-ID. The House bill was introduced by Reps. Cynthia Lummis, R-WY, and Steve Cohen, D-TN.

Both bills—along with earlier H.R. 317, introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner, R-CO,—aim to re-establish requirements to track and report on payments made via the Judgment Fund and the EAJA. As it stands, EAJA provides for the court costs for some prevailing litigants in claims against the federal government. This money comes from the taxpayer-funded Judgment Fund and there are currently no reporting requirements or tracking of where the money goes.

“For far too long, billions of dollars have been awarded in lawsuits by the federal government, with almost no information available to the public regarding the nature of the lawsuits,” said Fischer in announcing the Senate bill’s introduction.

“The Judgment Fund Transparency Act will provide hardworking taxpayers and Members of Congress the ability to see exactly how their tax dollars are being spent on litigation costs.”

In speaking of her own bill, Lummis had this to say: “Many independent studies published by universities like Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, and investigations by the Government Accountability Office and other legal counsels, prove that litigious environmental groups use EAJA to fund repeated procedural lawsuits. Whether those lawsuits result in a $1 or $1 million reimbursement, it is contrary to congressional intent. EAJA was written for the little guy to fight a once-in-a-lifetime substantive lawsuit.”

Among other things, both bills would provide for the public display of Judgment Fund payments via a website or database unless otherwise prohibited by law. The House bill also requires an annual report to Congress on the nature of Judgment Fund payments.

Both of these more recent bills, as well as the earlier bill by Gardner, have been referred to their congressional branch’s respective judiciary committee. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor