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Dupuy v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 9, 2015

INGRID DUPUY,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY

RULING ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES

SARAH A.L. MERRIAM, Magistrate Judge.

On September 28, 2010, the plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and on September 29, 2010, the plaintiff applied for supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits claiming that she had been disabled since October 17, 2008. [Tr. 24] After a hearing before an ALJ, the ALJ denied plaintiff benefits on May 22, 2013. [Tr. 24-39] After exhausting her administrative remedies, the plaintiff filed the Complaint in this case on September 29, 2014. [Doc. #1] On December 29, 2014, the Commissioner filed her Answer and the official transcript. [Doc. #11] On February 26, 2015, the plaintiff filed her Motion for Reversal and Remand, together with a memorandum in support. [Doc. #13] The Commissioner's response to the motion was due by April 27, 2015. On April 23, 2015, a consent for remand was filed by the parties. [Doc. #15] The consent recognized that the plaintiff should be given a new hearing and the opportunity to introduce new evidence, and called upon the ALJ to, inter alia, "reassess Plaintiff's impairments at step two of the sequential evaluation and reassess Plaintiff's maximum residual functional capacity[.]" [Doc. #15 at 1-2] Shortly thereafter the parties filed a consent to jurisdiction of the Magistrate Judge. [Doc. #16] Judgment was entered on May 5, 2015.[1] [Doc. #19]

On June 5, 2015, the plaintiff filed a motion for attorney's fees together with a memorandum in support, an affidavit, and time sheets. [Doc. #20] The defendant filed a brief in opposition to the motion on June 26, 2015 [Doc. #21] and the plaintiff filed a reply on June 30, 2015. [Doc. #22]

For the reasons set forth herein, the plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees [Doc. #20] is GRANTED, in part, in the amount of $9, 260.60 in fees and $80.58 in costs for a total award of $9, 341.18.

DISCUSSION

A party who prevails in a civil action against the United States may seek an award of fees and costs under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA" or the "Act"), 28 U.S.C. §2412, the purpose of which is "to eliminate for the average person the financial disincentive to challenging unreasonable government actions." Commissioner, I.N.S. v. Jean, 496 U.S. 154, 163 (1990) (footnote & citation omitted). In order for an award of attorney's fees to enter, this Court must find (1) that plaintiff is a prevailing party, (2) that the Commissioner's position was without substantial justification, (3) that no special circumstances exist that would make an award unjust, and (4) that the fee petition was filed within thirty days of final judgment. 28 U.S.C. §2412(d)(1)(B).

In her main motion, the plaintiff seeks fees in the amount of $9, 863.90, consisting of the following:

WORK PERFORMED BY HOURS RATE TOTAL Atty. Zimberlin(2014) 1.85 $196.31 $ 363.17 Atty. Zimberlin(2015) 44.58 $194.93 $8, 689.98 Paralegal 2.3 $115.00 $ 264.50 Law Clerk 4.75 $115.00 $ 546.25

The defendant does not contest the plaintiff's status as a prevailing party in this matter, or the hourly rates used by counsel. Rather, the defendant objects to the number of hours claimed as excessive.

It is plaintiff's burden to establish entitlement to a fee award, and the Court has the discretion to determine what fee is "reasonable." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 437 (1983) (interpreting 42 U.S.C. §1988, which allows a "prevailing party" to recover from "a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs").[2] This Court has a duty to review plaintiff's itemized time log to determine the reasonableness of the hours requested and to exclude hours "that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary[.]" Id. at 434. "Determining a reasonable attorney's fee' is a matter that is committed to the sound discretion of a trial judge." J.O. v. Astrue, No. 3:11CV1768(DFM), 2014 WL 1031666, at *1 (D. Conn. Mar. 14, 2014) (quoting Perdue v. Kenny A., 559 U.S. 542, 558 (2010)).

"Courts throughout the Second Circuit have consistently found that routine Social Security cases require, on average, between [twenty] and [forty] hours of attorney time to prosecute." Poulin v. Astrue, No. 3:10CV1930(JBA)(JGM), 2012 WL 264579, at *3 (D. Conn. Jan. 27, 2012)(citations & internal quotations omitted); Cobb v. Astrue, No. 3:08CV1130(MRK)(WIG), 2009 WL 2940205, at *3 (D. Conn. Sept. 2, 2009). Notably, the case law finding that twenty to forty hours represents an average necessary investment of time pre-dates the adoption in this District of a new practice requiring the plaintiff to provide a detailed medical chronology, with citations to the record, in the motion for remand.

In this case, plaintiff's counsel seeks reimbursement for a total of 46.43 hours of attorney time plus 7.05 hours of law clerk and paralegal time. [Doc. #20-1 at 5] The transcript in this case was comprised of over 2, 000 pages, and plaintiff's counsel did submit a thorough brief. However, the factual and legal issues involved were not overly complex, particularly given plaintiff's counsel's extensive experience in this area of the law and the fact that counsel represented the plaintiff throughout the administrative proceedings. Cf. Rodriguez v. Astrue, No. 3:08CV154(JCH)(HBF), 2009 WL 6319262, at *3 (D. Conn. Sept. 3, 2009) ("Relevant factors to weigh include the size of the administrative record, the complexity of the factual and legal issues involved, counsel's experience, and whether counsel represented the claimant during the administrative proceedings.") (internal quotations & multiple citations omitted), approved in relevant part, 3:08CV154(JCH), 2010 WL 1286895 (D. Conn. Mar. 29, 2010). Here, only the length of the record weighs in favor of a large fee award. Further, a review of motions filed by plaintiff's counsel in prior cases reveals that ...


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