United States District Court, D. Connecticut
ELDINA E. LOCKWOOD
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
RULING ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR AWARD OF FEES
PURSUANT TO THE EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE ACT
Sarah A. L. Merriam United States Magistrate Judge.
Eldina E. Lockwood (“plaintiff”) filed an
application for Disability Insurance Benefits on May 7, 2013,
alleging disability beginning May 23, 2011. (Certified
Transcript of the Administrative Record, compiled on August
6, 2015, (hereinafter “Tr.”) at 170-71). After a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), the ALJ denied plaintiff benefits on
July 25, 2014. See Tr. 38-51. Following the exhaustion of her
administrative remedies, the plaintiff filed the Complaint in
this case on July 6, 2015. [Doc. #1]. On September 8, 2015,
the Commissioner filed her Answer and the official
transcript. [Doc. #10]. On December 18, 2015, plaintiff filed
a Motion to Reverse and/or Remand, together with a memorandum
in support (“motion to reverse”). [Docs. ##15,
16]. On March 4, 2016, defendant filed a Motion to Affirm the
Decision of the Commissioner, together with a memorandum in
support (“motion to affirm”). [Doc. #21].
August 9, 2016, the undersigned issued a Recommended Ruling
granting plaintiff's motion to remand for a new hearing,
and denying defendant's motion to affirm. [Doc. #23]. The
Court found that this matter should be remanded to the
Commissioner for the limited purpose of addressing “the
question of Dr. Persico's opinion regarding environmental
limitations[, ]” and “to revisit the issue of
whether limitations in exposure to environmental irritants
and temperature extremes should be included in the RFC, based
on Dr. Persico's opinion, and to then proceed to
reconsideration of the analysis at step four, and if
necessary, step five.” Doc. #23 at 18. On September 1,
2016, Judge Alvin W. Thompson accepted the undersigned's
Recommended Ruling. [Doc. #24]. Judgment was entered on
September 14, 2016. [Doc. #25].
November 3, 2016, plaintiff filed a Motion for Attorney Fees
Under the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”),
together with a memorandum in support, an affidavit of net
worth, an affidavit in support, and an itemization of time.
[Doc. #26]. Plaintiff's motion seeks an award for
attorney fees under the EAJA in the amount of $4, 661.34, and
costs in the amount of $400.00. See Doc. #26 at 1. On
November 21, 2016, defendant filed a Stipulation for
Allowance of Fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act,
agreeing to an award of $3, 430.50 in attorney fees and
$400.00 in costs.
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) (quotation marks and citation
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. U.S., 21 Cl. Ct. 145,
152 (1990) (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 the plaintiff's application for fees to
determine whether the stipulated amount is reasonable.
reasons set forth herein, the plaintiff's Motion for
Attorney Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
[Doc. #26] is GRANTED, for the stipulated amount of $3,
430.50 in fees and $400.00 in costs.
who prevails in a civil action against the United States may
seek an award of fees and costs under the EAJA, 28 U.S.C.
§2412, the purpose of which “is to eliminate for
the average person the financial disincentive to challenge
unreasonable governmental actions.” Comm'r,
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 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.
fee applicant bears the burden of establishing entitlement to
an award and documenting the appropriate hours expended and
hourly rates.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S.
424, 437 (1983). The Court has the discretion to determine
what fee is reasonable. See Id. at 437. This Court
has a duty to review plaintiff's itemized time log to
determine the reasonableness of the fee 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[.]” Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel. Winn, 559
U.S. 542, 558 (2010) (quotation marks and citation omitted).
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, 539 F.Supp.2d at
682; 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), approved in relevant part,
3:08CV154(JCH), 2010 WL 1286895 (D. Conn. 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
and costs may enter. Specifically, the Court finds, absent
objection: (1) plaintiff is a prevailing party in light of
the Court's order remanding 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. See 28 U.S.C. §2412(d)(1)(B). The
Court next turns to the reasonableness of the fees sought.
case, plaintiff's counsel seeks reimbursement for a total
of 21.75 hours for preparing the underlying appeal, at a rate
of $196.25 per hour. See Doc. #26 at 1. Plaintiff's
counsel also seeks reimbursement for two hours spent in
preparing the instant motion for attorney's fees pursuant
to the EAJA, at the same rate. See Id. While the
transcript in this case was comprised of 389 pages and was
therefore relatively short, plaintiff's counsel submitted
a well-reasoned brief. Further, counsel did not represent
plaintiff during the administrative proceedings, and thus had
to familiarize himself with the record prior to briefing.
See, e.g. Lechner v. Barnhart, 330 F.Supp.2d 1005,
1012 (E.D. Wis. 2004); cf. Barbour v. Colvin, 993
F.Supp.2d 284, 291 (E.D.N.Y. 2014).
the Court finds that the time spent of 21.75 attorney hours
on the underlying motion, and two hours on the motion for
attorney's fees 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
for the stipulated amount of $3, 430.50 for fees and $400.00
in costs is appropriate. Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney