United States District Court, D. Maryland
K. Murahari, Esq. has filed a motion for attorney's fees
pursuant to the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42
U.S.C. § 406(b), in conjunction with his representation
of Constance Sims Rosser before this Court. [ECF Nos. 26,
27]. In response, the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) asked this Court to consider whether Mr.
Murahari's requested amount constitutes a reasonable fee
and to order Mr. Murahari to refund in full to Ms. Rosser the
amount in attorney's fees previously awarded under the
Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”). [ECF No.
28]. 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 is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
February 24, 2017, this Court awarded Mr. Murahari $4, 510.89
for 23.50 hours worked on Ms. Rosser's case in federal
court. [ECF No. 25]; see also [ECF No. 23 at 1]. Ms.
Rosser subsequently received a Notice of Change in Benefits,
in which she was awarded $138, 439.00 in past due benefits
for herself and her child auxiliary. [ECF Nos. 26-3, 27-3];
see also [ECF No. 28-1 at 2]. The SSA withheld
twenty-five percent of Ms. Rosser's total past-due
benefits, amounting to $34, 609.75. See [ECF No.
26-3]; . On April 12, 2018, Mr. Murahari filed a Motion for
Attorney's Fees, seeking $34, 609.75 in attorney's
fees. [ECF No. 26]. Subsequently, on April 16, 2018, Mr.
Murahari filed a Second Motion for Attorney's Fees,
seeking $11, 533.75 in additional attorney's fees that
“a telephone call from [Mr. Murahari's] office to
the Payment Center did reveal . . . was withheld” for
child auxiliary benefits. [ECF No. 27]. Thus, Mr. Murahari
seeks a total amount of $46, 143.50 in attorney's fees.
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 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
v. Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 807 (2002). In 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. Importantly, the Supreme Court
acknowledged that a contingent fee agreement would not result
in a reasonable fee if the fee constituted a
“windfall” to the attorney. Id. at 808.
Mr. Murahari and Ms. Rosser entered into a contingent fee
agreement, by which Ms. Rosser agreed to pay Mr. Murahari
twenty-five percent of all retroactive benefits to which she
might become entitled. [ECF No. 23-5]. As an initial matter,
this Court is persuaded by the SSA's contention that the
amount of $34, 609.75 withheld as stated in the Notice of
Change of Benefits, (ECF No. 26-3), represents twenty-five
percent of all past-due benefits for Ms. Rosser and her child
auxiliary. The Declaration of Paraskevi Maddox, Social
Insurance Specialist for Program Integrity Branch in the
SSA's Office of Disability Policy, asserted that the
Master Beneficiary Record “shows that 25 percent of
[Ms. Rosser's total past-due benefits for herself and her
child auxiliary] has been withheld totaling $34, 609.75, with
$23, 076.00 withheld from Ms. Rosser's past due benefits
and $11, 533.75 withheld from Ms. Rosser's child
auxiliary's past due benefits.” [ECF No. 28-1
¶ 3]. Accordingly, this Court will reduce Mr.
Murahari's requested amount of attorney's fees from
$46, 143.50 to $34, 609.75.
previous motion for attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal
Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”), Mr. Murahari
submitted an itemized report documenting the 23.50 hours he
expended before this Court in Ms. Rosser's case. [ECF No.
23-7]. If Mr. Murahari receives the full amount of fees he
requests, his fee for representation before this Court will
effectively total $1, 472.76 per hour. Mr. Murahari must
therefore show that an effective rate of $1, 472.76 per hour
is reasonable for the services he rendered. See
Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807.
Mr. Murahari's requested fee is nearly five times the top
hourly rate that is presumptively reasonable for attorneys of
his experience level, pursuant to the fee guidelines appended
to the Local Rules of this Court. Although it is customary in
Social Security cases for courts to approve significantly
higher rates, Mr. Murahari's requested rate far exceeds
the typical rate awarded by courts in the Fourth Circuit for
attorney's fees in successful Social Security appeals.
See, e.g., Melvin v. Colvin, No.
5:10-CV-160-FL, 2013 WL 3340490 (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); 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). While this Court notes Mr. Murahari's effective
performance and the substantial past-due benefit award to his
client, Mr. Murahari's request for $34, 609.75 for 23.50
hours in this case would result in a windfall. Instead, this
Court finds that an award of $23, 500.00, amounting to an
hourly rate of $1, 000.00, or a little over triple the hourly
rate under the fee guidelines for an attorney of like
experience, would adequately compensate Mr. Murahari for the
time that he spent on this case in this Court.
reasons set forth herein, this Court GRANTS in part and
DENIES in part Mr. Murahari's motion for attorney's
fees, [ECF Nos. 26, 27]. This Court will award Mr. Murahari
attorney's fees totaling $23, 500.00. Mr. Murahari is
further directed to reimburse to Ms. Rosser the $4, 510.89 in
fees he received pursuant to the EAJA.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as
an opinion and docketed as an order.
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge.
 Currently, the position of
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration is vacant,
and most duties are fulfilled by Nancy A. Berryhill, Deputy
Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and
functions not ...