The opinion of the court was delivered by: AMY J. ST. EVE, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs Michael Babel, Irina Babel, Evelin Babel, and
Rostislav Babel, immigrants of Russia, filed a Complaint for Writ
of Mandamus against John Ashcroft, United States Attorney
General, and Brian Perryman, District Director of Chicago of
Chicago Immigration and Nationalization Service ("INS")*fn1
to compel action on their applications for lawful permanent
resident status ("I-485") properly filed with the INS in Chicago.
(R. 1-1, Pl.'s Comp. ¶ 1.). Defendants ultimately denied
Plaintiffs' applications for permanent resident status. (R. 17-1,
Pl.'s App. for Fees and Costs ¶ 4.). Plaintiffs subsequently
orally moved the court to dismiss their case on December 15,
2003, and the court granted their motion. (Id. at ¶ 8.). On
January 15, 2004, Plaintiffs filed this application for fees and
costs pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 5 U.S.C. § 504 and 28 U.S.C. § 2412 ("E.A.J.A.").
For the reasons stated below, the Court denies Plaintiffs'
application for fees and costs pursuant to the E.A.J.A.
The E.A.J.A. permits courts to award costs, attorney's fees,
and other expenses to a "prevailing party" in any civil action
against the United States or one of its agencies, unless the
court finds that the United States' position was substantially
justified or that special circumstances existed that would make
an award unjust. 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A). A party must meet the
following four requirements before the party can recover under
the E.A.J.A.: (1) if the party is an individual, his net worth
must not exceed $2,000,000 at the time the civil action is filed;
(2) the party "prevailed" in the action; (3) the position of the
United States was not substantially justified; and (4) there are
no special circumstances that would make an award unjust. United
States v. Eighty-Eight Designated Accounts, 786 F. Supp. 1578,
1579 (S.D. Fla. 1992). The E.A.J.A. mandates that a party seeking
relief satisfy each of the statute's enumerated requirements. The
E.A.J.A. provides that a court must base attorney's fees upon the
current market rates for the type of services provided and that
it may not award fees in excess of $125.00 per hour unless the
court decides that certain factors, such as an increase in the
cost of living, justify an increase in the statutory limit.
28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A).
Plaintiffs filed a complaint on July 22, 2002, to compel the
District Director of the USCIS to adjudicate their applications
for lawful permanent resident status which had been pending since
February 5, 1999. (R. 17-1, Pl.'s App. for Fees and Costs ¶ 4.).
Subsequent to the filing of the complaint, Defendants voluntarily
scheduled Plaintiffs for interviews on their applications, but
continued to delay final adjudication of them. Id. After a
second interview on December 3, 2003, Defendants denied Michael Babel's application
for permanent resident status, stating that because he was a
fugitive of Russia, the United States Department of Homeland
Security ("DHS") could not grant him lawful residency. (Id. at
¶ 8-9.). The DHS denied the remaining Plaintiffs' applications
given that the approval of their applications was contingent upon
the principal applicant's acceptance for lawful permanent
resident status. (Id. at ¶ 9.).
Because they received a final adjudication on their
applications, Plaintiffs orally dismissed their case on December
15, 2003. (Id. at ¶ 9.). The Court did not enter a final
judgment or decree for Plaintiffs. On March 12, 2004, the DHS
approved Plaintiffs' applications for adjustment of status,
granting Plaintiffs lawful permanent resident status pursuant to
their I-485 applications. (R 20-1, Pl.'s Mtn. to Supp. App. for
E.A.J.A. Fees and Costs, ¶ 1.).
Plaintiffs assert that they are entitled to compensation of
attorney's fees and costs pursuant to the E.A.J.A. because they
are the prevailing party in the litigation and because
Defendants' action in delaying the adjudication of their
applications for resident status was not substantially justified.
Plaintiffs further assert that the approval for adjustment of
their resident status indicates that they are the prevailing
party because they received a favorable ruling on their claims
for relief. Plaintiffs argue that the term "prevailing party"
must be liberally construed under the Supreme Court's ruling in
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983), which stated that
"[P]laintiffs may be considered prevailing parties for attorney's
fees purposes if they succeed on any significant issue in
litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought
in bringing the suit." Id. at 433.
Plaintiffs also contend that the United States was not
substantially justified in delaying adjudication of their applications because Defendants did not
provide a reasonable basis in law or fact for the delay.
Specifically, Plaintiffs claim that Defendants never requested
any further documentation relating to Plaintiff Michael Babel's
alleged fugitive status in Russia and that Defendants' assertion
that Babel was a fugitive was merely conclusory.
Defendants counter that Plaintiffs are not eligible for
recovery under the E.A.J.A. because they are not the prevailing
party for purposes of the E.A.J.A. and because Plaintiffs have
not offered any evidence to indicate that their net worth is less
than $2,000,000. Defendants further argue that they were
substantially justified in requiring a complete background check
before granting Plaintiffs permanent resident status. They
contend that the delay in the adjudication of the applications
fell within the discretion of the United States Attorney General
and his delegates.
I. Plaintiffs are not a "Prevailing Party" in the Litigation
The main issue in this case is whether Plaintiffs obtained
prevailing party status in this litigation in order to recover
under the E.A.J.A. If Plaintiffs are not considered a prevailing
party in the litigation, then they cannot recover fees and costs
under the E.A.J.A.
The standards used in defining the term "prevailing party" are
generally applicable to all fee-shifting statutes that authorize
an award of fees and costs to a prevailing party. Buckhannon v.
W. Virginia Dept. of Health and Human Res., 532 U.S. 602, 604
(2001). Generally, a "prevailing party" is one who is granted
some relief by the court, concerning a significant issue in the