United States District Court, D. Connecticut
PAULA J. CHAUSSEE,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
ORDER APPROVING STIPULATION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES
PURSUANT TO THE EAJA [Doc. #24]
Sarah A. L. Merriam United States Magistrate Judge
March 1, 2011, plaintiff, Paula J. Chaussee,
("plaintiff") applied concurrently for disability
insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental
security income ("SSI") benefits claiming that she
had been disabled since August 1, 2009. (Certified Transcript
of the Record, Compiled on August 26, 2014 (hereinafter
"Tr.") Tr. 230-45) . Following a hearing before an
ALJ, the ALJ denied plaintiff benefits on February 22, 2013.
(Tr. 12-37). After exhausting her administrative remedies,
plaintiff filed the Complaint in this case on June 20, 2014.
[Doc. #2]. On October 6, 2014, the Commissioner filed her
Answer and the official transcript. [Doc. #9]. On December 8,
2014, plaintiff filed her Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings to reverse and/or remand the Commissioner's
decision ("Motion to Reverse"). [Doc. #14].
Following two extensions of time [Doc. ##16, 18], on March
23, 2015, the Commissioner filed her Motion for an Order
Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner, along with a
memorandum in support. [Doc. #19].
August 24, 2015, the undersigned issued a Recommended Ruling
on Cross Motions, which granted plaintiff's Motion to
Reverse, and remanded this matter for further administrative
proceedings. [Doc. #21]. On March 25, 2016, Judge Charles S.
Haight adopted and supplemented the Recommended Ruling. [Doc.
#22]. Judgment was entered on March 29, 2016. [Doc. #23].
9, 2016, the parties filed a Stipulation and Order to Award
Attorney Fees and Costs. [Doc. #24 (sic)]. On July, 25, 2016,
Judge Haight referred this matter to undersigned. [Doc. #25].
On July 26, 2016, the undersigned entered an Order requesting
plaintiff's counsel to file an accounting of the fees
sought in accordance with 28 U.S.C. §2412(d)(1)(B).
[Doc. #26]. On July 26, 2016, pursuant to this order,
plaintiff filed a Memorandum and other supporting documents.
the parties have reached an agreement as to the appropriate
award of fees in this matter, the Court is obligated to
review the fee application and determine whether the proposed
fee award is reasonable. "[T]he determination of a
reasonable fee under the EAJA is for the court rather than
the parties by way of stipulation." Pribek v.
Sec'y, Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 717
F.Supp. 73, 75 (W.D.N.Y. 1989) (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted); see also Rogers v. Colvin,
No. 4:13CV945(TMC), 2014 WL 630907, at *1 (D.S.C. Feb. 18,
2014); Design & Prod., Inc. v. United States, 21
CI. Ct. 145, 152 (1990) (holding that under the EAJA,
"it is the court's responsibility to independently
assess the appropriateness and measure of attorney's fees
to be awarded in a particular case, whether or not an amount
is offered as representing the agreement of the parties in
the form of a proposed stipulation"). The Court
therefore has reviewed plaintiff's application for fees
to determine whether the stipulated amount is reasonable.
reasons set forth herein, the Court APPROVES and SO ORDERS
the parties' Stipulation and Order to Award Attorney Fees
and Costs [Doc. #24], for the stipulated amount of $3,
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) (citing Sullivan v. Hudson, 490 U.S. 877, 883
(1989)). In order for an award of attorney's fees to
enter, this Court must find (1) that the 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. See 28 U.S.C. §2412(d) (1) (B).
Memorandum in Support of her claimed fees, plaintiff's
counsel claims fees in the amount of $3, 752.50, for 19.75
hours of attorney time at the 2014 rate of $190.00; $142.69,
for .75 hours of attorney time at the 2015 rate of $190.25;
and $47.78, for .25 hours of attorney time at the 2016 rate
of $191.13, for a total of $3, 942.97. [Doc. #27-1,
#27-3 at 4]. The parties have reached an agreement under
which the defendant would pay a total of $3, 900.00 in fees.
It is the 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 "a reasonable attorney's fee
as part of the costs"). 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(DEM), 2014 WL
1031666, at *1 (D. Conn. Mar. 14, 2014) (quoting Perdue
v. Kenny A., 559 U.S. 542, 558 (2010)).
determining whether the amount of time billed is reasonable,
"[g]enerally, district courts in this Circuit have held
that a routine social security case requires from twenty to
forty hours of attorney time." Hogan v. Astrue,
539 F.Supp.2d 680, 682 (W.D.N.Y. 2008) (collecting cases);
see also Cobb v. Astrue, No. 3:08CV1130(MRK)(WIG),
2009 WL 2940205, at *3 (D. Conn. Sept. 2, 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." Rodriguez v. Astrue, No.
3:08CV154(JCH) (HBF), 2009 WL 6319262, at *3 (D. Conn. Sept.
3, 2009) (collecting cases), approved in relevant
part, 3:08CV154(JCH), 2010 WL 1286895 (Mar. 29, 2010) .
the Court finds that plaintiff has satisfied the requirements
of 28 U.S.C. §2412(d)(1)(B), and that an award of fees
may enter. Specifically, the Court finds that: (1) plaintiff
is a prevailing party because the Court granted her Motion to
Reverse and ordered a remand of this matter for further
administrative proceedings; (2) the Commissioner's
position was without substantial justification; (3) on the
current record, no special circumstances exist that would
make an award unjust; and (4) the fee petition was timely
filed. 28 U.S.C. §2412(d)(1)(B). The Court
next turns to the reasonableness of the fees sought.
case, plaintiff's counsel seeks payment for slightly less
than her total 20.75 hours of attorney time. [Doc. #27]. The
transcript in this case was comprised of 961 pages, and
plaintiff's counsel submitted a thorough and
well-reasoned brief. Although plaintiff's counsel
represented plaintiff during the administrative proceedings
(Tr. 38-94), and therefore was familiar with the record prior
to briefing, she nonetheless had an extensive and complex
medical record to address. Indeed, the Court commends the
efficiency of counsel's efforts, which culminated in a
remand for her client, all of which totaled approximately
twenty one hours of attorney time. Cf. Rodriguez,
2009 WL 6319262, at *3 ("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 and multiple citations omitted)); see also
Lechner v. Barnhart, 330 F.Supp.2d 1005, 1012 (E.D. Wis.
2004); cf. Barbour v. Colvin, 993 F.Supp.2d 284, 291
the Court finds that the stipulated time is reasonable,
particularly in light of the parties' agreement, which
adds weight to the claim that the fee award claimed is
reasonable. Therefore, an award of $3, 900.00 in fees is
appropriate, and the parties' Stipulation and Order to
Award Attorney Fees and Costs [Doc. #24] is SO ORDERED.
ORDERED this 28th day of July, 2016, at New ...