United States District Court, D. Maryland
Gary Rodney Watkins has filed a motion seeking payment of $5,
107.71 in attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access to
Justice Act (“EAJA”). (ECF No. 22). In response,
the Commissioner argued that the Court should order a reduced
fee since the hours worked were excessive, and, in part,
clerical. (ECF No. 24). I have considered those filings and
Plaintiff's reply to the Commissioner's response.
(ECF No. 27). No hearing is necessary. See Loc. R.
105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons set forth below,
Plaintiff's motion for payment of attorney's fees is
GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
the EAJA, prevailing parties in civil actions brought by or
against the United States are entitled to an award of
attorney's fees and expenses, unless the court finds the
position of the government was substantially justified or
that special circumstances make an award unjust. 28 U.S.C.
§ 2412(d)(1)(A); Crawford v. Sullivan, 935 F.2d
655, 656 (4th Cir. 1991). To receive attorney's fees, the
prevailing party must submit a fee application and an
itemized statement of fees to the court within thirty days of
final judgment. Id.
the district court determines that a plaintiff has 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.” Hyatt v.
Barnhart, 315 F.3d 239, 253 (4th Cir. 2002); (quoting
INS v. Jean, 496 U.S. 154, 161 (1990)). Counsel
“should submit evidence supporting the hours worked,
” and exercise “billing judgment” with
respect to hours worked. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461
U.S. 424, 433-34 (1983). “Hours that are not properly
billed to one's client also are not properly
billed to one's adversary pursuant to statutory
authority.” Id. at 434 (quoting Copeland
v. Marshall, 641 F.2d 880, 891 (D.C. Cir. 1980)
(emphasis in original)). Further, 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. Hyatt,
315 F.3d at 254 (quoting Jean, 496 U.S. at 163).
case, the Commissioner does not contest the hourly rate of
$191.30, and does not contest that Plaintiff's attorney
is entitled to receive a fee under the EAJA. The
Commissioner's contentions are (1) that Plaintiff's
counsel billed for some non-compensable clerical time and (2)
that working 26.7 hours on this case was unreasonable.
the first issue, “‘[t]asks of a clerical nature
are not compensable as attorney's fees.'”
Gates v. Barnhart, 325 F.Supp.2d 1342, 1348 (M.D.
Fla. 2002) (quoting Mobley v. Apfel, 104 F.Supp.2d
1357, 1360 (M.D. Fla. 2000)) (denying compensation for
mailing a complaint and summons); see also Magwood v.
Astrue, 594 F.Supp.2d 557, 563 (E.D. Pa. 2009) (finding
that clerical tasks should be excluded from the total
attorney fee under the EAJA); Chapman v. Astrue,
2:08CV00040, 2009 WL 3764009, at *1 (W.D. Va. Nov. 9, 2009)
(finding “purely clerical tasks are ordinarily a part
of a law office's overhead and should not be compensated
for at all.”). Social Security plaintiffs in this
district have access to a form complaint, with just four
blank spaces requiring insertion of (1) the place plaintiff
resides, (2) the plaintiff's name, (3) the type of
benefits that were denied, and (4) the date of the final
administrative decision. That complaint requires limited
factual information, no legal work, and could be completed by
administrative staff in a matter of minutes. Although Mr.
Watkins's attorney appears to have retyped the form
complaint instead of simply filling in the blanks, the
information provided could be filled in by a clerical
employee (who could also have retyped the information). (ECF
No. 1). Thus, I agree with the Commissioner and recommend
that the 0.5 hour entry for “Preparation of
Complaint” be disallowed as clerical work.
agree with the Commissioner that further reductions are
appropriate for the entries stating “Receipt and review
of Motion to Remand” and “Receipt and review of
FDC Order remanding case to Commissioner. Correspondence to
client re same.” Plaintiff's counsel claimed a
total of 1.6 hours of work for those two items. However, the
Consent Motion to Remand is a three-sentence document, and
the “FDC Order” granting the motion to remand is
a paperless docket entry. Plaintiff's counsel is highly
experienced in Social Security appeals and would not have
taken 1.6 hours to draft correspondence to his client
explaining the import of a consent remand. Accordingly, I
will reduce those two entries by 1.1 hours to 0.5 hours, for
a total reduction of 1.6 hours.
the second issue, I note that the remaining total of 25.1
hours, and the resulting total fee requested, places this
case within the heartland of cases adjudicated in this court.
Courts within this circuit have held, and I agree, that in
typical Social Security cases it is reasonable for an
attorney to expend between twenty and forty hours. See,
e.g., Faircloth v. Colvin, Civil No. 2:13-cv-156, 2014
WL 5488809, at *11 (E.D. Va. Oct. 29, 2014); Gibby v.
Astrue, Civil No. 2:09-cv-29, 2012 WL 3155624, at * 5
(W.D. N.C. Aug. 2, 2012). Moreover, in this case,
Plaintiff's memorandum in support of his summary judgment
motion contained extensive citations to the record and to
relevant legal precedent. (ECF No. 17-2). Although the
Government's concern about the amount of time worked in
comparison to the length of the record and the nature of the
issues raised in the memorandum is not entirely unfounded,
there is no obvious reason to disbelieve Plaintiff's
assertion that his attorney spent almost 25 hours reviewing
the administrative record and writing the memorandum to
support the motion. Overall, the Commissioner provides no
basis to question the billing entries claimed by
Plaintiff's counsel, which appear to reasonably reflect
the work performed in this case. Accordingly, no further
reduction is warranted.
the recommended reduction of 1.6 hours, 25.1 hours will be
awarded. At $191.30 per hour, Plaintiff is entitled to an
EAJA award of $4, 801.63. Despite the minor reduction, the
amount remains significantly above the heartland of recent
EAJA fee awards in cases presenting in a similar procedural
posture. See Kuhn v. Comm'r, Civil No.
SAG-16-196 (March 23, 2017) (awarding fees in the amount of
$3, 314.32); Brown v. Comm'r, Civil No.
SAG-16-501 (March 13, 2017) (awarding fees in the amount of
$2, 900.00); Walters v. Comm'r, Civil
No. SAG-16-415 (March 13, 2017) (awarding fees in the amount
of $3, 550.00); Griffin v. Comm'r,
Civil No. SAG-16-274 (March 13, 2017) (awarding fees in the
amount of $4, 500.00); Longshore v.
Comm'r, Civil No. SAG-16-223 (March 13,
2017) (awarding fees in the amount of $4, 000.00); Easton
v. Comm'r, Civil No. SAG-16-530 (March 15,
2017) (awarding fees in the amount of $3, 704.24).
Accordingly, Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees will be
GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. A separate order will be
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as
an opinion and docketed as an order.
Stephanie A. Gallagher United ...