United States District Court, D. Maryland
M. DiGirolamo United States Magistrate Judge.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Petition for
Fees Under the Equal Access to Justice Act (the
“EAJA”) (ECF No. 23), Defendant's Opposition
to Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees Under the
EAJA (ECF No. 24), and Plaintiff's Reply with Amendment
to Defendant's Opposition to Plaintiff's Request for
EAJA Fees (ECF No. 27). For the reasons stated below,
Plaintiff's Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
the EAJA, a “prevailing party” in any civil
action brought by or against the United States,
“including proceedings for judicial review of agency
action, ” is entitled to recover reasonable fees and
expenses incurred in the proceeding. 28 U.S.C. §
2412(d)(1)(A). The prevailing party is not entitled to such
fees and expenses, however, if the Court finds that the
position of the United States was “substantially
justified.” Id. In this case, the parties
agree that Plaintiff is a “prevailing party”
entitled to attorney's fees under the EAJA, and the
Government does not contest that the position of the United
States was not “substantially justified.” The
parties do dispute, however, the reasonableness of the number
of hours of work claimed by Plaintiff's counsel. In his
EAJA petition and reply, Plaintiff claims that his counsel is
entitled to an award of $7, 990.00 in compensation for 57.95
hours of attorney work at a rate of $125 per hour and for
5.97 hours of legal assistant work at a rate of $125 per
hour. Defendant opposes Plaintiff's request, arguing that
the total hours claimed by Plaintiff's counsel for
preparing his Memorandum in Support of his Motion for Summary
Judgment, Reply, and EAJA petition are excessive. Defendant
maintains that 30.52 hours is appropriate and that the Court
instead should award attorney's fees in the amount of $3,
815.00. In reply, Plaintiff contends that Defendant's
proposal is arbitrary.
Once the district court determines that plaintiffs have met
the threshold conditions for an award of fees and costs under
the EAJA, the district court must undertake the “task
of determining what fee is reasonable.” “A
request for attorney's fees should not result in a second
major litigation. Ideally, of course, litigants will settle
the amount of a fee.” However, “[w]here
settlement is not possible, the fee applicant bears the
burden of establishing entitlement to an award and
documenting the appropriate hours expended.” Counsel
“should submit evidence supporting the hours worked,
” and exercise “‘billing
judgment'” with respect to hours worked.
“Hours that are not properly billed to one's
client also are not properly billed to one's
adversary pursuant to statutory authority.”
Hyatt v. Barnhart, 315 F.3d 239, 253-54 (4th Cir.
2002) (alteration in original) (citations omitted).
“The district court is accorded ‘substantial
discretion in fixing the amount of an EAJA award, ' but
is charged with the duty to ensure that the final award is
reasonable.” Id. at 254 (citation omitted).
“In sum, the EAJA provides that attorneys for a
prevailing party should be paid ‘for all time
reasonably expended on a matter, ' but the EAJA should
not ‘produce windfalls to attorneys.'”
Id. “Courts within this circuit have held . .
. that in typical Social Security cases it is reasonable for
an attorney to expend between twenty and forty hours.”
Roth v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec., Civil Case
No. SAG-14-62, 2015 WL 567168, at *3 (D. Md. Feb. 10, 2015)
(citing cases and determining that spending 43.16 hours to
prepare and draft plaintiff's motion for summary judgment
other hand, “courts cannot drastically reduce awards
simply because the attorney has requested compensation for
more than forty hours or make reductions with a target number
in mind.” Costa v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 690 F.3d 1132, 1136 (9th Cir. 2012) (per
curiam). Rather, courts “must explain why the amount of
time requested for a particular task is too high. Any other
approach fails to give deference to the winning lawyer's
professional judgment . . . .” Id. The court
in Costa found that the magistrate judge's
reduction by nearly one-third of the hours requested by the
plaintiff's counsel was improper because the magistrate
judge merely found that the issues in the case were not novel
or complex and that the brief was not very long. Id.
at 1136-37. The magistrate judge in that case also did not
explain why the amount of time that he ultimately allotted to
the plaintiff's counsel's preparation of supplemental
and reply memoranda was reasonable. Id. at 1137.
Court finds that certain claims in Plaintiff's EAJA
petition warrant reduction. Plaintiff claims 5.98 hours by
his attorney in preparing the EAJA petition and 2.9 hours by
his attorney's legal assistant in preparing the
supporting reply. “EAJA fee petitions are
near-identical in every case, with the exception of dates,
amounts, and a single paragraph describing the outcome of the
case. Given the routine nature of these documents, it is
difficult to see how they would take experienced counsel
significant time to prepare.” Mitchell v.
Comm'r, Soc. Sec., No. DKC-16-359, 2016 WL 6802834,
at *2 (D. Md. Nov. 17, 2016) (citing Bradford v.
Colvin, No. WMN-14-2016, 2015 WL 5895795, at *4 (D. Md.
Oct. 5, 2015)). “0.5 hours is a closer approximation of
the non-clerical work that goes into tailoring an EAJA fee
petition for each case.” Talmo v. Colvin, No.
CV ELH-14-2214, 2015 WL 5897707, at *2 (D. Md. Oct. 5, 2015).
The Court finds that four hours to be a reasonable time in
this case and thus deducts 4.88 hours from the time for
preparation of the EAJA petition and supporting reply.
Plaintiff's counsel claims 3.07 hours for a legal
assistant to proofread and critique the motion for summary
judgment. “[T]asks of a clerical nature are not
compensable as attorney's fees, ” however.
Mobley v. Apfel, 104 F.Supp.2d 1357, 1360 (M.D. Fla.
2000). The Court thus deducts 3.07 hours from the time for
the preparation of Plaintiff's motion for summary
judgment. See Mitchell, 2016 WL 6802834, at *2
(disallowing 1.91 hours spent by legal assistant to proofread
and critique fee petition and motion for summary judgment, as
“the Commissioner should not pay for a legal assistant
to review and critique these documents, written by counsel,
light of the circumstances of this case, the Court finds that
an award of fees in the amount of $6, 996.25 for 55.97 hours
at the requested hourly rate of $125 is reasonable.
Plaintiff's Petition for Fees Under the Equal Access to
Justice Act (ECF No. ...