United States District Court, D. Maryland
LETTER TO COUNSEL
STEPHANIE A. GALLAGHER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
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 George Snyder before this Court. (ECF No. 22). In
response, the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) asked this Court to consider whether Mr.
Murahari's requested amount constitutes a reasonable fee.
(ECF No. 23). On August 23, 2018, Mr. Murahari filed a reply.
(ECF No. 28). I have considered those filings. (ECF Nos. 22,
23, 28). 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.
November 10, 2015, this Court awarded Mr. Murahari $3, 348.29
for 17.50 hours worked on Mr. Snyder's case in federal
court, pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act
(“EAJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. (ECF Nos. 19,
21). Mr. Snyder subsequently received an Award Notice, in
which he was awarded $137, 021.00 in past due benefits. (ECF
No. 22-2). The SSA withheld twenty-five percent of Mr.
Snyder's past due benefits, amounting to $34, 255.25.
Id. at 3. On July 16, 2018, Mr. Murahari filed a
Motion for Attorney's Fees, seeking $34, 255.25 in
attorney's fees. (ECF No. 22). Mr. Murahari has agreed to
deduct $3, 348.29 in fees previously received from the amount
to be collected. (ECF Nos. 22, 28); see Gisbrecht v.
Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 796 (2002); 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 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 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
achieved.” Id. at 808. 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. Courts
may require the attorney to provide a record of hours spent
working on the case and the attorney's typical hourly
billing charge. Id.
Mr. Murahari and Mr. Snyder entered into a contingent fee
agreement, by which Mr. Snyder agreed to pay Mr. Murahari
twenty-five percent of all retroactive benefits to which he
might become entitled. (ECF No. 19-4). In his previous motion
for attorney's fees pursuant to the EAJA, Mr. Murahari
submitted an itemized report documenting the 17.50 hours he
expended before this Court in Mr. Snyder's case. (ECF No.
19-7) (listing a total of 18.70 hours, 1.20 of which were
spent on clerical and administrative tasks marked “NO
CHARGE”). If Mr. Murahari receives the full amount of
fees he requests, his fee for representation before this
Court will effectively total $1, 957.44 per hour. Mr.
Murahari must therefore show that an effective rate of $1,
957.44 per hour is reasonable for the services he rendered.
See Gisbrecht, 535 U.S. at 807.
Mr. Murahari's requested fee results in more than eight
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,
more than nine times his typical hourly billing charge of
$200, (ECF 19-6). Although it is customary in Social Security
cases for courts to approve significantly higher rates, Mr.
Murahari's requested rate 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, 043.92);
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. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., Civil No. SAG-10-2160 (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, 255.25 for 17.50 hours in this case would
result in a windfall. Instead, this Court finds that an award
of $17, 500.00, amounting to an hourly rate of $1,
000.00-more than quadruple the top hourly rate for an
attorney of Mr. Murahari's experience in 2014-15 and more
than triple the top hourly rate for an attorney of his
current experience, would adequately compensate Mr. Murahari
for the time that he spent on this case in this Court.
See Hunter v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., Civil
No. SAG-15-3758 (D. Md. Nov. 16, 2017) (unpublished)
(approving contingency fee agreement with hourly rate of $1,
140.41, while noting that the requested rate was
“slightly more than triple the top hourly rate”
for an attorney with eleven years of experience).
reasons set forth herein, this Court GRANTS IN PART and
DENIES IN PART Mr. Murahari's motion for attorney's
fees, (ECF No. 22). This Court will award Mr. Murahari
attorney's fees totaling $17, 500.00. Mr. Murahari is
directed to reimburse to Mr. Snyder the $3, 348.29 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.
 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 reserved to the Commissioner of Social
 Although they do not govern Social
Security cases, the Local Rules prescribe guidelines for
determining attorney's fees in certain cases, which are
instructive in evaluating the reasonableness of the effective
hourly rate in this case. See Loc. R. App. B (D. Md.
2016). For attorneys admitted to the bar for a period of less
than five (5) years, like Mr. Murahari was in 2014-15, (ECF
19-6), the presumptively reasonable hourly rate is between
$150.00 and $225.00 per hour. Loc. R. App. B (D. Md. 2016).
Currently, Mr. Murahari has seven (7) years of experience and