United States District Court, D. Connecticut
ORDER APPROVING STIPULATION FOR ALLOWANCE OF FEES
UNDER THE EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE ACT [DOC. #24]
Sarah A. L. Merriam United States Magistrate Judge
April Beutel (“plaintiff”) filed an application
for Supplemental Security Income on December 10, 2013,
alleging disability beginning December 3, 2013. See Certified
Transcript of the Administrative Record, compiled on
September 7, 2017, Doc. #16 (hereinafter “Tr.”)
at 209-17. Plaintiff's application was denied initially
on January 27, 2014, see Tr. 152-60, and upon reconsideration
on March 12, 2014. See Tr. 161-63. On September 23, 2015,
plaintiff, represented by Attorney Maurice Maitland, appeared
and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Deirdre R. Horton. See Tr. 94-125. On
March 1, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. See
Tr. 59-78. On May 23, 2017, the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review, thereby making the
ALJ's March 1, 2016, decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. See Tr. 1-7. After exhausting her
administrative remedies, plaintiff, now represented by
Attorney Olia Yelner, filed the Complaint in this case on
July 18, 2017. [Doc. #1]. The parties consented to the
undersigned's jurisdiction on September 14, 2017. [Doc.
October 30, 2017, the Commissioner (“defendant”)
filed her Answer and the official transcript. [Doc. #16]. On
December 28, 2017, plaintiff filed a motion to reverse the
decision of the Commissioner. [Doc. #18]. On February 26,
2018, defendant filed a motion to affirm the decision of the
Commissioner. [Doc. #20].
2, 2018, the undersigned issued a Ruling granting
plaintiff's motion to reverse, to the extent plaintiff
sought a remand for further administrative proceedings. See
Doc. #21. Judgment entered in plaintiff's favor on July
3, 2018. [Doc. #22].
September 28, 2018, plaintiff filed a Motion for
Attorney's Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice
Act, along with an itemization of the hours incurred in
prosecuting this matter. [Doc. #23]. On October 11, 2018, the
parties filed a Stipulation for Allowance of Fees Under the
Equal Access to Justice Act (“Stipulation”).
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
Cl. 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 motion and supporting
itemization to determine whether the stipulated amount is
reasons set forth herein, the Court APPROVES and SO
ORDERS the parties' Stipulation for Allowance of
Fees Under the Equal Access to Justice Act [Doc.
#24], for the stipulated amount of $7,
900. In light of the parties' Stipulation,
plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees Pursuant to
the Equal Access to Justice Act [Doc. #23]
is TERMINATED, as moot.
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).
motion, plaintiff's attorney claims fees in the amount of
$8, 453.97, for 44.10 hours at the rate of $191.70 per hour.
See Doc. #23 at 1-2; see also Doc. #23-1 at 1-2. The parties
have now reached an agreement under which the defendant would
pay a total of $7, 900.00 in fees, which represents
approximately 41.20 hours of attorney time. See Doc. #24; see
also Doc. #23-1. 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 “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(DFM), 2014 WL
1031666, at *1 (D. Conn. Mar. 14, 2014) (quoting Perdue
v. Kenny A., 559 U.S. 542, 558 (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 in light of the Court having partially
granted plaintiff's motion to reverse and having 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.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 payment for a total of
41.20 hours of attorney time, reduced from the total 44.10
hours originally sought. See Docs. #23-1, #24. The transcript
in this case was comprised of 505 pages and plaintiff's
counsel submitted a thorough and well-reasoned brief. The
Court finds the time reasonable for the work claimed in the
motion, including: preparation of the Complaint [Doc. #1];
preparation of the motion for leave to proceed in forma
pauperis [Doc. #2]; preparation of the motion to reverse
[Doc. #18]; preparation of the joint medical chronology [Doc.
#18-2]; and review of the administrative record [Doc. #16].
Additionally, plaintiff's counsel here did not represent
plaintiff at the administrative level. 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 (E.D.N.Y.
2014). The Court further finds that the 41.20 hours claimed
is reasonable as “[c]ourts 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 quotation
marks omitted); Cobb v. Astrue, No.
3:08CV1130(MRK)(WIG), 2009 WL 2940205, at *3 (D. Conn. Sept.
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
an award of $7, 900 in fees is appropriate, and the
parties' Stipulation for Allowance of Fees Under the
Equal Access to Justice Act [Doc. #24] is
APPROVED and SO ORDERED. In
light of the parties' Stipulation, plaintiff's Motion
for Attorney's Fees ...