United States District Court, D. Connecticut
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
ATTORNEY'S FEES IN ACCORDANCE WITH STIPULATION
Sarah A. L. Merriam United States Magistrate Judge
Melania Rivera (“plaintiff”) filed an application
for Disability Insurance Benefits on January 12, 2016,
alleging disability beginning October 1, 2015. See Certified
Transcript of the Administrative Record, Doc. #16, compiled
on January 29, 2019, (hereinafter “Tr.”) at 51.
Plaintiff's application was denied initially on March 2,
2016, see Tr. 69, and upon reconsideration on April 20, 2016,
see Tr. 75. On September 28, 2017, plaintiff, represented by
a prior attorney, appeared and testified, through an
interpreter, before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) John Noel. See Tr. 33-45. On October 27,
2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. See Tr. 18-27.
On October 9, 2018, the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review, thereby making the
ALJ's October 27, 2017, decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. See Tr. 1-3.
represented by Attorney Olia Yelner, filed the Complaint in
this case on December 7, 2018. [Doc. #1]. The parties
consented to the undersigned's jurisdiction on December
27, 2018. [Doc. #9].
February 4, 2019, the Commissioner (“defendant”)
filed the Certified Transcript of the Administrative Record.
[Doc. #10]. On April 5, 2019, plaintiff filed a motion to
reverse the decision of the Commissioner. [Doc. #12]. On June
14, 2019, after seeking and receiving an extension of time,
see Docs. #14, #15, defendant filed a motion to affirm the
decision of the Commissioner. [Doc. #17].
August 15, 2019, the undersigned issued a Ruling granting
plaintiff's motion to reverse, to the extent plaintiff
sought a remand for further administrative proceedings. See
Doc. #18. Judgment entered in plaintiff's favor on August
20, 2019. [Doc. #19].
November 12, 2019, 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. #21]. On November 21, 2019,
defendant filed a “Stipulation to Award Attorney Fees
and Costs” (hereinafter the “Fee
Stipulation”). Doc. #24 (sic).
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 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 itemization of hours incurred to
determine whether the stipulated amount is reasonable.
reasons set forth herein, the Court APPROVES and SO
ORDERS the parties' Fee Stipulation
[Doc. #24], and GRANTS the
Motion for Attorney's Fees Pursuant to the Equal Access
to Justice Act [Doc. #21], for the
stipulated amount of $5, 500.
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).
itemization of the hours incurred in prosecuting this matter,
plaintiff's attorney claims fees in the amount of $5,
903.81, for 29.1 hours at the rate of $202.88 per hour. See
Docs. #21 at 1, #21-1 at 2. The parties have now reached an
agreement under which defendant would pay a total of $5,
500.00 in fees, which represents approximately 27.1 hours of
attorney time. See Doc. #24. 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 27.1 hours of
attorney time, reduced from the total 29.1 hours actually
incurred. See Docs. #21, #24. The administrative transcript
in this case was comprised of 424 pages and plaintiff's
counsel submitted a thorough and well-reasoned brief.
Additionally, plaintiff's counsel did not represent
plaintiff during the administrative proceedings. The Court
finds the time reasonable for the work claimed, including:
preparation of the Complaint [Doc. #1]; review of the
administrative transcript [Doc. #10]; preparation of the the
motion to reverse [Doc. #12]; and preparation of the joint
statement of material facts [Doc. #12-2]. Cf. Rodriguez
v. Astrue, No. 08CV00154(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.” (citations and
quotation marks 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 27.1 hours
claimed is reasonable; “[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 and quotation marks
omitted); Cobb v. Astrue, No. 3:08CV1130(MRK)(WIG),
2009 WL 2940205, at *3 (D. Conn. Sept. 2, 2009).
the Court finds that the stipulated time is reasonable,
particularly in light of the parties' agreement, which
adds weight to the ...