United States District Court, D. Maryland
Kuncham Murahari, Esq. has filed a motion for attorney's
fees pursuant to the Social Security Act (“SSA”),
42 U.S.C. § 406(b), in conjunction with his
representation of Jonathan Poole before this Court. (ECF No.
21). In response, the Commissioner asked the Court to
consider whether enforcement of the contingent fee agreement
in this case would result in a windfall to Mr. Murahari. (ECF
No. 23). I have considered those filings. No hearing is
necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the
reasons set forth below, Mr. Murahari's motion for
attorney's fees will be GRANTED.
case, Mr. Poole was awarded $56, 462.00 in past due benefits,
twenty-five percent of which, $14, 115.50, was withheld to
pay attorney's fees in an amount approved by this Court.
(ECF No. 21). Because Mr. Murahari has already received $5,
811.26 in attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access to
Justice Act (“EAJA”), (ECF No. 20), he has agreed
to reimburse to Mr. Poole the attorney's fees received
under the EAJA should he receive the full amount of
attorney's fees he requests pursuant to the SSA. (ECF No.
21); see Gisbrecht v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 796
(2002); see Stephens ex rel. R.E. v. Astrue, 565
F.3d 131, 135 (4th Cir. 2009).
authorizes a reasonable fee for successful representation
before this Court, not to exceed twenty-five percent of a
claimant's total past-due benefits. 42 U.S.C. §
406(b). Although contingent fee agreements are the
“primary means for by which fees are set” in
Social Security cases, a court must nevertheless perform an
“independent check, to assure that they yield
reasonable results in particular cases.”
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807. In this case, Mr.
Murahari and Mr. Poole entered into a contingent fee
agreement, by which Mr. Poole agreed to pay Mr. Murahari
twenty-five percent of all retroactive benefits to which he
might become entitled. (ECF No. 21-3). In a previous motion
for attorney's fees pursuant to the EAJA, Mr. Poole
submitted an itemized report documenting the 31.00 hours Mr.
Murahari expended before this Court in Mr. Poole's case.
(ECF Nos. 18-6, 18-7). If Mr. Murahari receives the full
amount of fees he requests, his fee for representation before
this Court will effectively total $455.34 per hour. Mr.
Murahari must therefore show that an effective rate of
$455.34 per hour is reasonable for the services he rendered.
See Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807.
determining whether a request for attorney's fees under
section 406(b) is reasonable, the Supreme Court has explained
that a reviewing court may properly consider the
“character of the representation and the results the
representative received.” Id. Additionally, as
a metric of reasonableness, the Sixth Circuit has held that
hourly rates that are less than twice the standard market
rate are per se reasonable. Hayes v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 923 F.2d
421, 422 (6th Cir. 1991); but see Lasley v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 771 F.3d 308, 309-10
(6th Cir. 2014) (noting that the Supreme Court's decision
in Gisbrecht “elides strict presumptions
altogether, ” but nevertheless considering that the
requested hourly rate was more than quadruple the standard
rate). In this case, Mr. Murahari's requested fee results
in only slightly more than the top hourly rate that is
presumptively reasonable for attorneys of his experience
level pursuant to the guidelines appended to the Local Rules
of this Court. Courts in the Fourth Circuit have approved
contingency fee agreements that produce much higher hourly
rates in successful Social Security appeals. See,
e.g., Lehman v. Colvin, Civil No.
SAG-12-2160, (D. Md. July 7, 2016) (unpublished) (approving
contingency fee agreement with hourly rate of $1, 028.14);
Weems v. Commissioner, Soc. Sec. Admin, Civil No.
SAG-12-2993, 2015 WL 3464130, at *1 (D. Md. May 29, 2015)
(approving contingency fee agreement with hourly rate of
$944.22); Melvin v. Colvin, No. 5:10-CV-160-FL, 2013
WL 3340490, at *2 (E.D. N.C. July 2, 2013) (approving
contingency fee agreement with hourly rate of $1, 043.70);
Claypool v. Barnhart, 294 F.Supp.2d 829, 833 (S.D.
W.Va. 2003) (approving contingency fee agreement with hourly
rate of $1, 433.12). Although Mr. Murahari's requested
rate slightly exceeds the typical rate awarded by this Court
for attorney's fees in Social Security appeals, the facts
of this case allow me to conclude that the rate is warranted.
respect to the results Mr. Murahari's representation
obtained, I note not only that Mr. Poole's case was
remanded to the Agency with the consent of the Commissioner,
but also that the consent remand was based on several clearly
articulated arguments raised in Mr. Poole's initial
motion for summary judgment that were fully supported by
references to the objective record. Cf. Kotofski v.
Astrue, No. CIV. SKG-09-981, 2012 WL 6136361, at *2 (D.
Md. Dec. 10, 2012) (reducing counsel's recovery under
contingent fee agreement because counsel's argument was
“not clearly articulated and not fully supported by
record references…and [was] mentioned only briefly in
his response, not in its initial memorandum.”).
Following a second hearing before an ALJ, Mr. Poole received
a fully favorable decision and was found disabled as of
December 14, 2010. (ECF No. 21-2). Turning to the
character of Mr. Murahari's representation, I note that
Mr. Murahari's performance in this case was both highly
effective and highly efficient. Mr. Poole obtained a finding
of disability as a result of Mr. Murahari's dedicated
effort over five years. In addition, I note that Mr. Poole
consented to the fee agreement, which indicates the value to
Mr. Poole of Mr. Murahari's representation. (ECF No.
21-3); see Bowser v. Astrue, No. PWG-09-969, 2011 WL
673767, at *3 (D. Md. Feb. 17, 2011) (according “some
weight” to the claimant's consent to the fee
requested). Indeed, “Social Page 3 Security
representation operates largely on a contingency fee basis,
” Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 804, which
“provide[s] access to counsel for individuals, ”
like Mr. Poole, “who would otherwise have difficulty
obtaining representation, ” In re Abrams &
Abrams, P.A., 605 F.3d 238, 245 (4th Cir.
2010). Moreover, I note that there was no delay in this
litigation attributable to Mr. Murahari. Thus, the award need
not be reduced due to any delay in the litigation. See
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 808; Bowser, 2011 WL
673767, at *2. Accordingly, given Mr. Murahari's efforts
and the facts of this case, the fee requested by Mr. Murahari
reasons set forth herein, Mr. Murahari's motion for
attorney's fees (ECF No. 21) is GRANTED for $14, 115.50.
Mr. Murahari is directed to reimburse to Mr. Poole the $5,
811.26 in fees he received pursuant to the EAJA.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as
an opinion. An implementing order follows.
STEPHANIE A. GALLAGHER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
 Although they do not govern Social
Security cases, the Local Rules prescribe guidelines for
determining attorneys' fees in certain cases, which are
instructive in evaluating the reasonableness of the effective
hourly rate in this case. See Loc. R. App'x B
(D. Md. 2016). For attorneys admitted to the bar for five to
eight years, the ...